Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, April 22, 2004  

News: Cop not indicted in shooting of black motorist

The legal outcome of the second police shooting of an unarmed African-American motorist in 10 months in Portland is as I expected. The policeman responsible for shooting the man -- 34 seconds into a traffic stop -- was not indicted. Neither was the officer in the earlier episode, Scott McCollister.

A Multnomah County grand jury cleared Portland police Officer Jason Sery in the shooting death of James Jahar Perez, an unarmed black motorist who died during a traffic stop last month.

The jury reached its decision Thursday after hearing from roughly 40 witnesses during several days of testimony.

Perez was shot and killed in the driver's seat of his car on March 28, after Sery and his partner, Sean Macomber, stopped him for failing to signal for a turn.

Police say Perez struggled with Macomber before the fatal shots were fired. An autopsy indicated that Perez, a convicted felon, had cocaine in his body.

The outcome was easy to predict because cops are rarely indicted in police brutality cases. In addition, the closest eyewitnesses to the shooting were compromised by their own histories. They probably were not believed by the grand jury.

The complication for three of the four witnesses described in the Oregonian today is that they have aspects of their lives that may damage their credibility. Two are convicted felons. One has settled a lawsuit again the PPD for use of excessive force in arresting him. Among the policemen cited in his suit was Sery, who fired the fatal shots.

Two of the four witnesses interviewed by The Oregonian have felony convictions. All four say they did not know Perez or either officer by sight. One of the witnesses, Martin Dennis, filed a 2003 lawsuit against the city charging excessive use of force three years go by several officers, including Sery.

"I've been on parole. I hope that doesn't make me an incredible (sic) witness. But my statement isn't going to change," said Kim Sundquist, 47, who was convicted of drug possession. "Whoever it hurts or helps, I want people to know the truth and not for any other reason."

All say they are willing to testify at an inquest or grand jury. Richard Brooks, who is on probation for a burglary conviction, was interviewed by police shortly after the shooting. He reported the contact to his probation officer the following day and underwent a urinalysis. But he has yet to be contacted by investigators.

Prosecutors, who are inclined to agree with the police anyway, will doubtlessly take the criminal records of the witnesses into account. The testimony of the pair will be discounted because of their own run-ins with the law. Though Griffin's arrest resulted in no charges, he will likely be treated as if his testimony is dubious, too. The same issue of credibility will arise if the two officers are indicted and a case actually goes to trial. Prosecution of police officers rarely occurs in such shootings.

The mayor, Vera Katz, has ordered that a special hearing be held to vet the Perez shooting.

District Attorney Michael Schrunk agreed to the inquest, but then delayed it until after the grand jury proceedings. Schrunk told reporters Thursday that he will hold the inquest next week. It will be Portland's first since 1985.

"It is not an affirmative conclusion that the use of deadly force was appropriate. All proceedings before the grand jury were recorded and the record will be turned over to the presiding court," Schrunk says.

But, the inquest will have no effect, legally. It will merely be an opportunity for community members to vent their emotions.

posted by J. | 9:20 PM

Wednesday, April 21, 2004  

Reading: Golden says colorism harmful

I recently mentioned colorism, which I believe is a major motivation for the excesses of the so-called multiracial movement, in the comments at another blog. Some folks, including a pair who are allegedly mixed-race, tried to shut the discussion down. They said there are no race problems -- except for uppity colored folks who run off at the mouth. Fortunately, the efforts of such people to silence discussion of colorism are doomed. The topic is coming out of the closet and being talked about.

Among those talking is writer Marita Golden (pictured). Her views were recently considered in the New York Times.

Ah just couldn't see mahself married to no black man. It's too many black folks already. We ought to lighten up the race."

— From Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

When you begin a book with a quotation like that, you're inviting trouble to come in, kick off its shoes and stay awhile. That's Marita Golden's intention. She wants to ignite debate about one of the oldest, rawest issues among African-Americans.

The aching honesty in the words of Zora Neale Hurston's character, from 1937, Ms. Golden says, evokes a continuing aesthetic hierarchy among African-Americans that puts light skin at the top and dark skin at the bottom. It's the subject of her new book, Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex, which was published this week by Doubleday.

For Don't Play in the Sun, Ms. Golden interviewed black people, including a psychotherapist, a cultural historian, a biracial writer, a TV producer and her friends and her husband. The book's title comes from her mother's warning that the sun would make her deep brown skin even darker and less attractive. Through the prism of her own skin, Ms. Golden explores the belief that light skin and European features remain the highest standard of beauty in most places in the world. Color, though, is not just a black thing, she says. It is not even an American thing, with versions of lighter-is-better in India, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Ms. Golden considers this global obsession a legacy of colonialism.

