Kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: Verdict rooted in historic rights denial

July 17, 2013 

Rosalind Harris of Lexington works on issues related to social justice. Her 18-year-old son was murdered in Lexington
 in 1997.

My daughter sent me this quote that someone shared online regarding the Zimmerman verdict: "A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect."

As I, like many others, process the verdict from the Zimmerman trial, I found this quote quite compelling for the way in which it effectively links the historical suppression of African-American human and civil rights to current patterns of suppression.

And within this context, it illuminates the means and practices by which young lives, such as Trayvon Martin's, are systematically devalued in our country.

In 1877, President Rutherford Hayes led the country in dismantling the fragile protections that were supporting the newly emancipated in their efforts to become full American citizens.

Prior to 1877, during the Reconstruction period, economic and political gains were made by African-Americans in the forms of land ownership, the creation of businesses and election to local, state and federal offices.

The 1877 decision not only nullified many of these gains, but also provided for the enactment of laws and codes particularly at state and local levels that led to the virtual re-enslavement of African-Americans.

The recent assault on the Voting Rights Act in the face of purposeful strategies such as new ID requirements targeted for the 2012 elections to suppress voting among low-income and non-white voters in particular, harken back to 1877. The period during which the systematic failure of the U.S. government to assure African-Americans of full rights of citizenship made it clear that gaining these rights could only be accomplished through deeply powerful and painful struggle.

Saturday's verdict reflects the legal and political climate and snares that jurors and others must negotiate, stemming from this systematic failure.

It reflects the concerted efforts of government at many levels to suppress human and civil rights (such as promoting the militarization of law enforcement, imposing "stand your ground" laws, fighting gun-safety laws) in the face of a demographic transition that will make the non-white vote increasingly powerful over the next decade and beyond.

Latinas/Latinos, Native Hawaiians, American Indians, Appalachians and other historically marginalized people are facing similar challenges to their human and civil rights, the well-being of their communities, and especially the well-being and survivability of their children.

The question before all of us, as we think of the fate of Martin and the verdict rendered Saturday, goes to the heart of deciding the very nature of the society that we want for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren — all of those with whom we are connected in the web of life. Are all of our lives not precious?

Many of you are already doing the work to heal and make whole our communities amd our world. I am hoping that we can expand our efforts and support each other through this long journey to the very heart of our humanity.

Whatever else you are doing, please also consider participating in any efforts to restructure our campaign finance system, elect representatives of conscience and educate people about history and current policies.

That is the way to counter the miseducation (perpetuated in many of our schools) and the abusive manipulations by some media outlets that disrespect the intelligence and best intentions of us all.

Rosalind Harris of Lexington works on issues related to social justice. Her 18-year-old son was murdered in Lexington
 in 1997.

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