Monday, August 18, 2014

From Ferguson to Philly to Williamsport

Over the past week or so I have been holding four seemingly unrelated events together in my mind because in a strange way they seem to capture the essence of racial politics in our country today: the ongoing conflict and grief in Ferguson, MO over the shooting of an unarmed African-American boy Michael Brown by a  local white police officer; the shooting of a seventeen year old African American boy  by another African American young man as the former was coming out of a concert for peace on Wednesday, August 13 in Philadelphia; the ongoing financial crisis facing the Philadelphia public schools due to the Pennsylvania State Legislature cold-hearted unwillingness to give the schools  the funding they need; and finally the Taney Dragons Little League team from Philadelphia who are currently playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.

In  Ferguson, the more information that comes out, the more it appears that the death of Michael Brown was a case of a policeman venting his racial hatred at an innocent young man. Not that Brown was without fault; he can be seen on video tape from a store where he brazenly took something without paying. Yet when confronted by the police he was unarmed and the autopsy indicates he was killed execution style. Were this an isolated incident, the reaction might seem out of proportion, but the rage and anguish in the black community of Ferguson and across the country speaks to legacy of slavery, lynching and racial violence that continues to afflict and murder young black men in this nation.

Yet as my friend Gwen Ragsdale, curator of the Lest WeForget Slavery Holocaust Museum, an institution dedicated to telling the story of African slavery and its continuing effects on communities today, has always told the groups I have brought to the museum, “While the white man for centuries committed violence against us, now we are doing to ourselves.” That is why the shooting at the peace conference is so horrific. Not only is there tragic irony in the event, but it demonstrates yet again how poverty, racism and violence mixed together create a volatile mix that leads young black men killing each other in so many communities across the nation. The legacy of racial hatred seen in Ferguson has now been internalized such that statistically speaking I as a white man am safer in many black communities than black and Latino men who live there.

Yet the ongoing financial crisis facing the Philadelphia Public schools illustrates how this legacy of racism is not only seen in horrific acts such as mentioned in Ferguson and Philly, but is also seen in laws and policies of a government that promises fairness and equality for all and yet in reality practices equity for some and injustice for others. Were the children and grandchildren of the legislators assigned to the Philadelphia public schools, in one week sufficient funding and more would be provided. Yet hiding behind the veil of seeking a “balanced budget” that balances itself on the backs of the poor to serve the needs of the corporate elites and the wealthy, these legislators allow the city schools to languish with insufficient funds. This is institutional racism in action, a legacy that goes back to the era of Jim Crow, redlining and educational segregation. Moreover, the inadequacy of the educational system contributes to a 50% dropout rate, many of whom end up involved in street violence as was seen at the peace conference. The “school-to-prison-pipeline” is alive and well, and not coincidentally in Pennsylvania, the prisons get financial increases while the schools get little more than crumbs.

It is a pretty bleak picture, but that is why I need to bring into focus the Taney Dragons, a team from Philadelphia playing in Williamsport at the Little League World Series. The Dragons are a multi-racial, cross-city collection of kids who love baseball, play it well and in so doing have captured the heart of the city and to a degree a nation.  When I watch the Dragons, I think therein lies our hope. The hope is in the fact that despite the violence on their streets and the stress in their school system, these kids have come together to play some high quality baseball. More than that, they embody what a truly equitable, democratic, multiracial, multicultural society should be. According to Little League rules, every player on a team must play and have at least one at bat in every game; and at least in the Dragons case, all seem to have contributed to the team’s success. While the media has focused on Mone Davis, a thirteen year old girl with a 70+ mph fastball, what has impressed me is how well these kids play together. And Mone herself, when she is asked a question, always refers back to the team, and not herself as an individual.


I am saddened and sickened by the events in Ferguson, I grieve the young men of color who see their lives only ending either in death or prison, I am outraged at the intransigence of the Pennsylvania legislators who will not release the funds to assure Philadelphia school children have a quality education; but I revel in the hope provided by the Taney Dragons. Just like the beloved community that Dr. King often spoke of, the Dragons remind me of what it is we struggle and pray for – a world free of hatred, racism, violence and injustice – a world where all contribute and all are equally part of the team we call society.

2 comments:

Steve Miller said...

With all due respect Drick your comments that Michael Brown was shot out of racial hatred by a white cop are absolutely rediculous. You don't know this cop and we do not know the facts yet. You are way over the top on this Drick. I think these kind of comments only lead to more racial misunderstanding. They certainly don't lead to anything productive.

Drick Boyd said...

Steve - Here are the facts as we know them - a white cop shot an unarmed black youth six times. The local police chief stonewalled the investigation and continued to protect the police officer. Outside police and government forces have had to intervene in the situation. No, I don't know the policeman's heart, but the circumstances point to a racially based system that implicates not only the officer but the entire Ferguson police force.