10/23/2014 02:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why We Marched


Yesterday, I was proud to stand in solidarity with thousands -- across races, political stripes and religious backgrounds -- in over 80 cities nationwide for the #FergusonOctober #o22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation (see this slideshow and search #o22 on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for a recap).

From Atlanta (where I participated) to New York, Chicago to Oakland, we stood, marched and creatively demonstrated (in the tradition of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience that our forebears bequeathed us), from a unified front, to say "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"


Because our forebears have whispered through the vista of time to awaken us to the fact that a new caste system (Mass Incarceration/The New Jim Crow: where, once arrested and criminalized, primarily through our country's racially biased drug war, men and women of color are permanently relegated to a second-class citizenship, where they are legally denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits) has arisen out of the ashes of the last one (Jim Crow/Segregation) -- which speaks directly to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the second-class citizenship it aimed to eliminate.

Because "An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself."

Because "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the EQUAL PROTECTION of the laws."

Because we see the link and "intersectionality" between police brutality/repression, mass incarceration, immigration enforcement and the broader egalitarian movement (human, economic and environmental rights).

Because last month it was Charles Smith, the month before it was Michael Brown, the month before that it was Eric Garner and it seems like this nightmarish list (of the extrajudicial killings of black men, by police officers/security guards/vigilantes) always ends with an ellipsis, instead of a period.

Because, like the late Civil Rights Heroine Fannie Lou Hamer, "[We're] sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Because we heeded the poetic call of the iconic writer and activist, Alice Walker, to "Gather."

Because armed Tea Partiers can stage standoffs in Nevada, and white college students can riot in New Hampshire, and still expect a different response from the police and media than the peaceful protesters in Ferguson.

Because we are literally witnessing a slow neo-genocide of our fathers and men and, if trends persist and nothing is done, we will have created a caste system unrivaled in modern history (one that would even make South Africa's past caste system of Apartheid seem like only a footnote in the history books), and unworthy of the 2043 "plurality nation" U.S. Census Bureau projection (when our nation is projected to be more diverse than ever before, with no racial group in the majority).

Because racial inequality (and extreme economic/wealth/income inequality) is now, more than ever before (particularly in light of the aforementioned U.S. Census Bureau projection), simply unsustainable.

Because we have already called for an end to mass incarceration, but, though there has been progress, our elected local, state and (ESPECIALLY) federal officials haven't gone far enough.

Because Attorney Michelle Alexander teaches us, in her zeitgeist-shifting book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, of the Emma Faye Stewarts who are now legion:

Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year-old, single African American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African American. You are innocent. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put in foster care.

A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who did not plead guilty. At trial, the judge finds that the entire sweep was based on a testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution. You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless and desperate to regain custody of your children.

Because I can almost see my late fellow Morehouse College alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., turning in his grave at the thought of another caste system replacing the one he sacrificed his life to defeat. And I can almost hear him speaking to us now:

To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber. Religion reminds every man that he is his brother's keeper. To accept injustice or segregation passively is to say to the oppressor that his actions are morally right. It is a way of allowing his conscience to fall asleep. At this moment the oppressed fails to be his brother's keeper. So acquiescence -- while often the easier way -- is not the moral way. It is the way of the coward.

Because our ancestors and posterity haunt us at night, saying "If not [you], who? If not now, when?"

This is why we marched. Because "we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes."