THE BLOG
12/04/2014 10:05 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

We Can't Breathe: An American Travesty

It's America and Mother Earth that cannot breathe, not only Eric Garner.

Listen to the truth:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers' sons

Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers' sons

That's a song that Bernice Johnson Reagon composed. It's called "Ella's Song," and it honors Ella Baker, one of the key teachers and leaders within the black freedom movement of the 1960s. You can hear it sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, the musical ensemble that Reagon founded. (Please do listen to it!)

And listen with a truth-tuned ear to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on March 14, 1968, three weeks before he was murdered:

it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

Or listen to President Abraham Lincoln, speaking on March 4, 1865, at his second inaugural address (and quoting Psalm 19:9):

[I]f God wills that [this mighty scourge of war] continue until ... every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

President Lincoln was sadly affirming what President Thomas Jefferson, theorist of liberty and practitioner of slavery, had said about slavery two generations before: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just...."

Almost certainly, the grand jury in New York acted as they did because a district attorney beholden to a white majority's chokehold on Staten Island did not encourage them to do their job, did not even make clear that they needed to find only probable cause to believe a crime may have occurred so that a real trial could be held in open court, did not even point out that they could charge the policeman for a lesser offense like "reckless endangerment" if they could not bear to charge a white policeman with murder of a black man.

What was and is at stake on Staten Island is not just a numerical white majority but one afflicted with "domination disease." This disease afflicts us not only in the guise of racism but when the military allows superior officers to rape women and men under their command; when a university allows football players to gang-rape a woman at a party; when a corporation convinces the Supreme Court that its corporate "religious beliefs" trump the real-life religious beliefs of real-life human beings, its women employees. (You mean women can come to their own moral and religious decisions?) It afflicts us when an American president chooses on his own which American citizens he can execute -- that is, kill -- without judge or jury (as if he were a policeman using a high-tech flying chokehold). It afflicts us when the American Jewish Committee demands that President Obama approve the Keystone XL pipeline, ignoring the warning of the Sioux Nation that a decision to build the pipeline through their land would be a declaration of war against them -- literally ignoring this urgent outcry of the Sioux, let alone the effects that burning this filthy, carbon-loaded tar-sands oil would have on Americans, Africans, Filipinos, Israelis....

What's the effect? We can't breathe! Mother Earth is in a chokehold!

What will cure us of domination disease? Surely not a techie solution like cameras on police lapels. What will those cameras matter when a video clearly showing a police officer strangling a black man -- using a chokehold banned by his own police force -- while he, and we, can hear the black man gasping, "I can't breathe," fails to convince a district attorney and a grand jury that there was probable cause to believe a crime may have occurred?

What will cure us? Despite President Lincoln's invocation of bloodshed by the sword as righteous "judgments of the Lord," the cure won't come that way. Despite Dr. King's honest observation that "a riot is the language of the unheard," those whose shouts and cries fall on willfully deafened ears, the cure won't come through riots.

It will come when we turn away from domination and toward community; when white, black, and brown citizens join in haunting police departments until every police officer who kills an unarmed civilian is fired; when neighbors gather at local coal-burning plants wearing gas masks and sit in the gateways to force an end to the epidemic of asthma that afflicts our poorer, blacker, disempowered neighborhoods; when all across our country, neighborhood co-ops are producing solar energy; when churches, synagogues, mosques, and their congregants are choosing to "move our money," placing our savings and checking accounts with credit unions and neighborhood banks, not megabanks that invest in destroying mountains to burn coal, killing the oceans to drill for oil, poisoning our ground water to profit from unnatural gas. When these kinds of communities start growing and sprouting at the grassroots and pavement tops of our country, we will see new laws sprouting through new cracks in the rigid concrete of our top-down governments.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

Blessings toward shalom, salaam, peace -- the healing of our people and our planet.