12/05/2014 12:51 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2015

Ferguson to Staten Island

Despite the collective disappointment of so many Americans who believe in due process, I am astounded by the people's resolve to be patient. What exploded last week in Ferguson, Missouri and what evolved in New York City last night weren't knee jerk responses to racial injustice. These events began when the lives of Mike Brown and Eric Garner were taken; first, as a slow, simmering pot of stunned disbelief and then as latent anger seasoned with the reality of systemic failure. Truthfully, these communities, and the multi-racial protestors who joined them, had no reason for expecting a different outcome from either grand jury. We've seen this before. There is a long list of Black men and Black women, and other disenfranchised Americans, who've lost their lives as a result of excessive force by members of law enforcement since this nation was formed. And, America has a tacit history of silent consensus of the majority population undergirded by a fabricated fear of often powerless Black people; and a belief -- sometimes unspoken, sometimes not - that there is always the possibility of past or current wrongdoing on the part of the victims. Still, the civil unrest we've seen time and time again never erupts at the point of death. The response always comes when the systems we've all staked our collective identities on fails to respond.

Less than human: that describes the legal status of the Africans held for captive labor when they first arrived on these shores. After having built a nation's economy, we have to wonder, is this still our legal status? Some want to argue the "facts" because absolutes are seen as somehow diminishing the absolute permanence of death. History tells us that there were false facts and an entire "scientific" ideology conjured up to punctuate the evolutionary inferiority of Black folk, and to justify death, rape, economic exploitation, political exclusion, and the assignment of human suffering based on the color of our skin. Every infraction, real or imagined, is worthy of execution without the benefit of due process using this logic. The supposition of guilt and danger undergirded by a fundamental belief that Black lives don't matter is a lethal combination. Inherent Black deviance and inferiority have shaped our collective political and economic reality -- even when our lived experiences, and the data, prove otherwise. Everything outside this twisted and wished for norm is seen as exceptional. The conjured norm is that Black men are prone to crime, and Black women are prone to promiscuity. It presumes we are all up to something anti-social and deviant -- some of us just haven't been caught. The reality that most Black folks want to learn, work, contribute, and be left to the undisturbed pursuit of happiness is rejected in that moment when Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo have to decide whether to diffuse or escalate their encounters with Mike Brown and Eric Garner. In a world absent of racial mythologies about the violence and aberrance of Black men, there is always an alternate response. But, in a world that demonizes Black identity, they have no choice. And, the system backs that up. Ultimately, two Black men are dead, and two white men will continue in the world a little less human themselves - whether the justice system recognizes it or not.

The result of this kind of systemic and cultural straightjacket is a potent helplessness and hopelessness that lingers over our communities and seeps through the pores of families, who next? We want to tell our kids that everything is possible. Are we lying to them? Who is next? Will degrees, social contributions, professional accomplishments, pulled-up pants, processed hair, proper speech, and white approval save us? Probably not. Who's next? We mourn Eric and Michael...we are all of us left feeling exposed and vulnerable and uncovered and unsafe. So, what now? Will we simply file and bury this pain next to all the others, and begin holding our breath for Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley?

We are in the midst of another historical moment. Here and now, standing in the core of our disappointment, we must not reject our wholesale responsibility to offer a sustained, strategic, and compelling response to these tragedies that is effectual, precise, and lasting. Our response must include grassroots voter registration efforts coupled with sustained pressure on political entities to introduce racial justice training for law enforcement - from the beat cops to the judges' chambers - and increased diversity of law enforcement professionals at every level. Further, there must be increased political accountability within and without the system when members of a largely service oriented law enforcement community abuse their roles and power. Eric Garner's case, which was predated by the Rodney King case, proves that video evidence cannot undo the systems propensity toward bias and unquestioning pardon of those within its ranks.

Our response must also include ongoing education for our communities that gives us the information and tools we need to keep the pressure going, and to understand the components of our racist legacy and how to create a new future. I am talking about Black, Latino, Asian, Arab, and white folks in parks, in church and synagogue and mosque basements, teaching history and anti-racist strategy through books, and storytelling, and social media, co-constructing a just future via a community led education movement that is unbossed and unbought. It must be multi-racial and intergenerational, and buttressed by an unyielding commitment to uplift and meaningfully retell stories of hope and of multi-racial alliances. Our response should reflect the social justice blueprints of past movements, and engage the advanced technological tools and vision of today's youth.

The only thing standing in the way of justice in America is the political and private will of the people; the only way to achieve social justice in America is via the unrelenting activism and long stretching memories of the people. If we forget Eric and Michael, we will surely perish.