BRADBERRY: With liberty and justice for all, really?

Bill Bradberry

How could anyone in their right mind see the videos of Eric Garner’s homicide and not conclude that there is something wrong with that picture?

Watching it in view of the grand jury’s refusal to indict the persons responsible for his death only adds to the frustration that sane people feel when the criminal justice system that seems to work so well against them, fails time after time, to protect them.

After learning about the basic principles that the country was supposedly founded on, and pledging our allegiance every school day morning as young students, we’ve come to expect those thirty-one rote memorized words which had been carefully crafted in August 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) who hailed from tiny Mount Morris, N.Y., a scant 60 miles east of Niagara Falls, to ring true, not hollow as they seem now to so many.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As children, not really knowing or particularly caring what the words meant, barely able to pronounce them let alone comprehend their deeper meanings, we probably thought that, with those words, we were honoring the flag, not the ideals that it stands for; appreciation for the principles would come later.

By 1905, after witnessing decades of lynching and living under the racially segregated reality of Jim Crow enforcement in the North as well as the South, W.E.B. DuBois like millions of others, had had enough.

He called for a meeting of African American leaders to convene near Niagara Falls to bring attention to the issues that Black people in particular, and “colored people” in general were suffering in direct contradiction to the principles they were being taught at school every day to believe in and to fight for.

Most of the Niagara Movement’s “Declaration of Principles”, written by Du Bois in 1905, went on to form the base upon which the NAACP would be born just four years later; take a quick look at some of the language, expressed as a manifesto, a list of expectations:

• PROGRESS: The members of the conference, known as the Niagara Movement, assembled in annual meeting at Buffalo, July 11th, 1905, congratulate the Negro-Americans on certain undoubted evidences of progress in the last decade …

• SUFFRAGE: At the same time, we believe that this class of American citizens should protest emphatically and continually against the curtailment of their political rights …

•CIVIL LIBERTY: We believe also in protest against the curtailment of our civil rights. All American citizens have the right to equal treatment in places of public entertainment according to their behavior and deserts...

•ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY: We especially complain against the denial of equal opportunities to us in economic life; in the rural districts of the South this amounts to peonage and virtual slavery…

•EDUCATION: Common school education should be free to all American children and compulsory. High school training should be adequately provided for all, and college training should be the monopoly of no class or race in any section of our common country...

•COURTS: We demand upright judges in courts, juries selected without discrimination on account of color and the same measure of punishment and the same efforts at reformation for black as for white offenders…

No doubt, DuBois would be as proud as I am to see my fellow Niagarans marching in front of City Hall in protest for equal protection under the law and to see people elsewhere all over the country prepared to disrupt business as usual, people of all races colors, ages and creeds willing to exercise their constitutional rights to gather peaceably seeking redress of grievances in a dis-orderly, but entirely legal fashion.

Unfortunately, we are seeing far too much destructive outrage, turning otherwise good people into counter-productive, ineffective, angry opponents of progress.

This destructive behavior, like the abuses of police powers, must end now if we are going to make any real progress toward the realization of the American Dream with liberty and real justice for ALL!

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