The Black struggle in 2019: Staying aware, facing injustice and fighting for the future

KILLINGS CONTINUE—Protests raged due to police killings of Black people.

by Brian 18X Crawford, J.S. Adamsand Toure Muhammad, Final Call

2019 saw challenges and signs of a continual awakening of the Black community, even as racism and police killings remained a problem in the United States. Alongside the insults was a strong spirit of resistance and growing frustration with the lack of respect for and deprivation of Black lives.

Heroes continued to emerge in sports and entertainment as Black stars refused to bow to the desires of powerful figures in those industries.

Colin Kaepernick continued to be a lightning rod for discussion, even though the former NFL quarterback played his last game in 2016. He continued to challenge the NFL for essentially blackballing him and keeping him off the field.

Hip hop guru Jay-Z received criticism for entering into a business relationship with the NFL. His Roc Nation imprint was named the league’s “live music entertainment strategist,” putting the rapper’s company in charge of the Super Bowl halftime show. The rapper took heavy criticism from NFL players and many in the Black community, but others urged caution, saying time will tell what happens.

On the field, it was the year of the Black quarterback in the NFL. Players like Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans), Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) busted up the stereotype that Black athletes aren’t smart enough to play quarterback at the pro level. And with top notch collegiate prospects like Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma), Justin Fields (Ohio State), Khalil Tate (Arizona), and Deondre Francois (Hampton), the Black quarterback talent pool was deep.

America and Black people continued to suffer from violence in 2019.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of December 1, 2019, there were more mass shootings in America (385) than days in a calendar year.

There was a mass shooting in this country every single day in 2019 and 29 of those 385 mass shootings were also mass murders. Some of the most devastating tragedies included the Aug. 4 mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that killed nine people, an Aug. 13 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed, and three Dec. 1 shootings in New Orleans that left 11 people injured. The Gun Violence Archives reported the highest number of mass shootings since 2014.

There were more than 35,000 gun-related deaths in 2019, over 27,000 gun-related accidents, and still no meaningful, federally mandated gun legislation.

Elijah Al-Amin, a 17-year old from Peoria, Arizona, was shot and killed by a White man at a convenience store because he didn’t like the rap music the teen was playing. In Louisiana, Sean Barrette fatally shot and killed three people at random in New Orleans; one of his victims was Black.

Violence at the hands of police continued in 2019. According to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Black men’s risk of being shot and killed by police is 2.5 times higher than that of White men, and 1 in every 1,000 Black men will be shot and killed by a police officer. Black women were also victims of police violence in 2019.

In October, Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed by a police officer in Ft. Worth, Texas, while at home playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. An officer began peering through Ms. Jefferson’s window after a neighbor called a non-emergency number to ask for a well-being check. Her front door was open. Officer Andrew Dean shot through a window killing Ms. Jefferson. The 35-year-old had only been on the force 18 months, and resigned before he could be fired. He’s been charged with murder.

The trial of Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment, saying she mistook it for her own, was probably one of the most talked about stories of 2019. Ms. Guyger was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the killing the young Black man who was a native of St. Lucia. Both the judge, who is Black, and Mr. Jean’s brother hugged Ms. Guyger after the verdict was read. The judge even gave Ms. Guyger a Bible.

These perceived acts of kindness and forgiveness enraged many in the Black community. Lee Merritt, the attorney representing the Jean family, understood the outrage. But, he said, key elements in the Jean story as well as the case of Atatiana Jefferson were overlooked.
Some of these elements have often been used to justify police killings of Black people, said the Dallas-based attorney.

“For a long time, the conversation was about compliance. In other words, it was said the Black community wasn’t properly complying with law enforcement and giving them the respect that they deserve; and Black men, women and children were causing the brutality to happen to them,” said Atty. Merritt.

“But 2019 kind of dispelled that myth,” he told The Final Call. “You have Atatiana Jefferson who was playing video games in her home, get shot and killed by police. Botham Jean was eating a bowl of ice cream after a long day of work, being shot and killed by police in his home. These weren’t even legitimate police encounters. This was just people going through the mundane activities of their daily lives, and police brutality came to visit them at their home.”

“The problem in the Botham Jean case is that it actually represented an advancement in police brutality,” Mr. Merritt continued. “This case should be textbook in how we deal with police brutality, because a lot of things had to come together to convict a White woman, a police officer, of murdering a Black man. There was a whole new bench of primarily Black women elected in Dallas County, and one of them served on that trial—Judge Tammy Kemp. Even though she later became a problematic figure, there would have been no conviction without her.”

Judge Kemp barred the testimony of the Texas Rangers, a respected law enforcement agency, because they were set to testify that Ms. Guyger did nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to go to jail, he said.

Mr. Merritt also credits the district attorney’s office for being aggressive in pursuing the case, and Dallas residents who showed up in droves for jury duty. The jury that found Ms. Guyger guilty was one of the most diverse ever to hear a murder trial in the city, according to Mr. Merritt. It was comprised of six Black jurors, five Hispanic jurors and only one White juror.

