Intrepid Observer

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But the law worked: Musings on our justice system and the verdict in Cleveland 

“…the heart has no tears to give,–it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence.” – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

In April 2015, a MA jury rendered a guilty verdict in the trial of former NFL player, Aaron Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd, surprising some legal experts who thought the absence of the murder weapon, and a lack of incontrovertible proof that he pulled the trigger would have resulted in a not guilty verdict. However, a jury of his peers said, we have enough circumstantial evidence, and Hernandez is now serving life without parole. Our laws worked, and justice was served, said many!

Contrast this with the story of Officer Brelo, a Cleveland police officer who climbed on the hood of a car occupied by Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, and pumped 15 additional shots at close range into their already mutilated bodies. At final count, 137 shots fired at Russell, and Williams, 49 of them by Brelo, as if Black bodies are like those of an elephant or a rhino with large frames, and thick skins requiring a hail of bullets to even maim. Officer Brelo sought a bench trial, and was acquitted this week by a judge who understood how Black bodies by their very presence continue to pose a clear and present danger to society.

It is the mere presence of Black bodies that equally produced a high level of fear, and also caused the aggression we saw from Officer Brelo, so much that he climbed on the hood of a car, and finished what he and at least 10 other officers had started – eradicating the threat. Fearing for his life, Officer Brelo did not run for cover, he faced the danger head-on, and eliminated it. Judge John P. O’Donnell said he not only found Brelo’s fear reasonable, but said the evidence in this case could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Brelo’s 49 shots (and not some other officer) killed the occupants of the car.

In scenario one (Hernandez) case above, we know Hernandez was at the crime scene, we know there was a collusion, and we surmised that he probably pulled the trigger. This was enough to give him life without parole. In scenario two, we know Officer Brelo was there; we have his gun that fired 49 shots, but we are not sure any of his 49 killed Williams and Russell, as another 88 shots were fired, and one or more of those shots may have inflicted the final blows. In other words, because so many other bullets were fired by so many officers, we are going to let Brelo walk free. Black bodies riddled with bullets, but the examiners cannot figure out which bullet from what gun actually stopped the heart, so it is better to let all go free than lock up one clearly guilty participant in a crime. Our laws essentially said, we do not need to waste time on whether Brelo’s actions or the shots he fired contributed to the individuals’ death. If we don’t know that his shots actually killed them, then we must conclude that his 49 shots might not have done the trick as these subhumans are tricky to kill. Our laws worked!

Why weren’t the other officers charged, some ask? Does the fact that Brelo’s peers weren’t charged make him innocent? What is clear, yet astonishing is that the prosecution seemed to think the first 122 bullets fired were a reasonable use of force, and only seemed to see excess and reckless behavior when Brelo decided to go in for the kill – he wanted to make sure they died, yet he is no way responsible for their deaths. A man who feared for his life, stopped to reload his Glock, and must have ascertained at that point that no shots were coming back at him, was undeterred in his mission, and made sure he accomplished it.

Yet, Officer Brelo walks free!

I say a law that shields the aggressor, the guilty, the perpetrator over providing justice for the unarmed, the victim, the dying, and the dead is one worthy of close and critical examination, and is no law at all. If the actions of Brelo are measured, warranted, and justified against Black lives, then I shudder to think of the appropriate use of force when we are in fact armed.

Justice continues to be denied. Deferred. Delayed.

The US justice system as it currently functions is like a quote from Animal Farm. Under our laws, all animals are equal, but in the application of the law, this could not be further from the truth. As I read, dialogue, and mull so much of the reaction to the case in Cleveland, the following questions are still unsettled for me. I will limit them to Brelo’s actions since he was on trial.

1) Was Officer Brelo justified in his actions? If so, based on what?

2) What was his intent when he climbed on the hood of the car? Is this the actions of a reasonable person who feared for his life?

3) Did Officer Brelo’s actions contribute to the deaths of the occupants of the car?

4) Do we think a judge or jury would have set free a group of Black men or a Black man – who shot up a car – because the law could not determine which one of his/their deadly bullets killed the occupants?

5) When we think both historically and currently about the value we place on the life of not just whites, but a white woman, can you imagine a white woman’s bullet riddled body not receiving justice? Can we imagine the horror in this country if Brelo had shot a white woman the way he mangled Malissa’s body?

Two cases tried under American law, two high profile cases, one trial by jury, and one by a judge, and a lot more complex issues that create differences, I am sure. But big picture, they provide a close-up of our justice system, and the people it serves, and shows yet again, that who you are, and who harms you are often good predictors of the type of treatment you will receive. We have no issues rendering guilty verdicts when it involves brown on brown crimes, or with brown people killing whites, but when brown folks need justice against whites under the same system, every bow must be neatly tied, and a higher threshold must be met. We work overtime to make sure the law works for those it was designed to serve.

What is the law, but a set of rules meant to fairly govern us? Is it the law that is on trial in the case in Cleveland, or is it the application of the law? The law worked, many exclaimed, but what of its application dead bodies cry from their graves?

When we say the law worked, what do we mean? Do we mean that justice was served for Russell and Williams, or is that not necessary for the law to work? Do we mean it worked because the judge let Brelo go because as he said, he was unable to prove that any of his 49 shots were the fatal shots? Does it also mean Brelo is not culpable in the deaths? Do we mean that Brelo is innocent or like his attorney said, “he did nothing wrong.”

What is true, and astonishing at times, is how much we ensure that the law works for certain members of society, that a conviction will only occur when the case is so airtight, and irrefutable that we could find no loopholes. But for those on the margins or possessing of brown skins, we function with a much lower threshold when we need to prove their guilt.

So, if we mean the law works for those it always works for, then it worked perfectly. However, there are two dead bodies, and we know who was trying to kill them (and they succeeded in the kill), and yet this law doesn’t work for the victims. Like any other good design, we need to judge the law on its function, and our laws continue to fail poor and brown-skinned Americans at an astonishing rate. In America, “you get better treatment if you are rich, white and/or powerful, AND guilty, than if you are poor, Black and innocent.” But, the law worked.

Williams and Russell’s bodies are in a cemetery, and their friends and  families are left to grieve. They must also bear the added trauma of knowing their loved ones will never receive justice, but the law worked.

“Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear.” – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

137 shots fired. 49 by Officer Brelo. 15 at close range in the bodies of Williams and Russell. 2 dead bodies. 1 officer charged. 0 found guilty. But the law worked!

Williams and Russell sentenced to a death squad for having a car that backfired while Black. But the law worked!

Was justice served? But the law worked!

Williams and Russell’s crime joins the growing list of,

Walking while Black

Driving while Black

Running while Black

Making Eye Contact while Black……..

But the law worked!


“Of course innocent mistakes occur but the accumulated insults and indignations caused by racial presumptions are destructive in ways that are hard to measure. Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden born by people of color that can’t be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.” – Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative


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America’s Elusive Dawn: Musings on how a nation went up in flames


“That these are our grievances which we have thus laid before his majesty, with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.”

It is probably fitting, even if a bit ironic, that our pseudo post racial, color blind nation burst into angry rhetoric, and not so civil unrest during the Thanksgiving holidays.  If we know history, we will recall that our very first Thanksgiving came out of desire to pause fighting, and give thanks. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

It is hard to find an innocent bystander, an active listener, a peacemaker or a constructive discourse on the Ferguson affair. All across America, battle lines are drawn, we are screaming, and many it seems stand ready for war.

“Shoot the bastards,” some proclaim, which sounds eerily similar to what the British said when our forebears decided they wanted rights.  But a forgetful nation can sometimes act like adults whose kids are out of diapers; we fail to remember what it feels like to have an infant. And it is the harshness with which we treat those seeking a hearing, and equal protection under the law that most saddens me.

Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice
Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice

I don’t want no peace
I need equal rights and justice – Peter Tosh

As a nation, we have plundered, enslaved, killed, stolen land, captured ships (filled with tea), led rebellions, participated in civil disobedience, and burned bodies at the stake. Our disgraceful history should humble us, and yet some of us cast it aside and get so angry and self-righteous at some of our fellow citizens stopping traffic – in pursuit of justice. We are also quick to condemn looting, and destruction of property, yet we remain silent on equally important and even bigger issues. We hate and condemn the things we have outgrown. Like I said, we are a forgetful nation.

While the events since the Ferguson verdict has come as a surprise to some, for many others the delay in addressing the ills that deeply affect a segment of our society could only have this ending. Explained simply, when open wounds are covered with band aids, pus results, wounds starts to stink and get infected. Ferguson represents an untreated sore!

