#BlackLivesMatter Columns, Op-Eds, & Interviews Race & Justice

Op-Ed: My Country ‘Tis of Thee

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

by Alex M. Johnson

What does “liberty” truly mean when you are a Black man, or a Black woman constantly denied the due process of law? My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty — but for who? When freedom is fleeting and reserved only for the few? When the institutions that impact our livelihood are infected with racism and inequality? When kneeling for the anthem and peaceful protests against systemic racism incites fury, yet the taking of Black lives elicits silence?

I keep asking myself, why do they hate us? Why is it so easy for police to shoot us with the intent to kill?  Why do I feel hunted. What does law and order truly mean for Black people? Rhetorical questions when there is still no explanation for a man had to be shot seven times in the back — in front of his three children.  What form of training for police can remedy a depraved indifference to human life?  Defaulting to simply altering training standards and recruitment processes, devoid of transformational shifts in policy and divestment from ballooning budgets, will only preserve the status quo. Re-imagining safety is about upending the imbalance of power and holding accountable those officers who act with impunity.

My uncle served as a police officer. As a former prosecutor in the Bronx I worked closely with numerous police officers to support victims of domestic violence. But singling out those who have upheld their sworn obligations, in the taxpayer-funded jobs that they are entrusted with, has absolutely no bearing on the unambiguous fact that the institution of policing is fundamentally racist.

The fear of being killed while Black by a police officer is more than just a distant fantasy.  It is a palpable and ever-present reality. I hear the words of my father, a man who survived the segregated south and had more than his share of encounters with police: “Let me know you made it home safely.”

From the time I began driving unchaperoned or was allowed to go places overnight, in college taking road trips across state lines, and through adulthood living away from home, he would make this admonition.

Be safe, he would say. Stay calm if you are pulled over. Keep your hands in sight.

Even with my father’s passing five years ago, these words have remained with me. He would deliver this warning not with sternness, but with love — with an unmistakable hesitation in his voice that affirmed his fear for because, as a Black man, he knew that this racist world had a fear of me.

How much longer do we have to endure.  When will this nightmare stop replaying itself over and over again. I woke up the morning after the Jacob Blake shooting numb. Traumatized. Enraged by the repugnancy of racism.  Horrified by yet another shooting of an unarmed Black man, by yet another police officer. But I woke up — in my own bed and not in a hospital room tethered to machines. I woke up — alive.

Others have not.

It is the same routine. Requests for us to be patient. Promises of pursuing justice — that justice will prevail. A plethora of excuses.

We are not suffering in silence.  Our pain is played over and over on the daily news cycle.  But the silence of those who uphold this racist system is suffocating. We do not need any more thoughts and prayers.  So many of us are already praying that our lives, and the lives of our family members, our friends and neighbors, our brothers, and sisters, are not extinguished in a hail of gunfire or a knee to the neck.  Despite the lives lost, protect and serve continues to feel like kill and deflect.  George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Trayford Pellerin. Anthony McClain. Rayshard Brooks.

We all should be inspired by every individual and organization who continues to lift their hands, organize, disrupt, agitate, and demand change. Protest is power. When the question is posed, who will stand in the gap, they step forward and say, “Here I am.  Send me.”

So what can I do?  What can you do?

Do not be silent. Continue to support the advocates, organizers, truth-tellers, and freedom fighters who are troubling the waters, awakening this nation from its 400-year plus slumber, and holding policymakers and systems accountable.

Support the organizations who are on the frontlines demanding justice at every level of government and laboring to ensure that one day Black lives will matter not just in words but in deeds. Not just in sanguine statements and symbolism without substance — but through a fundamental repair of the harm inflicted upon Black people.

Support organizations who are ensuring that policy pronouncements brought about by organized action are actually implemented and aligned with community needs.

Now is not the time to get comfortable. Throw your norms out. Be bold, consistent, and creative to meet the moment.

My country ‘’tis of thee. Stony the road we trod. Bitter the chastening rod. Until victory is won — and the police stop killing us.


Alex M. Johnson is a program director at The California Wellness Foundation

Alex Johnson is a program director at The California Wellness Foundation, where he manages a grantmaking portfolio focused on community environments, violence prevention, and healing justice, and youth justice. Prior to joining Cal Wellness in June 2018, Johnson was managing director for Californians for Safety and Justice in Los Angeles. He previously served on the California Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board. He is a current member, and past president, of the Los Angeles County Board of Education.

