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Jerome Murdough, He Too Is America

02/07/2015 09:24 am ET | Updated Feb 07, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

In 2013, Jerome Murdough baked to death in a 101-degree Rikers Island cell. This is how a former U.S. Marine met his end.

In the United States of America, patriotism is a highly popularized sentiment. The love and pride in one's country is an attribute often trumpeted throughout society. As America, home of the brave, a key component of patriotism is supporting our troops. Almost everyone agrees, those who fought for our country should be supported. Yet with all the declarations of veteran support, the USA has a dismal record of actually doing it.

To say that we've fallen short is an understatement. Key examples of this bleak record includes: the initial neglect of veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome and depression, years of disregarding the effects of Agent Orange exposure on Vietnam veterans, the consistent silence on Iraq veteran suicide rates and the maltreatment of rape victims in service. There are also the years of racism, homophobia and second-class treatment of women in the ranks.

However, it's not just the government that has fallen short on protecting veterans. Business entities such as for-profit colleges took advantage of the G.I. Bill, making millions of dollars deceptively convincing veterans to use their financial aid towards degrees that are likely to be uncompleted or unaccepted among employers.

It's safe to say that veterans are a grossly underserved group of society. And the numbers get worse when reviewing ethnic and racial breakdowns. According to theNational Coalition for Homeless Veterans, veterans make up "12% of the adult homeless population." African Americans represent 40% of homeless veterans.

There are a number of things that account for this. Reasons include but are not limited to: mental illnesses, physical disabilities and poverty. Black veterans deal with the same issues as other veterans. However, structural racism is often an additional barrier to societal support. Furthermore, with the criminalization of poverty and homelessness, homeless Black veterans are further marginalized by society.

This leads us back to Jerome Murdough. His death made headlines after his body was discovered in a Rikers Island cell. Murdough's crime was sleeping in a stairwell. His punishment as a homeless mentally ill veteran was "baking to death" alone in a cell.

When we reference "Black Lives Matter," this isn't some overreaction or unwarranted clarion call. It isn't about falsely creating a hyper-sensationalized sob story narrative.

Events across the country each month confirm that "Black Lives Matter" is a necessary statement. Black life is continually disregarded except when in service or entertainment positions. Since this nation's inception, Black lives have been utilized for hard labor and servitude, then abruptly discarded once service value is no longer available. This pigeonholing, along with the lack of access to resources and upward mobility, is a structural problem deeply rooted in the fabric of society.

From Rick Santorum's, "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money," to Paul Ryan's inner city "culture problem," accusations of laziness are often tossed around when discussing poverty, homelessness and imprisonment. Though their sentiments have long been discredited, they represent a flawed mindset based on stereotypes and racialized perceptions.

Yet in the case of veterans, you'd be hard pressed to find a greater example of hard work and dedication. What's the excuse here?

Jerome Murdough represents more than a singular story. Thousands of unnamed Black veterans have similar experiences of extreme abuse, neglect or utter disregard. When we say, "Black Lives Matter," this is what we're talking about. We're lifting up the lives of Jerome Murdough and countless unnamed people when no one else will.

As a nation, there needs to be serious steps towards dismantling structural injustices, otherwise talks of patriotism are nothing more than glorified banter.

In the words of Langston Hughes, "I, Too, am America."

Black Lives Matter.

This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.

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