I had no idea.
Perhaps I should blame all my social studies teachers. Especially Mr. Baldwin, my 8th grade American History teacher and football coach whose only other hobby was dressing up for Civil War reenactments on weekends. He could’ve told me about it, but he didn’t.
Or maybe it’s Mr. Heitsman’s fault—a strange man who rocked back and forth on his heels and wore his pants almost neck-high. He taught government and physics when I was in the 9th grade (or maybe it was the 10th) and he hid it from me, too.
Ultimately, it is my mother’s fault, though. They say education begins at home, and I was home schooled for part of my life. She even made me learn the entire preambles to both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
I feel betrayed by the knowledge that—as I learned them both by heart, she failed to tell me that apparently there is fine print on the both that excludes Black people from enjoying the same rights as Whites. No one told me that the framers wedged a tiny “except Black people immediately after “We the people,” but before “In Order to form a more perfect Union.” I had no idea that when the founders declared that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…” there was an asterisk in the footnotes that reads, “And by ‘all’ we mean ‘white.’”
As we watch the round-the-clock coverage of the what has been termed the “national tragedy” that is the Dallas police shootings, we should take notice at how the entire city, state and country’s police force took action when the rights, safety and lives of police officers are threatened. While any loss of life is terrible, this incident also serves as a lesson in the contrast of the value of Black lives. The stories of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were relegated to “B-block” stories, shoved behind updates on Hilary Clinton’s emails and Donald Trump’s tweets. The feeling of tragic loss that has set upon the families of the brave officers in Dallas is mirrored every weekend by Black mothers in Chicago, but the country rarely grieves for them. The Attorney General doesn’t interrupt soap operas for dead Black boys.
When police lynched Philando Castile, he had informed the officer that he was carrying a gun legally. When asked to show ID, he was gunned down, because—now I know—black skin renders a concealed weapons permit invalid. Black men are not entitled to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
Before the Alton Sterling video was released, I believed I had found my White hero in 22-year-old Quinnlan O’meara, who was taken into police custody after two noise complaints about fireworks. After he was arrested, he informed police officers that when they let him go, he intended to light more fireworks “with a blunt in his mouth, because this is America.” When asked if he would take a preliminary drug test, Sterling replied that he would be willing to “take a preliminary go (expletive) yourself test.” I did not have to look at the article’s accompanying mug shot to know his race. The final sentence in the article told me all I needed to know:
“O’meara was taken into custody without incident.”
Even though he mocked police openly, Quinnlan O’meara was afforded his first amendment rights. Quinnlan O’meara was White.
Perhaps the most basic right in the American system of justice is the right to a trial. While the adjective “fair” might be subjective, almost everyone is given the chance to defend themselves in a court of law.
Except for Black people.
In the first case of viral police brutality video, the cops who beat Rodney King were found not guilty. So was Trayvon Martin’s murderer. So have all the officers involved with the death of Freddy Gray so far.
Conversely, Alton Sterling received the most instant of death penalties for selling mixtapes. Eric Garner received capital punishment for hocking loose cigarettes. Sandra Bland met her hangman for failing to signal. The men sworn to protect and serve their rights served as judge, juries, and one-man execution squads.
Because Black people have no rights.
Aside from George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson and the scores of other spillers of Black blood who roam the earth, freed by an imbalanced justice system, it was once codified into law. There is no higher authority for the law than the concept of “legal precedence,” and no greater decider of that precedence than the US Supreme Court.
When Dred Scott sued for his freedom after living as a Black man in a free state, Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney penned the opinion of the highest court in the land by stating that all Blacks were “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”
He warned that granting them the rights that everyone else enjoyed might also give them “the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”
Maybe it is hyperbole to state that Black people have no rights. Instead of offering up my opinion, Maybe I should stick to facts and look at the first ten Amendments, commonly called the “Bill of Rights” where the freedoms of Americans are listed and enumerated:
Amendment 1 – Freedom of speech and Religion–Sandra Bland dead for talking back to police officer
Amendment 2: Right to bear Arms–Philando Castile killed for legally possessing a firearm
Amendment 3: Quartering of Troops–Has never been litigated in a US Court
Amendment 4: Search and Seizure—Chris McKinley, shot by Georgia Bureau of Investigations Officers after raiding the wrong home
Amendment 5: Grand Jury trial, Due Process—Mike Brown, killed for jaywalking, unindicted by Grand jury.
Amendment 6: Right to Trial by Jury—Eric Garner – choked to death for “resisting arrest.” No trial for his murderer.
Amendment 7: Civil trials—Trayvon Martin – lost both criminal and federal civil rights trial.
Amendment 8: Cruel and Unusual punishment, Excessive Bail—Natasha McKenna, held in county jail for schizophrenia, tasered to death in jail cell.
Amendment 9: Non-enumerated rights–the rights in the constitution are not the only rights of Free people. Rekia Boyd murdered for talking too loudly and holding a cell phone.
Amendment 10: Rights reserved to the state or people—Any right not specifically mentioned in the constitution belongs to the States and the people- as in Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” which freed George Zimmerman.
Perhaps I should thank Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Heitsman and my mother. Maybe they kept me in the dark so I wouldn’t have to live with the fear of knowing that every breath I will ever take in life is at their leisure. Me and my sons, and your daughters, brothers, mothers and cousins exist solely at their whim. There is a reason the Declaration of Independence listed “life” as the first of our inalienable rights—because without that freedom, all others are moot. Maybe theirs is only a sin of omission.
Or maybe, like the esteemed Roger B. Taney enunciated during the 1857 session of the United States’ Supreme Court, I had no rights to which the white man was bound to respect.