Photo at top courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

41 Comments

  • Police? Not to worry, Alex. Follow the law, cooperate if you’re pulled over, dont assault the officer, dont run or resist and you have nothing to fear.

    It really is that easy.

    Statistically, I would be MUCH more worried about being killed by another Black person if I were you.

    • Not your concern so dont worry, you’ll never know or understand the life of a Black Man.

      The only Alex you should worry about would be Alex Villanueva, feel free to discuss your hope, dreams and desires with him.

      • Brother,

        Which Black man would you like to hold out as a positive example? Let’s take Dijon (not the mustard) Kizzee, the Hoover. He’s a member of a criminal street gang, sporting the tattoos like he’s proud of it. He’s 29 y/o riding a bike around during the day instead of working at a *gasp* job. He’s in possession of a pistol, but he’s a convicted felon and not allowed to have it. He’s stopped by the police and fights them.

        Is this your idea of a Black man we should admire? Oh, that’s right – we’re not Black, so we wouldn’t understand.

  • Well, “Brother from Another,” if you are Black, you won’t have to put up with this horrible existence in this HORRIBLE country for long.

    R&B Singer Akon is building a REAL Wakanda (modestly named “Akon Crypto City”) in the Motherland!

    https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-44560789

    If I were Black, I’d invest everything I have and move there as soon as it opens! There won’t be any crime so there won’t be any police!

  • I’m going to point something out, but just this alone isn’t justification. Is it just a coincidence that everyone of these incidents the suspect is glorified, but almost always is committing a crime or has committed or has a record.

    George Floyd (Under the influence & record)
    Blake (disobey a police officer, poss of knife, & record)
    Guardado (possession of firearm)
    Kizzee ( possession of firearm)

    They say they are being hunted that’s correct. Law enforcement is looking to take these non productive citizens and lock them up. Criminals need to be arrested. That’s just a fact. Why is Kizzee anywhere or possessing a firearm. Is that not a problem in liberal ca?

    Show me the innocent kid, contributes to society, doing well in school, being gunned down by Leo. It’s not happening or should I say it is but by their own ethnicity

  • Dos,

    The answer to your first question would be Alex M. Johnson, the guest author of this commentary.
    Google him and be enlightened by his life and accomplishments, let that sink in.

    • Brother,

      Despite his accomplishments, he’s a racist who identifies with a criminal who fights police, ignores their lawful orders, and had force used against him to stop him from his unlawful conduct.

      Too bad he and you can’t see this incident for what it was: a violent man, who happens to be black and had a warrant for rape of a juvenile, refusing to cooperate with police.

      Let that sink in.

      • I’m aware of right and wrong as well as black and white.
        I am not on the side of the criminal record of Kizzee nor the shooting tactics by deputies of any person killed by numerous shots in the back.
        I’m also aware of those like you who only see things one way, your way.

        • You reach for a gun the back is the target, get it? Want to be shot in the front, run towards me with that gun. STFU with that constant weak ass bullshit. Running away shooting at cops, back shots again. Pretty simple dude.

          • Talking about weakness, that would be the upper body strength of the Police Officer who couldn’t restrain Blake, not even by his tee shirt.

            Blake was not reaching for a gun in which fear convoluted the Officer’s mind and heart. Of course he’ll use the textbook narrative that he “feared for his life” .

            Not giving Blake a pass nor defending his actions, nor excuses for the Officer who is better suited for desk duty.

  • Well another black male died after contact with the police in Rochester New York. Occurred five months ago. The naked suspect was on PCP and spitting causing the officers to place a spit bag over his face which led to cardiac arrest and death. The video does not show the officers acting negligently or using excessive force. Yet all the officers involved have been suspended. Time to hang it up fellas. Not worth being indicted or losing ur home. You can do everything right and some coward DA will still file charges on you. Evidently blacks are not responsible for their behavior in a civilized society. It’s all systematic racism etc.