Consequently, the tragedy in Ferguson and resulting protests across the country is about Michael Brown, but it is also in response to an accumulation of injustices – real and perceived – and smouldering issues we have failed to address. Maturating issues such as unequal treatment under the law, racial profiling, and systemic oppression, and the vestiges of slavery that still haunt pockets of our country.

These issues have largely gone unaddressed because we are a dishonest nation. We are experts at pretending our country has emerged to a new dawn for all. Until we accept (and address) that we have two forms of justice system in this country, that where you live, and who you are matters immensely, we will continue to have Fergusons. A large group of Americans, mostly poor, and largely Black are having a very different experience in the land of the free, and home of the brave. We have to own it!

Black and poor Americans are not just mad, lazy and evil. I am asking you to trust me on that! Some of our fellow Americans are feeling oppressed, and disenfranchised. They are heartbroken, grieving, discontented, and hurting, and many wake up to more hopelessness every day. They must heal and grieve without doctors, or grief counselors or an empathetic nation. Not because you or I do not experience the same thing means it is not happening to others.

No discussion of our nation’s complex past happens without discussing the poor relationship between law enforcement and minority communities. Many minority communities have a distrust of law enforcement because their interactions with the law are often tragic. Police officers are human, and like any of us they have fears and prejudices. Many also have a very tough job, and work in communities that hate their guts. But, the police also have immense power, and not all use it wisely, and sparingly. Also, our horrific history means that many of the Jim Crow laws enforced in this country came at the hands of the police. There are African Americans still alive for whom hoses, dogs, batons, and guns are recurring nightmares. And they, and many others, especially young Black men experience racial profiling, heavy handedness, stiffer fines and penalties, excessive, and sometimes deadly force at the hands of police and our legal system. For these communities, there is deep distrust, and 2014 feels like a continuation of Jim Crow laws.

Minority experiences are not different because “we are all thugs who commit crimes, and police must deal with us.” Yes, some of us are, just like any other group of people, but many of us are also hard working, honest citizens who want to feel safe around the police. So, if the only images you can conjure up of law enforcement are feeling safe and protected, it’s okay. You do not have to apologize for it. But please leave room for those whose relationship is hostile, and antagonistic at best. Much of this is rooted in the legacy (and continuation) of racial inequality and systemic oppression in this country.

With this stained history as a backdrop, we must choose to be Americans first. Us must not become “they,” Boston Strong cannot become “the natives,” protesters born of the American Revolution are not “domestic terrorists” or “thugs,” and freedom of speech is not our right to quell. Love asks us to be an empathetic, unified nation of adults that start to listen to each other, and find workable solutions that benefits all of us.

….bitterly she weeps in the night
tears run down her cheeks
she has no one to bring her comfort.”
– Lamentations, Mutabaruka

Today as we gobble, I am feeling crushed, wounded, and broken. I am also tired  – tired of the circular, often destructive conversations that leave many of us injured and distrustful of each other. I am tired of our collective hypocrisy; We love to promote democracy and human rights abroad. Yet our wounds fester at home!

I am also saddened by the missed opportunities to reach across racial, and class lines, and enjoy the beauty and diversity of our great nation. Too many of us do not have a friend who is different from us, one that makes us uncomfortable, or compassionate. One that causes us to think before speaking – a friend we knew our words and actions would hurt. Separate and mostly equal cannot be our defining legacy.

My 11-y-o son stayed up for the grand jury verdict in the Michael Brown case. He wanted to find out the verdict firsthand, In the end it came – sadly – as no surprise to me, but it seemed to surprise him. As I watched him sit quietly with tears staining his still somewhat baby cheeks; I hated the burdens and responsibilities of being a Black mother. I also hated myself for letting him stay up because staying up seemed to mean so much to him. Staying up gave him hope! His broken heart crushed me more than I can explain.

But I have to trust that a full dawn awaits my son, and his generation. I have to believe that every generation brings us closer to the new dawn, and that “the lamp of liberty will burn in our bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.” We cannot let another opportunity go up in flames. I appeal to all of us to try to walk around in someone else’s shoes. We will be a better nation for it. Let’s fight the system, not each other!

AMERICA STRONG! How will you elevate the discussion?

