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Clarence B. Jones

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The Amazing Grace of America

Posted: 04/12/2012 5:08 pm

"The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." -- Frederick Douglass, August 3rd, 1857

Does anyone really think George Zimmerman would have been arrested but for the efforts of his parents and leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton to mobilize people to speak out and peacefully demonstrate urging law enforcement authorities to arrest Zimmerman? His release by the Sanford Police department would have remained unchallenged but for the determination of Trayvon Martin's parents to have the killing of their son reviewed by a court of competent jurisdiction.

The joint efforts of the Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others (no matter whether one likes of dislikes either Sharpton or Jackson), to raise the public's awareness about what happened to Trayvon, is an example of what Frederick Douglass' advised above.

It was one of Reverend Sharpton's finest moments of leadership when, in commenting on the announcement by the Special State Prosecutor that 2nd degree murder charges had been filed against George Zimmerman and his subsequent arrest and incarceration, Sharpton said, "There will be no high-fiving ... This is about justice, not revenge. It is about love and the pursuit of justice."

Tryavon Martin's mother reminded us that her effort to get justice for the killing of her son was about a mother's love for a son. A mother's love, she reminded us, "Has no color. It is neither white, nor black." It is simply love.

Prior to the announcement by Angela Corey, the Florida state special prosecutor, and the arrest of George Zimmerman, I had watched a CNN Special on race and children in America today. For those who have not seen this program, I suggest you go online and watch it. For those too young to remember, I also recommend that you Google information about the "dolls test" conducted by psychologists, Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark in connection with the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case. That decision unanimously declared, as unconstitutional, the racially mandated "separate but equal" education that prevailed in public schools throughout the South and other states at that time.

Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark asked white and black girls and boys of the same age to answer questions about two dolls, one brown, the other white. They asked the girls which doll they thought was pretty; which one was the good doll, which one the bad doll? The asked the boys the same question, as well as questions about which brown or white boy doll was the good doll, the bad doll, and which one they would most like to be when they grew up?

Guess what? The results represented in the CNN program, now almost 57 years later, are not too dissimilar in many instances to the answers of the young white and black children to the questions asked by the Clarks. Many of the answers by the children in the CNN program reflect the extent to which racism still persist in our society today; notwithstanding an African American president of the United States.

So what does this have to do with the Trayvon Martin case? As written in previous blogs about Trayvon Martin, his killing in Sanford, Florida under circumstances repeatedly described is yet another "wake up call" for our nation to confront the issue of race and "race relations" in America, honestly and forthrightly. Specifically, the issue of racial profiling by police and others of young black men in America, with or without a "hoodie" should be a national urgent priority for leaders within the black, Hispanic and white communities.

The CNN program on race and children only confirms the urgency of responding to this "wake up call." How long will we continue to let the unresolved issues of race maintain a strangle hold on our national moral conscience? Has our sense of moral outrage become so desensitized and debased that we shall remain paralyzed indefinitely, intimidated and unwilling to publicly confront the issues of racial profiling, the easy availability of guns, and wanton gun violence in our society?

When, as I wrote previously, do we say, enough is enough? When do we say, like the fictional network TV producer Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network, that we are finally fed up, and shout, as one nation: "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take this anymore!"? How many more Trayvon Martins have to occur to mobilize us to national action?

The ubiquitous presence of race in America is not a right wing, left wing, FOX News, MSNBC, Republican or Democratic Party, Tea Party or Moveon.org, Rush Limbaugh, Joe Madison, Shelby Steele, Al Sharpton, Juan Williams, Jesse Jackson, CNN, ABC, or NBC, issue. It is an American issue. It is not going to go away under Obama's presidency or thereafter. Unless it is courageously addressed, "race" will remain the sword of Damocles hanging over our country for the balance of the 21st century and beyond -- unless we as a nation have the courage and the grace to publicly confront, head on, this issue of race in America.

The Englishman John Newton, during part of his life, had actively participated in the slave trade. Years later he wrote a journal recalling and describing those years. The lyrics to the song, "Amazing Grace," which he composed, were prompted by his earlier years of participation in the slave trade and his efforts to seek forgiveness from God.

We are blessed to live in a democratic society that can enable justice to occur in the Trayvon Martin case. Accordingly, we should remember the words of Trayvon Martin's mother and also reflect upon the lyrics of John Newton as he sought God's forgiveness:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.