With the buzz for Ava Du Vernay’s “Selma” indicating that Ava may be the first Black woman to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Director category, it may be instructive to look back. Darnell Martin’s debut film “I Like It Like That” was the first major Hollywood studio picture to be written and directed by a Black woman. Without her paving the way, Ava may not exist. Darnell’s brilliant “Cadillac Records” perfectly captured the rough and tumble of the Black independent record business. I loved it. She is strong and proud and we go back further than either of us would like to admit. She is now the mother of a thirteen-year-old son, and she recently had a conversation with him about the tragic death of Eric Garner, and the Staten Island grand jury decision that everyone knows is wrong. Here it is.
NEW YORK FREEDOM FIGHTERS STAGING A DIE IN FOR ERIC GARNER AT GRAND CENTRAL STATION
What must it have been like to be Black and to have been at a lynching? To have watched your son, daughter, father, mother or friend dragged away from you by a mob of white men? To watch the life choked out of him and hear him beg and plead for his life. Would you think about helping him? Would you think about charging the mob that was holding him down and killing him? After all, wouldn’t that be the ethical thing to do? Wouldn’t that have been the heroic thing to do? My thirteen-year-old son thinks so.
“But what would happen to you if you charged the mob that was killing that man and tried to stop them,” I ask.
My son says, “they would kill me”. He says that after having watched the video of Eric Garner’s murder by police.
I am shocked and saddened by my son’s response. I thought maybe he would say, “they’d arrest me” or perhaps, “they’d beat me up” as if that were so much better.
But this 13-year-old boy understood the horror of the situation even more than I did.
This was a public lynching, where the only aid his friend could give him without risking her own life was videotaping and bearing witness to his torture, death and the humiliation of his body laying on the ground – hands tied behind his back. His face was pressed into the pavement. They leaned on him. Their shoes touched his head.
The EMS came and talked to him in a patronizing tone as if she were mocking him. “We’re here to help you,” she says, As he lay dying. A friend pleads for someone to resuscitate him on. But the EMS does nothing.
“What do you think would have happened if that friend had pushed through that white mob to have given CPR to Eric Garner and save his life?”
“Got killed too,” my son says.
“Wow, for doing the ethical thing? Would the white mob go to jail for killing the friend who fought to give Eric CPR?”
“Nope,” my boy says.
My son is looking at policeman in his own city and seeing an out of control white mob torturing, murdering and disrespecting a black man pleading for his life and he understands why The other bystanders are afraid to stop it. But he thinks that they should stop the white mob from killing Eric.
My peaceful, non-violent 13-year-old is advocating that the public forcibly stop the police from killing this black man by “any means necessary”. And we know where that will lead us. I am reminded of the great abolitionist John Brown and his last words as he ascended the gallows, “I, john brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.” Civil war followed.
And that is why this verdict is so dangerous for this country.
This was a full videotaped lynching. And I’m sure that the police involved are sorry now. But there is a debt that needs to paid for my son and other children not to see the police as out of control lunatics who can lynch any black person that they want, when they want, ON CAMERA and get away with it. This was a crime. The courts needed to say that. The police needed to condemn this act. The police needed to say that this was not who we are, this not who we want to be.
There will be no healing of this country ever without accountability.
There was a lynching. And we all watched because we knew if we stopped it, we’d be next. Eric Garner is crying, “I can’t breath” over and over again. His heart is rupturing. His eyes are rolling back in his head and he is pleading. But no one comes to help him. They are no gentle hands holding him as he dies, but they lean into his bound body as if he were some animal they felled and they were posing for a photograph. He died alone, surrounded by harsh words and hands. And the media will tell us that he had to be killed because he had been selling cigarettes.