 “…and when the sun rest in the West, hope that we have done our best. Times are a changing, the world needs rearranging. Life continues after you and me, play your part let man be free. – Mutabaruka

Dedicated to all for whom justice and freedom are too often just spoken words.

Smouldering image courtesy of Aljazeera America


MY MOM took the blows for me!

“My father was one of those men who sit in a room and you can feel it: the simmer, the sense of some unpredictable force that might, at any moment, break loose, and do something terrible. ― John Burnside, A Lie About My Father: A Memoir


The first time I saw the movie, The Accused with Jodie Foster, I bawled like a baby who had been hungry for days. The images of a group of people looking on while Tobia (played by Foster) was brutally raped unearthed some traumatic, childhood memories I had long tried to suppress. Tobia was the victim of rape; I was a witness to a vicious cycle of domestic abuse.


I grew up in a home and community where almost on a daily basis I witnessed unspeakable acts of domestic abuse. My dad would hit and beat my mom, almost to a pulp, and as a child to watch her crumble in pain and hurt and shame, and see only one person come to her rescue was hard to swallow and process.


My mom, unlike many victims of domestic abuse did not stay silent. She told his friends and some of our neighbors; some neighbors saw, but none of them helped her. My dad – at the time – was a respected member of our community, the one whose honor needed protection, and my mom was shunned.


The beatings and blows are still seared in my consciousness. I sometimes react viscerally to stories of domestic abuse, because every story brings me back to my childhood, and a reliving of the horrors. I was not the intended victim, but children in abusive homes also pay a tremendous price.


My mom tried to defend herself. She tried fighting back, but she was no match for the cruel blows that would land squarely across her cheek, her head, her back, wherever he could reach. And in our home the size of my parents did not matter; my dad was both smaller and shorter than my mom, but his anger and temper more than made up for any perceived inadequacies.


The case that I remember the most was when my mom was pregnant with my youngest sister. She was huge, as most pregnant women are, and here she was barely able to move trying to run to a neighbor’s house to seek refuge. I was so scared for my mom, and I was screaming at the top of my lungs as she ran what must have felt like a marathon. My dad was gaining ground and he had a machete, and he lunged at my mom. She fell over the barbed wire that separated our land from our neighbor’s, and I heard a thud. 


The thud was the sound of how a very large pregnant woman, my mom, sounded when she hit the ground. It was not from an unwieldy pregnancy, but from attempting to scale a barbed fence. Someone helped my mom that day, and I remember loving her so deeply for it, not just at that moment, but forever. Even though Patsy Washington has left this life, I owe her a great debt. She kept my mom safe in a community of onlookers. My mom’s life was spared, and so was my baby sister.


I was shocked when my baby sister was born; it seemed so soon after this latest incident. Looking at her then, and thinking of her now, I cannot believe how much the world would have lost out. She is smart, witty, feisty, and she takes no crap from anyone. 


Domestic violence is real. It is potent, and evil, and it hides in dark corners and secret places. Domestic violence kills. It ruins lives, and wreaks havoc and destroys relationships. It happens in more places than we think – in every town, every income bracket, every race and creed. And though women are its primary targets, it also happens to men.


I replay my childhood a lot, and I often put my community on trial. I serve as prosecutor, jury and judge, and in every instance, I sentence not just my dad, but I charge and condemn my community for being accessories and passive witnesses to heinous crimes. They failed my mom, and they failed my siblings and me.


My entire childhood was spent in Jamaica, and the incidents of domestic violence I witnessed, not just in my home, but in public are too numerous to document. Women were failed at every turn, and were often accused of causing the abuse. In my teens I would become aware of a very sickening and pervasive saying, “if your man is not hitting you, he doesn’t love you enough.” We even had female performers communicating this ignorance and nonsense through music, and it crippled and paralyzed many victims. Yet, there was hardly any collective outrage at domestic violence, and many of our bravest, strongest women suffered, and some even died in silence.


Many women with my mom’s limited economic means probably stayed for that primary reason. Others stayed because of kids like me. For every blow she took, I am reminded that my mom took it for me.


 “As tears fall from her face she begins to sway
Love shouldn’t hurt this way.” ― Diana Rasmussen, Snow White Darkness


Jamaica had no formal support systems when I was growing up. There was no 911 response system, and I am sure somewhere there were police that cared, but I never met any. You could beat a woman in public; she would be bleeding, and if she could take herself to many police stations across Jamaica, and she would not get a hearing, so forget justice. Some of that has changed, and a woman does not need to testify against her abuser for charges to be brought, but Jamaica is still a far way off.


