Lynne Stewart, 72, noted activist and “people's lawyer,” is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence at Carswell Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. She was convicted in 2005 of distributing press releases for a jailed client, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Originally sentenced to 28 months in prison, a federal court judge upped her time to a 10-year term. Stewart, who has been treated for breast cancer, entered prison in November 2009. Her attorneys appealed her sentence in federal appeals court in February; she and her supporters are awaiting a decision. On April 8, Stewart wrote this statement with her partner, Ralph Poynter, another decades-long activist.
I am going to start out with an apology. I am directing it most sincerely to Trayvon's mother who is bearing a burden no mother should ever have — the sudden, violent death of her child. But I most respectfully must disagree when she states that this is not a "white and Black thing.” It is. It is just the latest in a long series of Black and white "things" that have been happening ever since the first Black person was ripped from all he knew and loved and transported unwillingly as a chattel slave from Africa to serve the Europeans (whites) in America.
The "things" I speak of are the victimization and oppression of Blacks by whites who are certain that they face no punishment, no retribution, for the outrages they commit. Close to 400 years after the first crime against Black humanity — slavery — was committed, there is a direct and unbroken connection to the recent events in Sanford, Fla., and the murder of Trayvon Martin.
Do I exaggerate? I don't think so. I have lived 72 years, 50 of them in the movement. Repeatedly, we mourn and attend funerals and memorials for the victims of an unjust authority — be it police, neighborhood watch, KKK, Nightriders or just “everyday” white folks who know there is nothing to stop them. Back in the 1960s, the murder of Clifford Glover in the 14th Street subway station by police, while [he was] “graffiti-ing,” was the horror and outrage of the day. So many have followed [that] I have lost track, but I can never forget Eleanor Bumpers in the Bronx, Alberta Spruill of Harlem and Ben Chaney in Mississippi.
Nor can I forget the mothers who fought for justice, including Margarita Rosario, whose son [Anthony Rosario], was ordered to the floor by two New York City detectives and then was shot at close range; and Juanita Young, whose son [Malcolm Ferguson], after protesting Amadou Diallo's death, was murdered by New York police on a tenement stairway. When the cop was questioned, he said he didn't know why he did it. Both Juanita and Margarita had to deal with a Bronx District Attorney that called both murders "justifiable homicide.” In November 2011, in White Plains, a 68-year-old Black man with a heart condition, an ex-Marine and Corrections Officer [Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.], was shot dead in his own home by local police for no reason. There are so many other victims.
The "Stolen Lives” [Killed by Law Enforcement] project now numbers thousands of murdered persons, mostly young, almost all of color. So this is an old, old problem.
I, for one, in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer am “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” We are always the victims. It seems that by not recognizing what MUST be done, we have abdicated away our humanity, piece by piece. There was a brief but golden period when brave Black men took upon themselves the protection of the community and let it be known that they would respond in self-defense to anyone who was an aggressor to the people. In that period, it was made clear that those who thought that they could get away with murder could not and that they would be met with equal and appropriate force. Then the number of racial murders decreased.
Now many of these Black heroes are in the oppressors' prisons suffering long sentences on trumped-up charges with little or no chance of coming home to the community they attempted to protect. Am I exaggerating? Were Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X wrong when they spoke of the need for self-defense? Do we not understand the value of asserting our humanity and ceasing to always be the victim?
I am raising this issue because it is particularly sickening that [George] Zimmerman [who killed Trayvon Martin] invoked this [self-] defense against an unarmed teenager, who posed no physical danger to him. Were the situation reversed, we all know who would be in the deepest, darkest cell awaiting a possible death penalty. Instead, Trayvon is dead and the true [perpetrator] who wasn't wearing a hoodie but who was and is a coward hiding behind the "mightiness" of being a white man in White America walks free. Can this be tolerated?
The community is weeping tears of blood. The exploiters have arrived now in limos, seeking out the cameras and they will leave in limos, having performed the latest phase of "keep cool.” It's exploitation for personal gain — now confounded by unscrupulous members of the community against the suffering of real people. Can't they understand that on this ultimate question of color, it could be their son or granddaughter lying bloodied and dead? No. Their own greedy needs and those of CNN are more compelling to them.
So we continue to live in this America where schoolchildren, Black and white, recite "with liberty and justice for all," when the reality in towns, cities and gated communities in Florida is the opposite. Only a resolute, proud and emboldened Black community can throw off these chains of fear and oppression and assertively stand up rather than groveling, yet again, to an unjust system.
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