I read an excerpt from Marita Golden's book in the current edition of Essence, a magazine whose target audience is African-American women. In the piece, she describes her own marginalization as a child. Her mother, lighter skinned, disapproved of her dark coloring. She told young Marita she would need to marry someone light-skinned to have presentable children. Having read Golden's autobiography, Migrations of the Heart, I believe the color conflict was the basis of serious alienation between mother and daughter. Golden would grow up to reject her 'home training,' marrying a Nigerian and moving to Nigeria for a time. Additional salt in the wound came from Golden growing up in Washington, D.C., a 'Chocolate City' with an entrenched history of colorism.

However, colorism is both personal and political. It can determine who gets opportunities in education and work. People of color who are light brown or fairer are often praised as more attractive and more intelligent, though there is no empirical basis for either belief. They are likely more apt to be hired and promoted than their darker peers. As black studies professor Henry Louis Gates has observed, color seems to determine which black women are successful as actresses and hired as models or to perform in videos. An Alicia Keyes wins a fistful of Emmys while an India Arie goes home empty-handed. The situation is not monolithic. Dark-skinned women such as Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg do overcome the color barrier, as they do the barriers of gender and race, but they are phenomenal people. Millions of men and women of color pay the price for being the 'wrong' color -- darker than a brown paper bag.

Regardless of who is at fault for the start of colorism among people of color, it seems to me that the problems caused by it must be solved by African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Indians themselves.

Reasonably related

•I previously wrote about colorism in regard to a lawsuit in which a dark-skinned employee sued a corporation because a light-skinned supervisor, also African-American, had discriminated against him.

•My blog friend George Kelly brought my attention to the article in the New York Times at Negrophile.

•Vist Marita Golden at her website.

posted by J. | 10:40 PM

Monday, April 19, 2004  

Opinion: Hunley burials ignore history

Correspondents in South Carolina tell me their media was monopolized by last week's burial of the crew of the Hunley. It is the submarine that destroyed a Union ship on Feb. 17, 1864. As is the nature of broadcast media, pictures of the pomp and color of the lengthy ceremonies were the overwhelming messages communicated. South Carolina print media also largely represented the Hunley in a superficial way the neo-Confederate movement, which is behind the deification of the submarine and its crew, adores. But, there were cracks in the 'Hail the Old South!' armor. John Monk of The State wrote a column that looks beyond the single fact of the Hunley being the first sub to sink a ship.

This week’s six-day funeral of the crew of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley will be a celebration of a thin slice of history — a brief, trailblazing underwater mission that resulted in the sinking of a Union ship.

But the pageantry surrounding the Hunley also will be a denial of other histories, a sanitizing of one of the most controversial American eras, some historians say.

Nowhere will it be mentioned that if the eight-man Hunley crew had been on the victorious side of the Civil War, 4 million black people would have continued to be slaves, the historians point out.

Nowhere will it be mentioned that, at the time of the Hunley’s mission, South Carolina’s 291,000 whites were forcing 400,000 black slaves to work without pay and with scant hope of freedom.

“The war was fought to perpetuate slavery,” said William Hine, history professor at South Carolina State University. He was one of about 75 S.C. professors who signed a public statement in 2000 saying the historical record “clearly shows” that the South’s wanting to preserve slavery was the fundamental cause of the Civil War.

“The whole Southern way of life was wrapped around slavery, and even though many white Southerners did not own slaves, it was still essential for their way of life,” Hine said. “People fought for that way of life even though they were not slave owners.”

Other historians agree with Hine that history as spectacle often overwhelms history as a record of what happened in the past to create the present. An interesting example is the history page at the official Hunley website. It never mentions why the Civil War was fought.

Though you would never guess it from the six days of carrying on devoted to burying remains from a century and a half ago, the Hunley's one military feat was not important to the outcome of the Civil War. Charleston Harbor remained blockaded. Furthermore, the Hunley failed overall. Two of the submarines were built and both sank. Eventually, the inventor gave up and named a ship 'Hunley' instead.

Another feat carried out during the Civil War is much more interesting.

The most modern comprehensive history of South Carolina, by [Walter] Edgar, makes only a one-sentence passing reference to the Hunley and doesn’t even include it in its giant index. However, Edgar does mention another Civil War exploit in Charleston Harbor — the daring 1862 hijacking of a Confederate ship by slave Robert Smalls. Taking a cargo of ammunition and escaping slaves, Smalls posed as a Confederate officer and brought his boat through Confederate lines to the Union blockade.

Monk's column paints a realistic portrayal of South Carolina before, during and after the Civil War. It also offers insight into the motivations of the neo-Confederate movement today. Particularly telling is a remark by a slaveowner, Edward Bryan: “Give us slavery or give us death.”

What's the art?

A pocket watch recovered from the Hunley.

posted by J. | 11:49 PM