Yet I am writing this not only because of what happened in Jamaica, but what is happening in America. Domestic violence looks the same no matter where it happens. It is just as ugly, and vile, and many victims are still being blamed.


My mom found the courage to leave my dad. Amen. I was a teenager then, and since he abused her all of their marriage, it means it took her at least a decade plus to leave him. But she did it! She had no great plan, but she put one foot in front of the other, and took the first step. She made the best arrangements she could for us, and she fled. There were six of us, and we ended up in four different homes, without a mother or a dad. Someday I might share some of those stories, but thankfully, we all survived. 


My mom is one of the bravest persons I know. She is also a survivor, and a champion. My siblings and I owe her a great deal, and my lucky husband and our kids do as well. And we all know it.

If you need help or know someone who does, please do not stay quiet. The statistics are sobering.


Some of the facts:


The following organizations can help:


American Bar Association Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence


Battered Women’s Justice Project


National Domestic Violence Hotline


National Coalition against Domestic Violence

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Broken Glass: Coming to terms with my unattainable dream

“What happens to a dream deferred?

“Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?” – Langston Hughes


I am at this crossroad in my life. Competing priorities, unfulfilled dreams, busyness, overwork, unrealistic expectations, fear, lack of self-confidence, and lack of fulfillment have left me feeling like an underachiever. This reality has sapped me of most of my energy in the last few months.

I have resorted to weeping.

I have never wanted to be a princess. I was never curious about fame. Sometimes I have desired fortune, but it was usually fleeting. But the one desire that have stayed with me – since I was a kid – was being a journalist. To be specific, I wanted to be a mix of an advocacy and photojournalist.

I was going to be the best damn journalist reporting from every war-torn, disaster stricken, famine infested place on the planet. I was going to report news that informed us, that tore at our innermost beings, news that caused us to care about each other. News that moved us to act. And I would use photographs, strong investigative skills, truth, and persuasion.
I was going to change the world.

Fast forward to a few decades later, and this dream is unfulfilled. I got the training in both journalism, and photography, but never worked a day in the field. Little by little, inch by inch, things chipped away at that dream, and in each case I relented.

I started giving up on the dream when a boyfriend told me a woman thinking of having a family someday should not venture into dangerous areas. And I gave up even more ground when the Church told me my place was in the home. When I got married, and started a family, the questions became, how could I leave young kids behind?  Wasn’t it selfish to put a career before a family?

“My hopes were all dead — struck with a subtle doom, such as, in one night, fell on all the first-born in the land of Egypt. I looked on my cherished wishes, yesterday so blooming and glowing; they lay stark, chill, livid corpses that could never revive….” –  Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

As I curl up in my favorite couch with my 16-month-old son, while typing this piece, Langston Hughes’ poem, “Dream Deferred ” floods my mind. Is my dream really deferred or is it dead?  Should I still feel disappointment even if I think I made the right choice at the time for my family?

Should I have leaned in more?

I made all the decisions regarding my life, and career, so the buck stops with me. I have no one else to blame, and I hold no one else responsible for my disappointment. At times it does become tempting to wonder out loud about the available choices for women, but I am learning to let it go. I have minimal interest in rehashing some of these ongoing debates – important as they are. What I have come to learn, and maybe accept is that we all have tough decisions to make, and some of us will have better outcomes than others. We all give up something, and very few of us will have it all, and even fewer still have it all at the same time?

So maybe I settled for the “easy” life; the life that kept me at home, the one I thought would most preserve my family. I enrolled in business school; I got the degrees, but never the passion for the work. I worked, but never indulged. I sampled, but never fully participated. It was a job, a way to make a living, but never a career. When the first child came, I quit, and even though I started and still maintain a successful accounting business, I ache inside.



Today I have four kids, and responsibility aplenty. I am at the point where I have accepted that my journalism career as I envisioned it, is dead.  But what do I do with the fire that still burns? How does one extinguish an eternal flame?

None of the images in the article belong to me. 

