As I reflect on the meaning of today, the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I can’t help but wonder just how far we’ve come.
Here’s a brief re-cap of that day.
On March 7, 1965, the first of three marches that were to start in Selma and finish in the capital of Montgomery, took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The marches were organized to bring attention to “the desire of black American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
This day later became known as Bloody Sunday when 600 unarmed marchers were attacked by state troopers using billy clubs and tear gas.
The sequel to The Red Kimono takes place from 1957-1963, and although that precludes the story of these marches, the backdrop to the book is the Civil Rights Movement.
In my research for the book, I’ve read about many historical events such as Bloody Sunday, and it has caused me to look at current events and wonder about how far we’ve really come.
I admit to being a naïve optimist. Before I started paying close attention, attempting to see current events in the eyes of others (as I try to write through the eyes of others) I thought:
“What are you complaining about? Look how far we’ve come.”
Then, a story like Ferguson comes out. The recent Justice Department findings were a real eye-opener for me–again, forgive my naïve optimism. One might be able to justify away the statistics reported by CNN by attributing it to the high percentage of African-Americans living in the area:
- Ferguson is a town of 21,000 that is 67% African-American.
- From 2012 to 2014, 85% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African-American, 90% of those who received citations were black, and 93% of people arrested were black.
- In 88% of the cases in which Ferguson police officers reported using force, it was against African-Americans. From 2012-2014 black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, but 26% less likely to be found in possession of contraband.
But there is no way you can justify away the emails that were found as part of this investigation, and that’s where my eyes were opened. According to USA Today, here is a summary of just a couple of those emails, written by two police officers and a court clerk:
- A November 2008 e-mail stated that President Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”
- A May 2011 e-mail stated: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.'”
In reaction to these emails, a recent guest on CNN stated that the exchange of such emails on the city’s email server is proof of the city’s tolerance of such attitudes. In other words, those sending such emails had no concern that they’d be disciplined. Excellent point. Sickening point.
So, my conclusion is, yes, we have come a long way. We elected our first black president. Many wondered if it would ever happen. Though admittedly, I was one of those disappointed that my candidate didn’t win, I remember feeling a reverence for that day in history.
But, there is no doubt we have a long way to go. There are still too many who are truly prejudiced, even racist, and there is a difference. When I see photos or watch video of the terrible violence against other human beings, solely because of the color of their skin, I’m horrified that we treated (and sometimes still treat) fellow Americans–fellow HUMAN BEINGS–that way.
Maybe someday, I’ll look at words such as those in the emails sited above and think, “I can’t believe we ever thought of fellow human beings that way.”