Yes, the high profile killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman followed by Michael Brown and other Black men senselessly killed by the police, including Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, were met with outrage in the Black community. The problem: The outrage has been mostly episodic, not sustainable. This pattern of temporary outrage must change. And hopefully, existing and emerging Black groups, including Black Lives Matter, will work together to increase widespread sustainable righteous community outrage.
Minimized and/or forgotten, but no less significant, are many other examples of Blacks’ internalized rather overt outrage over the years. They include: Unarmed Leonard Deadwyler, shot and killed by LAPD when rushing his expectant wife to the hospital; unarmed Eula Love, killed by LAPD; Rodney King, beaten mercilessly by LAPD; unarmed 13-year-old Devon Brown, killed by LAPD. Trayvon too was a fading memory before Ferguson. Additionally, strong dissatisfaction over public schools’ failure to educate Black children and widespread police abuse by LAPD and LA County Sheriff Department have, in most cases, been met with pervasive silence, not sustained outrage. Though unaccustomed and obviously extremely difficult to achieve, Black people must begin to demand sustainable outrage and greater leadership accountability.
Less eye catching, but no less important, was the fleeting outrage in the Black community over the US Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Let’s briefly examine the Supreme Court’s decision in the VRA and certain affirmative action cases. Reactions range from “deeply disappointed” (President Barack Obama) to “outrage” (Congresswoman Karen Bass). The gutted provisions of Section 4 and Section 5 are at the heart of the Court’s Voting Rights Act ruling. Section 4 is the ”covered formula” used by the federal government to determine which states and counties are subject to continued oversight. Chief Justice John Roberts said the formula was “outdated and unworkable,” and the Court agreed.
Under Section 5, any changes in voting laws and procedures in the covered states—including much of the South—and even certain counties in California- had to be pre-cleared with Washington. But the court ruled Section 5 cannot be effectively enforced because it relies heavily on the covered formula, albeit the main tool for protecting Blacks and other people of color from state and local governments that set unfair and shifting barriers to the polls. Without Section 5, the very power and effect of the entire VRA will crumble.
VRA opponents argued, and the Supreme Court concurred in a 5-4 vote, that monitoring voting procedures under the law was overly burdensome and unwarranted. (This, despite Congress having re-authorized Sections 4 and 5 as recently as 2006.) It should also be noted that despite the pervasive bogus claim that America is a post-racial society, race was at the center of the VRA debate. Further, there is overwhelming evidence that Blacks, in particular, continue to encounter targeted discrimination at polling places throughout America.
Dissenting, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Congress re-authorized the VRA-including Sections 4 and 5- ten years ago, with overwhelming bipartisan support, “….and (since) that body is empowered to enforce civil rights amendments by appropriate legislation, it merits this court’s utmost respect.” (Justice Kennedy voted with the majority and is usually the “No” swing vote on civil rights, but the “Yes” swing vote in gay rights cases.)
Many conservative groups argue that “ancient formulas” are still being applied, not to reverse discrimination, but to benefit a particular political party. Liberals, citing strong evidence that Blacks and others of color face continuing barriers in and outside of the South, counter that Section 5 and federal oversight are being demonized by the right for political gain with the intent of continuing to divide Americans over race.
Depending on the particular opinion poll, Americans are sharply divided on affirmative action. Leading up to the Supreme Court’s VRA decision, an opinion poll by ABC News and the Washington Post showed that 76% of Americans opposed affirmative action in college admission. But a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 68% of Americans favored the principles of affirmative action. Similar conflicting findings are shown in other polls about the role the government should play in trying to improve conditions for Blacks and other people of color. Polls, notwithstanding, Black people are still the most discriminated against and demonized.
The court punted on affirmative action, (Fisher v. University of Texas). It neither ruled nor gutted affirmative action but sent the case back to the Appellate Court for further hearing. Many contend in doing so, it reaffirmed the court’s doctrine in the landmark, Grutter v. Bollinger, (2003). In that case, essentially, the court found that race, ethnicity and gender can be used in admissions decisions in colleges and universities as long as none is used as a primary or unilateral factor.
Episodic outrage without substantial follow up action actually helps to perpetuate, not change barriers to social and economic justice. The examples of injustice mentioned above are only the tip of a huge jaundiced iceberg.
Righteous outrage must be sustainable.it is necessary to bring about the political pressure crucial for actual long range change. Of course, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Black community itself to forge its own future which requires new mindsets and most important, new behavior. Developing sustainable righteous outrage is only one of other important tasks that collectively, we must undertake as part of a self-determined Black agenda.