Four tragedies and one unfulfilled dream

Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Rumain Brisbon never knew each other. Garner called Staten Island, New York, home. Rice lived in Cleveland, Ohio; Brown hailed from Ferguson, Missouri; and Brisbon came from Phoenix, Arizona. Yet despite the distance between them, their names will be forever linked as the four unarmed African American males whose lives were cut short during the latter half of 2014. That their deaths were senseless and tragic there is no doubt. And there is also no doubt about the need to improve the tense, stressful relationships between many police departments and the communities of color they serve. We cannot be satisfied with a society in which African American mothers and fathers fear the simple act of their sons walking down the street.

Deep and vigorous discussions of these issues are good ones. Questions need to be asked, and peaceful protests can emphasize to officials the seriousness of these discussions. No other unarmed African American males, or anyone else, should die needlessly. All lives matter.

Remember that the legacies of Garner, Rice, Brown, and Brisbon are more than instruments of social change. They were fathers, sons, and brothers. Their deaths left dreams unfulfilled and huge empty spaces in the lives of the people who loved them. Those spaces will never be filled.

Remember, too, that police departments and the officers who comprise them are not single, monolithic entities. In every police department, there are officers who excel at their jobs and others who are unsuited for the work. There are officers who are hailed as heroes for risking their lives to save others one day and who are condemned for split-second, life or death decisions the next day. Let’s never draw conclusions without all the facts.

Finally, remember that, while discussions about race relations are good, there is so much more to accomplish. I was a young lawyer working in Washington, D.C., during the 1960s and was one of the 250,000 people on the Washington Mall in August, 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. That day, Dr. King reminded us that it had been 100 years since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but there was still work to do before anyone was truly free. Fifty one years later, the killing of four unarmed, African American males at the hands of the police in the last six months is proof there is still much work to do.

8 thoughts on “Four tragedies and one unfulfilled dream”

  1. Well said, it’s good to know that our President has empathy for the males in the African American culture in America.
    I too am an African American mother that fears for my son’s life every time he ventures out into the world. I have instructed my son how to act if approached by the police department, and with that being said, it is sad that I have to give him instructions on how to deal with the police. We have so much work to be done in trying to cultivate a relationship with the different police departments across the states of America. Hopefully one day we will get there.

  2. As the mother and grandmother of black males…I fear for the lives of my offspring and my offsprings, offspring!!!! Sending them to the corner store is nerve wrecking to say the least. While I have not lost a child, as a mother I know that the pain is excrutiating and everlasting. It’s an ache that circles your heart, never ceasing but increasing when lack of justice is added to the mix, time and time again. Then we’re asked, not to believe our eyes.
    Back in the late 70’s my mom had a friend named Mrs. Eleanor Bumpers, who was not only a mentally disturbed mother and grandmother, she was overweight and had difficulty with movement, but was murdered by the cops for weilding a knife in her St. Nicholas Project apartment.
    This is heart wrenching, increasing at an alarmingly increasing rate and I see absolutely NO JUSTICE in sight!!!

  3. As a student who strives for social justice, as a friend, and as a human being with sympathy, I appreciate these sentiments. Will you express them to Commissioner Bratton when he comes to Pace in February?

  4. Mr. President, why was DJ Henry not mentioned in this blog post? Was he not an innocent unarmed black man who was unreasonably killed? Is he not important? He was a member of our community, and he is not even worth remembering? If these are really such atrocious killings, why aren’t we doing everything we can to honor his memory, as a University? Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President.

  5. All lives do matter, however, we must focus on the lives that have been deemed inconsequential from the beginning of the development of this nation, hence we cannot say it enough- BLACK LIVES MATTER. Our nation’s long history of racial oppression from enslavement of Africans, to debt peonage and convict leasing to Jim Crow to our new era of mass incarceration inform us that Black lives have always been devalued by the ruling elite and those empowered to do their bidding and enforce their laws. No one should have to fear those entrusted to protect us, but we should not forget that the ones to really fear are those who legislate and enact laws that do the bidding of their corporate masters and place all our lives, especially the lives of poor people of whom so many people of color are overrepresented, at such incomprehensible risk.

  6. I don’t understand why people keep changing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter.” This is about black people. White people aren’t being murdered by police so I don’t know why you’re saying “No other unarmed African American males, or anyone else, should die needlessly. All lives matter.” What do you mean “or anyone else”? You’re missing the point.

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