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“Die the Long Day No More:” The long walk to freedom

“The hour is at hand, the Monster is dying….the winds of freedom appeared to have been set loose, the very building shook at the strange yet sacred joy.” – William Knibb, Baptist preacher and abolitionist

The words slavery and abolition were seen strolling together in 1833. As the story goes, Britain was planning to abolish slavery, by way of The Slavery Abolition Act. With this force of the pen, the British West Indies, including Jamaica would get their freedom. Prior to this step, the Transatlantic Trade in Africans (TTA) or what Black folks call the slave trade had ended in 1807. Both the TTA, and slavery continued beyond these dates in the United States of America.

Today, Jamaicans everywhere celebrate Emancipation Day; we reflect on our freedoms, our successes and on the black, green, and gold. This flag that reminds us that life is hard, but the land is green, and the sun still shines. We are free.


The British Empire did not wake up one morning with a conscience, and decide that Blacks were equals, worthy of their human rights, and dignity. The TTA was too profitable an endeavor to let little things such as freedom, and human rights get in the way. And even when the wheels of justice started to roll, emancipation came in stages. The first freed Blacks were six and under, because free labor for the plantations was still in demand. So everyone older than six had to enter a six-year apprenticeship. My ancestors continued to work without pay for the massas, but this time they were promised food, clothing, and shelter.

“I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery” – Sam Sharpe

It was they, along with the abolitionists that forced the British Parliament to act. Today I stand on the shoulders of those ancestors. Liberators like Nanny, fierce fighting Maroon warriors from West Africa brought as slaves to the Caribbean. These Jamaican Maroons who would prove the greatest threat to the British colonists, but sadly also help them capture their “brothers,” to preserve their own freedoms.

I am free because of Tacky’s rebellion in 1760, and Sam Sharpe’s revolt in 1831. Tacky, a Ghanaian chief – before being enslaved – led a group of slaves in my hometown parish of St. Mary, on Easter in 1760.

Easter – what a perfect time to rise up! Even though Tacky died, the sword of rebellion was drawn, and unrest spread across the island of Jamaica.

Sam Sharpe – one of my biggest heroes – went to the gallows for me. His famous words still echo across Jamaica, and they are in my veins. “I rather die on yonder gallows than live in slavery.” Sharpe was a Baptist deacon, and he started a Christmas rebellion or the first Baptist War. Sam Sharpe is credited with forcing the British Parliament to pass the Slavery Abolition Act._MG_7782_copy

Some theologians have called the Sam Sharpe revolt, the Exodus story for Blacks. Whether Sharpe was acting as God’s direct agent, I do not know, but I am glad he wanted freedom, and sovereignty over his own life. Sam Sharpe was executed in Market Square in 1832. Today a statue in the town square in Montego Bay honors this great national hero.

Paul Bogle, another deacon who led the Morant Bay Rebellion. He was hanged in 1865, long after slavery was abolished, for protesting against injustice.

I am free because of abolitionists like William Wilberforce, William Knibb, and Granville Sharp, and for all those who spoke up, stood, fought, and died.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. – Marcus Garvey

Today as I reminisce, I think of some of Jamaica’s hardships – unemployment, high crime, lack of good roads, or consistent running water or electricity in places. But I also think of our indomitable spirit, that will to survive, the desire to be the best, our love of community, family, and fun. This Jamaican-ness was described by Orlando Patterson in a conversation he had with noted poet and actor, Kwame Dawes. Describing Jamaica’s slavery and its impact,” Patterson said, “the Jamaican psyche has had to come through such brutality and trauma. This survival… has led to some positive qualities of daring, invention, and resilience, while, at the same time, it has produced a deep mistrust for authority and a capacity for violence.”

I also think of some of our exports – reggae music, and some of the giants of the genre, such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and Marcia Griffiths. Sports – Fraser-Pryce, Michael Holding, Courtney Walsh, Merlene Ottey, and Usain Bolt. Great writers, playwrights, poets – Ms Lou, Mutabaruka, Claude McKay, and numerous other contributors. And of course sensimilla!


“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.” – Bob Marley

After almost two and a half decades in self-imposed exile, home still brings a mixture of smile, and sadness. I have memories of the house I grew up – in the parish where Tacky fought for freedom. Like Claude McKay, I realize that I have forgotten so much, but each time I return I luxuriate in the beauty of the rich vegetation, the naseberry, and jackfruit trees, and I eat some ackee. I also take time to admire the mango trees in full bloom, and the fruit-bearing banana trees as they sway in the cool breeze. They, more than anything else with their supple and flexible structure remind me of freedom.

