Saturday, May 9, 2015

Who Killed Jimmy Lee Jackson: From Selma to Baltimore, what have we learned?

By Sara Niles


America is a dynamic nation that adjusts to meet the needs of the people. During the 1960's the turmoil and conflict of war and civil unrest provoked enormous changes in American Culture. We are now at a new crossroads: Racial Justice.as the killing of Freddy Gray evokes a look back in the past.



The events leading up to the killing of Freddy Gray that inspired the marches and riots of Baltimore are eerily similar to the events that led up to Bloody Sunday of 1965 in which peaceful Black protesters led by Martin Luther King were brutally attacked and bludgeoned during the Selma to Montgomery march. The death of an unarmed Black man preceded both the famous Selma march and the Baltimore marches and riots.  Jimmy Lee Jackson was a 26 year-old Army veteran , father, and activist, who was  also a revered church deacon whose only agenda had been to break down the voting barriers for Blacks living in the south, before he was murdered by an Alabama state Trooper while trying to protect his mother and grandfather. 

   Freddy Gray was arrested in April of 2015 after having been chased down and charged with carrying an illegal ‘switchblade’, or what some consider a pocket knife. During the police's  apprehension of Gray, serious injuries were suffered that resulted in his death. Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot by a state trooper, and Freddy Gray was killed by lethal force by the direct and indirect acts of six officers of the law, in both cases two young Black men were killed, sparking a national reaction.

Both Gray and Jackson became catalysts of change during a time when the climate was ripe: the civil unrest of the 1960’s due to racial inequality, was building to a climax, just as in the case of Freddy Gray. The  Rodney King Beating of 1992 Ignited protest and riots, leading to the trial and later acquittal of the officers responsible. See Video of Rodney King Beating

The killing of Freddy Gray was the last straw for many who were fed up with killings of unarmed Black men by members of law enforcement without any serious recourse. It is as though an unspoken creed was in place, based upon cultural biases: the general culture within law enforcement is a reflection of the larger culture, and as such, the devaluation of young Black men in America has become an implicit bias that is acted out more than it is openly expressed. The long history of American injustice toward Blacks goes back to slavery, and with the ending of slavery came hundreds of years of prejudice and bias that prevented the unimpeded Black vote as recently as 1965 when the violence against peaceful Selma marchers led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act   signed by Lyndon B Johnson which removed the multiple 'legal' barriers to the Black Vote.  The culture of the South was so infused with prejudice and a sense of White supremacy that a special act of congress was needed to overcome it.  In the case of Freddy Gray, culture hides implicit bias that protects ‘legal’ murder by police officers only when the victims are Black. If a police officer was seen on video firing several shots into the back of an unarmed, Rich Young White Man, for a minor offense or no offense at all, the outcry would be horrendous and the repercussions swift. But What If, What If the treatment or young White Men and young Black Men was reversed and young white men were killed in the streets by police? The value of the lives of white men would be changed and this would be especially true if such behavior became so routine that mothers and fathers of young, rich, White men would be uneasy and fearful that a police officer may murder their son under some pretense of just authority or cause. It would be especially unjust if the officers routinely 'got away with it', to the point they were no longer in fear of losing jobs or freedom if they carelessly fired upon unarmed, rich, White men. Pause for thought.

The truth that is borne out by an accumulation of facts,and that truth it is the fact that unarmed, young, poor, Black men are unequally targeted and unequally treated by police as part of police culture. The 'Blue Wall' of protection and false allegiance that exists within police culture is part of the larger 'Blue Culture', or the accepted norms and attitudes that exist within police departments across the country. Many of these attitudes are unspoken, not a part of written policy, but are in 'the air' as part of the belief systems that build police rapport. The unquestioning support of officers for each other allows room for the few police violators to exist as bullies within the force. Little by little values are eroded and the norms change until the 'good cops' stand quietly by while the few bad apples corrupt the badges they swore to honor. 

The police culture operates within the larger culture in which similar attitudes exist within juries and within the courts that allow too much leeway in the 'discretion' of an individual police officer. The boundaries should be the same for all, 'justice for all' includes holding police officers to the same standard as we are all held to. When courts routinely fail to indict and routinely acquit police officers for crimes they routinely indict and convict others for, it is an injustice.

Since the Rodney King case that ended in acquittal, the cases of police murder and unlawful killings that have received national attention are increasing:  Police Murder and Killings, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and Walter Scott are just a few of the well-known cases. The Killing of Young Black Men has reached epidemic proportions, it is almost like open hunting season has been declared and innocent blood is being shed. Justice is not being served and the patience of Lady Justice is running short, as evidenced by the enraged moral consciences of the Million Mother's March held this Mother's Day, 2015.

Justice involves the act of balancing the scales when a wrong is committed, an act that is integral to keeping a morally and judicially balanced structure within civilized society. When justice is lacking, or when it is only paid lip service to, the society as a whole suffers in the long run. Things are out of balance when Black men are murdered by those entrusted with the vested power of the law behind them, and especially when the scales of justice are tilted against the victims


The health of society demands the scales of justice become balanced. The killing of Jimmy Lee Jackson and Freddy Gray are loud cries that must be heard; otherwise there will continue to be growing civil unrest as injustice tears apart the fabric of society.  America was built upon the principles of justice and equality, as the Pledge of Allegiance states, we will have “ Justice for All”. Until there is justice for all, America will remain unbalanced. Jimmy Lee Jackson died seeking justice. Freddie Gray still awaits justice. Let there be "Justice for All".