    • Bandwagon,

      “Evidently blacks are not responsible for their behavior in a civilized society”

      Evidently & finally your true mindset speaks…

      • No, it’s the mindset of the idiots who defend the criminal element, not those who understand the law and appreciate cops. Those include people of color held hostage in their own neighborhoods, I’ve talked to lots of them, they know the truth.

  • Sorry brother but reverse discrimination and systematic racism against whites and the police are as bad and intolerable as against blacks. It’s either a fair playing field for all or every man for himself

  • The reality is crime and murder are up significantly in most major cities in the US. The police are being less proactive for obvious reasons and the poor in the inner city are suffering as a result. Only answer is for joint cooperation between people of color and the police. Citizens of the inner city need to choose between the police who should be held responsible for their actions and the criminal element in the inner city who are looked upon as martyrs when justifiably killed by police officers doing their jobs. Some decisions need to be made!

  • Again, not a single one of these “I hate America” clowns will ever leave.
    There are places for every race and political identity.
    Socialists and marxists can get the fuck on and go where their utopia already exists!
    Unhappy blacks can bounce too and go somewhere “safer.”
    Hispanics, same.
    Whites, same.

    You know why the don’t leave?
    Because America is the greatest country on this shithole planet.
    Marxism, BLM, socialism…did not build this great country.
    Sorry.
    Yes, lands were taken by force. Tough shit you ain’t getting it back.
    Yes, native cultures were destroyed. Progress needed it to happen and I’m pretty sure the Sioux were never going to build a great military industrial complex that strikes fear into evil countries around the world.
    This America is fantastic. You have options, pursue them please. But, patriots will not allow what these sub groups are trying to achieve. Thank God and guns.

  • So you have to wonder, WHY isn’t Alex Johnson, or BLM or any Black politician or ANY Black person at ALL, mentioning the fact that in EVERY one of these cases, the “innocent” Black person either initiated or exacerbated the situation? They almost always had a criminal record, they almost always had drugs in their system, they almost always had weapons and they ALWAYS resisted, ran or assaulted the cops.

    Why? Make no mistake….you’re hearing it more and more and it’s increasingly apparent what the end game is. Not just in a few cities:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/16/north-carolina-reparations-asheville-black-residents

    Not just in states:

    https://abc7.com/california-slavery-reparations-lawmakers/6397028/

    It’s about money, plain and simple.

    Of course, we’ll have to then consider reparations for the Chinese who died by the thousands building railroads, Native Americans, the Irish, the Mexicans who lost their land and who continue to work in almost slave-like conditions in the worst jobs.

  • Brother: I stand by my comments. Nothing racist about what I said. My point is that the vast majority of blacks armed/unarmed killed by police officers are a result of the actions of the black suspects themselves. Yet in today’s political climate it is the police who are targeted and accused of criminal conduct. I’m sure you can agree with that. The press and BLM rarely talk about the actions of the suspect and accuse the cops of misconduct. If what I said is racist please point it out to me. Racism toward white cops is no different than racism toward blacks.

  • Brother: And as I reminder. I received a life saving award for giving CPR to a elderly black male who’s heart had stopped in south Los Angeles. I had to wipe the bile from his mouth and continue giving him CPR until paramedics arrived. So please no comments about my true colors.

  • And so it continues race relations down the tube. So white people can not have an opinion regarding race relations without being labeled a racist. Just one last point. BLM black politicians etc are blowing it. By labeling everything as racism and playing the victim card, the black culture is losing credibility. You cry wolf too many times and people stop listening. People have stopped listening. The owners and players in sports will soon see the results of their protests. People pay them to play sports. They should STFU and protest on their time not the fans time. They are going to protest themselves right out of a job. Good luck brother. Your culture is being driven into the gutter and u can’t even see it.

  • Good article today where Charles Barkley called out Steven A Smith for playing the race card for the hiring of Nash (white gut) for Brooklyn Nets Head Coach position. We are seeing more and more blacks stepping up and voicing disagreement with political correctness BLM etc. A sign of hope for race relations. Not too late Brother. Get in the winning team.

  • As I was reading Alex Johnson’s article,
    I was struck by our shared experience — with our fathers — his died fives years ago, mine 10 years ago yesterday.  On my 16th birthday, the day I obtained my driver’s license, I too heard my father’s admonition: With that license comes many responsibilties. You are expected to follow the rules of the road.  Remember that your decisions while driving have far reaching effects on others using the road. If you act like a reckless punk, you’re going to come in contact with cops, and they are not there to be your friends, but to enforce the laws. If you screw up and get pulled over, if you get a ticket, if you get arrested, if you mouth off or are dispespectful, don’t come whining to me. Because I’m warning you, be responsible and be respectful with those guys who can cite you, arrest you, and yes, kick your ass if you mouth off or give them cause to think you’re resisting or getting ready to get physical with them. And if you get arrested, don’t call me because you can figure out how to handle your own mess.  If you get stopped, button your smart ass mouth and keep your hands where the cop can see them. Do you understand me son? Ok, now go be responsible.

    My father never mentioned race, ours or that of any cop’s whose attention I may attract. He talked to me about MY behavior and MY responsibilities, not the cop’s.  Of course, a few weeks later, I got stopped, cited for chirping the tires and ultimately got my license suspended for 30 days my first month out. As soon as I got it back, my dad took it from me for two more months! He wanted me to be responsible for MY own actions, MY decisions, so he locked me down double-time.  I thought the CHP who cited me was was a prick, but I didn’t tell my dad that because he would have said, I told you to be responsible.  Dad would make that admonition.

    Mr. Johnson may really believe what he wrote, but I disagree. Yes, the statistics show blacks glaringly over-represent those in the criminal justice system, whether it’s being arrested, prosecuted, being convicted, or being imprisoned. Sadly, blacks statistically, as a percentage of the population, show a disproportionately higher incident of committing crime. This is a cultural issue, not a institutional or systemic racism issue by law enforcement. Say the same thing over and over again for a long enough period of time, and people will begin to believe the myth. I would suggest to remember the admonition our fathers gave us.

  • @Anonymous — I’ll take the bait and respond to your anecdotally offered video. Neither you nor I can see in the video you provided Mr. Castile’s movements inside the vehicle. However, upon the driver advising he had a firearm inside the vehicle, the audio portion of the video clearly depicts Officer Yanez repeatedly and forcefully telling Castile, “Don’t pull it out. Don’t reach for it. Don’t reach for it,” before firing his service pistol. I cannot see and don’t have the facts, nor do you, of what Mr. Castile was doing with his hands at the time the officer was commanding him NOT to do something, immediately preceding his discharging his service weapon. Officer Yanez was acquitted of the charges following a jury trial. Part of being responsible and respectful when having contact with law enforcement is complying with lawful commands issued to you. Bad things can happen if you don’t. If in doubt, see the video again.

  • I believe following the rules would include not reaching for ur weapon when ordered. The officer doesn’t even pull his gun until telling the suspect twice not to reach for it. By the way he was acquitted.

    • Listen to complete audio then listen again, the driver was NOT getting his weapon but his wallet for paperwork for concealed weapon.

      Lest we forget the typical probable cause stating “robbery suspects” initially then ending with the he officer vacillating trying to fix his narrative at the end.

      Listeners are smarter than think.

  • I will take ur word for it. Perhaps getting ur wallet after you tell an officer you armed and he starts yelling at you not to reach for it is not a good idea. Most of the time people will ask permission to reach for their wallet. Something to think about. A tragedy for all involved.

  • It doesn’t really matter.
    The time for talk has ended.
    The country is firmly divided.
    When Trump wins the election, the left will not accept defeat, so they will have to be submitted.
    Everything before November is about buying guns, ammo, food, fuel.
    The left will not accept the election results. Violence is predetermined.

  • @Anonymous – based on the video, one cannot see what the officer saw or what his presence of mind was. But from his words and the clear tone in which he expressed it, as Bandwagon pointed out, it was not a good idea other that to freeze. I can only speculate what was in Mr. Castile’s mind — was it arrogant disregard for a police officer’s lawful commands, or just plain foolishness? Tragedy all around.

    Tip to the driving public: be polite and cooperate with the police officer when you are stopped. Police officers just want to do their job and go home in one piece every night.

    • @ InterestedParty – Not surprised at your response with the tag of arrogance disregard or foolishness on the part of the deceased.
      His attitude and tone was respectable and compliant, even AFTER being shot several times.

      Truly a tragedy, exacerbated with finger pointing combined with negative speculation by comments such as yours.

Leave a Comment