I conjure up my family’s garden filled with cucumber, tomatoes, and callaloo. I remember the yam hills, and corn, and the scarecrows we erected to keep the mongoose at bay. I recall the trek to get water in blazing heat; I also relive the hilly terrain, with even more mango trees and the bamboo, and cocoa trees.

Then there were the green hills that led to a tree-lined river. This was where I went for water, and I would balance the kegs on my head, on that long walk back home. Yet, this sun-drenched greenery always lifted my spirit. This surrounding was enough to enjoy in itself, but it also gave me hope, as it showed me what could be accomplished from the land.

And sometimes I would see the farmers hoeing, and digging in sweat-drenched shirts, and I would remember this is why Sharpe, and Bogle, and Nanny fought. Our existence was not an easy one, and many were still forging their destiny, but we were a free people, and we could decide who we wanted to be. Farmers, teachers, doctors, prime ministers, musicians, athletes. Like Ziggy Marley said, “free to be who we want to be.”

This land, these people, this country, my homeland, my destiny, forged on the backs of slaves. Today, I am free, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my forefathers.

The Jamaican flag flies high. This green, black and gold, which forever reminds me, “hardships exist, but the land is green and the sun shines.” So I continue to walk in freedom.

Happy Emancipation Day 2013.

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Willie Louis: Tribute to an unsung American HERO

Our  lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – MLK

He walked through a rabid mob filled with the klan to testify, and to speak truth to a divided nation at the Emmett Till trial. He was alive to hear the verdict in the George Zimmerman case. He died five days later.

Willie Louis (Willie Reed), 76, a son of sharecroppers, and an unsung civil rights hero, died on Thursday, July 18, 2013.

Louis was a key witness in the 1955 Emmett Till murder trial. He testified of hearing screams, and licks, until he heard no more sounds. He was discouraged from testifying by his family; they told him his testimony would not hold up against white men, but he testified anyway.

An all-white jury acquitted the two men who murdered Till, and Louis fled to Chicago, changed his name, and vanished, out of fear for his life. He would later be discovered by a journalist who was doing research, and making a documentary for PBS, and he again told us his story.


I  learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The  brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that  fear. – Nelson Mandela

In 1955, in a segregated South, Louis knew the risk he was taking, but he took it anyway. He knew both sides of the aisle would be filled with men and women who hated him, and would kill him if they got the chance, but he walked anyway.

He probably knew a jury in 1955 would not convict white men for killing a Black man, but he took the stand anyway. He knew his testimony might not be enough, but he testified anyway. And he heard a verdict of not guilty, and watched two murderers walk free, and then he fled.

Almost 60 years later, Louis would still be alive to hear the verdict in what some describe as a similar case (Zimmerman/Martin).

I wonder how Willie felt about our nation’s progress.


Cries from the hood-yard: Where is a Black man’s justice enshrined?

“……They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished. We are completely finished.” Ezekiel 37:11

On February 5, 1999, when Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 22-year-old West African was shot dead like a prairie kill in New York, I sobbed uncontrollably. How could this happen? He was reaching for his wallet, but like the tragic deaths of many other Black men, he was profiled as armed, and gunned down. Four New York city police officers shot at him 41 times, pumping 19 of those shots in his body. They were later acquitted.

Diallo – like many others – fit the description of the criminal police were looking for.

Within a few days, a profile of Amadou, this immigrant from Guinea began to emerge. We were provided with his criminal record – he had none – so our level of sympathy could now be determined. It was even okay to be outraged.

I remember the mangled, and excruciating pain I felt in my gut, as I wept for yet another brother, one I had never met. I thought of his mother, Black mothers, my brothers, my husband, my eventual sons, and I bawled as if justice depended on my intensity.

“He must have done something wrong in his life!”

I was overcome with grief, depression, and hopelessness; I needed someone outside my immediate family circle to understand why. For me it was so painful, and if others could empathize, then maybe things could start to get better, the trust could be improved, and the fear of each other diminished. I needed a Caucasian friend to cry with me, to tell me they could understand just this one or this once. I took a chance, and called a former co-worker, and through tears I retold the story of Diallo. He listened, and at the end he said to me, “even if he was not armed or guilty here, he must have done something wrong in his life.”

I was stunned, flabbergasted, and ashamed. And as I gently hung up that phone it dawned on me the extent of the chasm that sometimes exist between Black and white America. I also realized how impossible it was for a Black man to be humanized, deemed worthy of our affection, empathy, and public cries for justice.

In America before the wheels of justice are oiled, before a determination is made on whether to pursue justice for a Black man, the prosecution must determine if the crime is so egregious that even the most dispassionate, and indifferent among us could render a verdict in his favor. And for that we must first do research. Did he ever smoke marijuana, a rite of passage for many other Americans, and a drug which some states have started to legalize.

Has he ever been suspended from school? Was he ever in a fight? Did he listen to rap, the choice of music for most suburban white kids, but which does not render them as potential criminals or indefensible.

Did he? Has he? Was he?……………………………………..

A few days ago I read a friend’s post as he painstakingly tried to explain to one of his friends how Trayvon was only minding his own business, and that he did not deserve to die. He further explained how he finds it inconceivable that a minor can be pursued by an adult, then killed, and is not held responsible in any way.

“Which one had traces of marijuana in his system?”

The question (and response) that came back to determine, and legitimize Martin’s guilt was, which one – Martin or Zimmerman – was found to have marijuana in his system?  Smoking a joint is cause for taking a Black man’s life even as he ignored that we do not know what was in Zimmerman’s system because Sanford police did not think it to be important.

And therein lies part of the problem. A Black man’s guilt can be determined in so many trivial ways. Killing him can be justified by any conjured up or real misdemeanor. And any slight offense is worthy of shooting him, not like a dog, because in America you cannot do that. Dogs, geese, spotted owls, cats all have rights, some are in special “protected” classes, and any infringement on their rights brings the full and collective wrath of America.

How do we get a Black man those rights?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Black man must justify his presence, and the reasons for someone else’s fear. What was he doing in a certain neighborhood – obviously where he did not belong? In Martin’s case, this was not the hood; this was a gated community.

Why was he wearing a hoodie? Did he not know such clothing (also preferred by Mark Zuckerberg) could make others uncomfortable?

He used the concrete as a weapon against an upstanding member of a community. Why was he armed? And like some Americans will tell you, if my neighborhood had experienced a string of burglaries, I would have acted too when I saw someone who looked guilty.

Does it matter that Zimmerman is not the law? Did it matter that he did not know Martin? Did it matter that upon sight he was guilty by being a “punk, who always get away with things?” Well, he did not get away this time. Because killing a Black man is always justice; it is one less punk to worry about. And like one person commenting at the New York Times pointed out, “what Zimmerman also did was save us from a future rapist or murderer.”


Every time we have one of these incidents, Black America must again explain why we hurt, why we are angry, why we feel hopeless, why there is so much despair. We must explain our fixation on race; we must agree that it was just a tragic misunderstanding, and that there must have been reasonable doubt for the jury. Because if the public can have doubts about Martin’s innocence, how could the jury see it differently?

We must assure proper Americans that we are not going to start riots, drag them from their vehicles, disrupt their way of life every time one of these inconveniences occur. If we must be angry, we will do it quietly, mourn in our neighborhoods, and if we cannot contain this anger we always have, then we will make sure we burn our own neighborhoods.

We must also remember that not all whites are racist, and that many are out marching against this travesty. We must remember to thank those who see our humanity, and treat us as equals.

We must also not forget to understand the viewpoint of the Church as its redeemed stays eerily quiet – no postings, no condemnation because he is only dead, not gay or being considered for abortion. Social justice is not one of the Church’s mandate.

We must forgive. We must reflect on how far we have come. We must look to the future. We must do everything.

We must. We must……..

“……The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land. You will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. I will put my breath[a] in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. I’ve spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Lord says.” – Ezekiel 37:12-14

In the end I know of no Black person surprised by the verdict. Disappointed, sure. Angry yes. We know how to do angry. And many now turn to the only thing that seems to keep Black people sane – reaching out to an invisible God who we hope will someday mete out justice, and raise up Black men out of their graves.

I am a Christian, but I have not yet looked to the hills or skies. While we live on earth, I would like the same systems that disproportionately lock up our boys – even as they find alternate programs for other kids who commit the same crimes – to work for them. I want “equal protection under the law,” and “justice for all” as enshrined. I want justice on earth, not in heaven.

Where is the Black man’s justice enshrined?

Photo credit: Getty images