What the F*ck Are We Celebrating on Juneteenth?

It is June 14th, 2020. Today is the birthday of the idiot that sits in the White House, and across this country cities are literally and figuratively on fire. 500 cities across the US plus protests all across the world in various countries and cities. Sparked most profoundly by the recent lynching of 47 yr old George Floyd by Minneapolis police, in which a white police officer held his knee on George’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and murdered him in plain sight, on camera, and in the company of 3 other officers who did nothing to stop it. I have not watched the video, nor do I plan to. From other people’s accounts this grown Black man called out for his deceased mother. That was after several times he called out to the police officer that he could not breathe. He leaves behind 5 children. 

This lynching came in rapid succession after 26 yr old Breonna Taylor, in Louisville, KY was lynched in her bed in the middle of the night when police unlawfully raided her home. The invasion was unlawful because police invade the wrong home in pursuit of their suspect, and at the time of the raid, the suspect was already in custody by police. Now she is no longer here. Those officers have not been charged, and her boyfriend who did have a gun and defended their home with cause, is being charged with attempted murder.  

Right before that, 25 yr old Ahmaud Arbery, was going for his normal jog in suburban area in Georgia, and was literally hunted down by 2 white men, one of whom was a former policeman and his son. They chased Ahmaud and then murdered him in the street. For jogging. 

These stories are disgustingly not obscure, rare events. We have far too many examples. Far far too many. 

Tamir Rice, a 12 year old black boy who was playing with snowballs and a toy pellet gun in a park in Cleveland, OH and had police called on him by neighbors. Within 12 seconds of arriving on the scene the officers opened fire and murdered this child. When his sister ran to the scene, she was handcuffed and thrown into the back of the police car to watch helplessly the as life left her brother’s young body. The officer Tim Loehmann, had been released from another police dept because he was mentally unfit, but did not disclose this on his application and stole this child’s life. He was fired for withholding that previous information, not for killing a child. The FBI investigation found the shooting to be reasonable.  

Micheal Brown who was 18, in Ferguson, MO was shot 6 times after an altercation with a police officer, who shot him after he had his hands up. His body was left in the street on public display for over 12 hours. A public lynching. No one was punished. 

Sandra Bland, a 28 yr old black woman from Chicago who was stopped by a white police officer in Waller, Texas. He was visibly agitated by her tone in speaking to him in a way that was not submissive and he arrested her. She was found hung in her cell and they declared it a suicide. No one has been punished.  Cell phone footage from the traffic stop that occurred in 2015, was just made available to the family in 2019. This evidence was suppressed for 4 years. 

Laquan McDonald, a 17 year old black child in Chicago, was shot 16 times by Jason VanDyke police officer on camera. Police footage was suppressed for over a year until after Rahm’s election to Mayoral office. Then the case finally took place 4 years later. VanDyke was convicted and is serving 6 years. This is one of the first and very few instances where a police officer was convicted and is serving time. 6 years for 16 shots and a cover up by CPD. The corroborating offers got off scott free. 

Philando Castille, a 32 year old black man, in the car with his girl and his 4 yr old daughter in the back seat. Traffic stop. Philando notified the officer that he is registered a firearm carrier, his girl recorded the incident. The police officer opened fire and murdered Philando in the car, next to his girl and in front of his daughter literally for no reason whatsoever. He did not have his gun, was not reaching for it, was not pointing it at the officer. Officer was acquitted by a jury of all charges.  

Trayvon Martin, 17 yr old child in Sanford, FL was murdered by a neighborhood watch white man George Zimmerman. Because Trayvon had on a black hoodie, and was a young black man, and walking down the street. He was declared a threat by George just by his appearance, and despite George calling 911 and the dispatcher telling him to stand down, he went and attacked Trayvon and shot him to death. He was acquitted and now goes around signing Skittles bags as a trophy to his supporters across the country because Trayvon had just come from the store and had a beverage and a bag of Skittles in his hands. He is also suing Trayvon’s family for $100M. He has also profited by auctioning the gun he used to murder Trayvon. This is the exact same thing that was done during mass lynchings. Souvenirs, body parts were cut off from victims and saved. Pictures taken by the black bodies hanging from trees. Barbeques and food was had, a celebration, around these public lynchings. There are smiling faces in those pictures. 

The names and the stories are far too many. As we think about what seems like long ago when these public mass lynchings would occur, The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 4,084 racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950; that was just 70 years ago. My mother was born in 1950. Those lynch mobs have children we are living among today. These lynchings were done publicly, with intention, to instill terror and trauma in black people. White mobs would go and overrun jailhouses where black men were being held, awaiting due process under the laws of this country, and the police ceded control and allowed the masses to inflict their own hated-filled perceptions of justice on these black bodies. Other black men and women were taken from their homes. Pregnant black mothers, hung from trees, their bellies cut open so their unborn babies spilled onto the earth. And these white men, women and children collected trophies, pieces of black bodies, to remember the power they had to steal black lives with absolutely no punishment, no repercussion, no revenge. 

And we are still here. 

In 5 days, June 19th, also known as Juneteenth marks the actual date when on June 19,1865 (155 years ago) the last state, Texas, declared an end to the enslavement of black people in this country. Separate and apart from the July 4th 1776 “Independence Day” (244 years ago) that is a national holiday in this country celebrating the completion of the Declaration of Independence, which was not written with the human rights of black people, indigenous people, mexican people, or any other non-white people in mind at the time of its creation. (And yet we all celebrate it, don’t we?) Or the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln made in 1863 (157 years ago) which freed enslaved black people only in 13 states. 

So in 5 days, we will call out the celebration of this date when 155 years ago the legal enslavement of black people was supposed to end…. But we fail to call out that enslavement has NEVER ended in this country. Thanks to the brilliance of Ava DuVernay to call this to our consciousness poignantly with her masterful work “13th”, about the 13th Amendment of this country’s current constitution, also passed this same year of Juneteenth, which still states to this day:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

And who is disproportionately locked up as “punishment” for crimes they have been plea-bargained, threatened, coerced and railroaded into? Our black men and women. So 1865; 13th Amendment and Juneteeth happens, and racial enslavement changes its face to institutionalized racial imprisonment. 

Then we have vicious, deeply traumatizing racial terror initiated by white men and women from 1877 thru 1950, with black bodies hanging from trees…our sister Nina Simone wrote about it. 

Racial terror lynchings, as precisely defined by EJI, is “violent and public events designed to terrorize all black people in order to re-establish white supremacy and suppress black civil rights”. 

It’s Sunday…on this past Friday, at a Wendy’s drive thru Rayshard Brooks, a 27 yr old black man was lynched by an Atlanta police officer, shot twice in the back. Rayshard has 3 children; aged 1, 2 and 8, who now no longer have a daddy. 

In California Robert Fuller, a 24 yr old black man, and Malcolm Harsch a 38 yr old black man, both found hung from trees within 50 miles of each other in southern California

Oh, and then there is just the minor detail of the fact that in addition to this being our current context, we are ALSO in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has taken the lives of 117,000 people in the U.S. so far, we are leading the world in COVID deaths…and that number is only going up as states begin reopening…why? Because COVID has magically disappeared?? No. Because green matters more than any color skin. But black and brown people are disproportionately represented in deaths from this virus as well. If you are not paying attention, southern states are already reporting spikes in COVID numbers from their asinine reopenings