By Maya Rockeymoore
The explosion of street protests in Ferguson nearly a year ago following the police killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown intensified attention on the failure of the U.S. constitution to protect or offer opportunities to black males.
Discrimination against black girls and women and other people of color is also a very real phenomenon. But from police and prison officials who commit violence against black men and boys with impunity to education administrators and employers who deny or expel them from learning and work opportunities at higher rates, there is a unique dynamic facing black men and boys that is worthy of dedicated examination.
Because black men are more likely to be policed, stopped, searched, arrested, sentenced and sentenced longer, one in three black men will end up in prison during their lifetimes. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by a police officer than young white men. And, in 2010, black male life expectancy was 4.7 years lower than for white males. Homicides—not a significant mortality factor for black females—accounted for almost a one-year loss in the life expectancy of black males.
Black male bodies are at or near the bottom of every major indicator of psychosocial well being in the United States. This crisis is a long-standing precedent with roots in the capture and enslavement of humans with black skin, the exclusion, repression, and lynching of blacks during Jim Crow, and the economic, educational, and residential isolation of black communities that continues today.
There is no policy framework more profoundly important to the United States than its Constitution. This document is the standard against which laws are made and court decisions ruled. Yet, in low-income communities and in communities of color, residents’ constitutional rights are routinely violated. Instead of having protected First Amendment rights, a person in these neighborhoods can get accosted, arrested, physically abused and/or killed by law enforcement officials for stating an opinion, standing on a sidewalk, video recording police encounters, or simply being a black male between the ages of 14 and 21.
For African Americans, the notion of Second Amendment rights is a cruel joke. The hypocrisy is laid bare in states that have open carry firearm laws, but in which a black man with a gun is never considered entitled to firearm ownership like his white counterparts. Instead, as the family of John Crawford learned in Ohio, they are presumed to be a threat and subject to a “shoot first, ask questions later” law enforcement mentality. From grand juries to legal representation, their Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights are violated when they are denied adequate legal representation, due process and equal protection under the law.
Clearly we need a more equitable system to ensure all citizens are granted full rights, what I call liberation policy, leveraging public policy to bring about full social and economic rights for groups subject to persistent discrimination.
A liberation policy agenda would start by placing institutional constraints on the biases of the people making the policies, continue by ensuring that existing legal protections are applied in an equal fashion across populations, and end by implementing and sustaining equitable policies that provide redress for those who have been consistently excluded. This agenda would have a positive effect on the entire nation, but would have an especially transformative impact on black men and boys as well as other historically marginalized groups.
So what would a liberation policy agenda look like, one that would bring fairness and justice to the system?
There is no doubt that a liberation policy agenda will require a strategy that gives attention to electoral politics, advocacy, grassroots education and mobilization, messaging and fundraising — in addition to the politics of protests. In other words, it will take a generational passing of the baton, a 21st century civil rights movement for fairness and inclusion in America. Only this will end what seems to have become a never-ending relay race for justice.
Maya Rockeymoore is president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions.