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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why the Excuse "We Don't Have All the Facts" Doesn't Work

With the recent violence over the shooting of an unarmed African American teen in Ferguson, Missouri, has come the cry that we cannot act, we cannot stand up, we cannot speak out because we do not have all the facts yet. It sounds so reasonable. It is so wrong. We cannot sit idly by in the face of injustice. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that African American men are at greater risk than others during interactions with our own police forces. Within the last month prior to the death in Ferguson, at least four unarmed African American males had died when encountering our own law enforcement officers. This is unacceptable, no matter what the details that slowly bleed out from Ferguson may be. As for the footage of Michael Brown stealing from a cigar store prior to his death, a allegation the officer in question was unaware of at the time, when did theft become a capital crime in the US? It is irrelevant to the death and shows a real disregard for justice among those who released it.

Those who bring up the we don't have all the facts excuse for sitting on their hands and sitting safely on the sidelines fail to know our own history. I direct you to Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for a refutation of this excuse, well thought out, well written, and entirely relevant. It was written angrily (justifiably so) to King's fellow clergymen, who were employing this excuse to stay out of the fray in Birmingham.

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. 
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. 
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied." 

The bold and italics are mine. The statement is Rev. Dr. King's. The truth is timeless. Justice too long delayed is justice denied. When militarized police take to the streets and point their weapons at unarmed citizens, including children, it is time to act. When peaceful protesters are interlaced with those who would loot stores and throw Molotov cocktails, it is time to act. When a pastor praying in the streets is shot with a rubber bullet for promoting peace, it is time to act. When one protester shoots another as a night descends into chaos, it is time to act. Justice must not be delayed.

Read the entire letter for yourself at: http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

For a supporting post on working to end violence, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/08/standing-against-violence.html

For provocation to do something, see John Oliver's brilliant video: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/08/last-week-tonight-with-john-oliver.html

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