“The response to the jury summons was record-breaking. There were hundreds of people lined up for jury duty around the corner on the heels of Bothan Jeans’ trial,” Mr. Merritt said. “This is something that needs to be replicated. It was a lot of work for one conviction, but this is something that can be replicated throughout the country.”

Social activism and art

One of the most heartbreaking events this year was when Nipsey Hussle, an up and coming rapper from Los Angeles, Calif., was gunned down March 31.

“It’s unfortunate that it has happened, because I would say he’s an artist that was gaining steam. I have a friend of mine who I discovered was a huge Nipsey Hussle fan and was devastated when he passed away,” said Clayton Gutzmore, a 30-year-old freelance journalist who often covers Black culture and entertainment. “In terms of his impact, I just want to say that Nipsey has been known as a giver. He invested in his community by opening up a tech space where people could learn about coding, and also a space where he could employ people, because there’s the Marathon store, and other things like that that he planted in California where people can actually benefit from him and his influence.”

Mr. Hussle died outside of his Marathon store. His work and catchphrase “The Marathon Continues” now often refers to furthering the community work he dedicated himself to. That hashtag, along with portraits of him, have circulated throughout social media. He left behind his longtime girlfriend, actress Lauren London, and two children.

His death also brought together gangs in the area for a peace walk and effort to broker peace. It also brought Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan to speak to those who convened near Nipsey’s store, and speak to attendees at his funeral service at the Staples Center.

The Netflix docuseries “When They See Us” dove deeply into the true story of the Central Park 5, which younger viewers may not have been exposed to.

Ava DuVernay, an acclaimed director, told the story of five young Black and Hispanic youths who were wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a young White woman in Central Park.

“It was traumatizing at the moment because you see these young boys who are being told certain things, and these are back in the days where it wasn’t so tech savvy or whatnot,” Mr. Gutzmore said. “Also, more people just being more conscious of the whole judicial system and letting people be more aware of how the cops and young Black teenagers interchange.”

Melissa Hunter Davis, founder and publisher of Sugarcane Magazine, a Black arts publication, said the series brought out both the good and the bad.

“I think it was far wider than we thought,” Ms. Davis said. “I don’t think it was necessarily positive by some people. I’m not saying the film wasn’t positive. I think there were people who this touched a wrong nerve for them. They were probably supportive for these young men of being thrown in jail for the rest of their lives.”

Recently, there have been complaints of notable Black artists, including Ms. DuVernay, being “snubbed” at the Golden Globes nominations.

“We saw her being snubbed at the Golden Globes and plenty of films that depict Black people not just positively, but that are politically charged,” Ms. Davis continued. “I think Beyonce’s ‘Homecoming’ was hard for people to take. I think any time we start to speak politically and quite loudly, I think that frightens people and keeps us from getting what we deserve.”

Many people have taken to Twitter and other social media platforms to express their dissatisfaction with Black artists not getting their proper due.

Ms. Davis said one artist who has made strides this year is Tyler Perry, with the opening of his grand, new studio.

“I’m really proud of him,” she said. “I think that the idea of anybody Black owning their own collection of sound stages is phenomenal, especially in Georgia. The state of Georgia made it really easy for him to do that with all the tax incentives they give to people, and he took advantage of it and ran with it.”

November’s Democratic presidential debate was held at Tyler Perry’s studio in Atlanta, soon after its opening in October.

“Clearly he’s done well off the bat,” she said. “It was used very quickly and it gave people a place to shoot different types of films with different locales.”

Many activists have helped to shape up this year for Blacks, through arts and social justice.

“[It shows] the changes in making sure there’s positive representation of Black people in this country to commemorate the fact that we are here,” Ms. Davis said.

Both Mr. Gutzmore and Ms. Davis see a brighter future in 2020 for Black people in terms of moving the culture forward.

“Hopefully sharper and better material in both music and movies,” Mr. Gutzmore said. “Hopefully we will want to raise our stakes. Hopefully we will want to deliver better material … that can say, okay, this is actually different from the 2010s.”

Reparations became a hot topic in 2019 as Democratic presidential hopefuls seeking to run against Donald Trump in 2020 largely backed reparations or a federal bill studying reparations, promising to sign bill H.R. 40 into law if passed into law by Congress. The year ended with the small city of Evanston, Ill., announcing a plan to spend $10 million over 10 years to provide reparations to its Black population.

But money alone will never solve the problems of Black people, said Nation of Islam student ministers. “We’re not looking for a one-time check from this government,” said Min. Abdul Malik Muhammad. “We want to be treated even better than how Israel is being treated. … Every year since 1948, right off the top, before they even balance the budget, $6 billion of the American taxpayers’ money goes to the state of Israel, not talking about the other $30-40 billion in military aid, in airplanes, in high technology that this government gives to that nation that it had nothing to do with destroying,” he said.

(The Final Call staff contributed to this report.)

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