2013 may eventually be described as the time of “Great Awakening.” Many people in the United States, especially people of color, have settled into a comfort zone. The second election of President Obama was a national accomplishment – a milestone – and the road ahead was expected to be not so bumpy. Months after Mr. Obama’s second term began, however, the US Supreme Court declared portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act no longer constitutional, and one month following that, in Florida, a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of killing an unarmed black teenager. Can the handwriting on the wall be any more clear? The struggle is not over; it continues today and into tomorrow.
Fortunately, some Black leaders realize this and are calling for action. Ben Jealous of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Daryl Scott of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History have sounded the alarm. It is time for the nation to reexamine “the good life.” If forty percent of our Black males between the ages of 18-24 are incarcerated, if unemployment in predominantly poor communities is close to fifty percent, if many children in this nation are uneducated or miseducated, if people can shoot and kill unarmed children based on a perceived threat and be exonerated, then we need to identify and commit to our priorities and change our tactics. Presently, we are way off track; something is inherently wrong in this country.
The Supreme Court did the nation a favor. To pinpoint only those states with a known history of discrimination related to voting is unfair. Citizens should demand a new law that requires Justice Department review of any state’s routine alteration of voting laws. This review should not be limited to a particular region or state.
“Stand Your Ground” laws are on the books in almost half the states in this country. They are badly conceived and enforced. The Trayvon Martin case is used as the poster child example, but the occurrence is not limited to Florida. Fear is the undergirding of this law. The use of a weapon in self-defense has to extend beyond a perceived threat; there must be a real threat and a need to defend.
Riding on the coat tails of the election of an African-American president, many in this nation argue that race is not an over-arching determinant in social, political, or economic relations. Recurring events challenge that opinion. If we learn from the past and follow the common sense of our ancestors – many of them formerly enslaved – the first objective is to stress quality education. There are groups today, such as the Algebra Project and the Children’s Defense Fund, which advocate for education as a basic civil right. Contact and support them. If you live in a state with a “Stand Your Ground” law, then join a group or begin one that seeks its repeal. Monitor closely any proposed changes in voting regulations or laws in your state. Challenge any that will have adverse consequences, particularly for poor and ethnic people.
In other words, citizen, assume some responsibility for this sad state of affairs, and take action – starting today.