Monday, January 25, 2010

A Bit of Perspective

This has clearly not been a good couple of weeks for those working for social justice, health-care, racial and gender equality or any number of other issues. With such great change lingering seemingly inches out of reach, we can do well to remember how far we've come already. While providing universal health-care (which I believe is a right) is certainly a noble goal, and something we should strive for, taking a minute today to look back on things that have happened in the past that make the fact we're even discussing an idea like that incredible.

On August 13, 1965, Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal Seminarian, was arrested with 29 others for simply picketing a Whites only store. He sat in jail for 6 days with the other adults refusing to be bailed out unless all were granted bail. As they walked to the only store in town that served non-whites they were accosted by a "Special Deputy" armed with a shotgun.

The man, Tom Coleman, leveled his shotgun at a 17 year old girl named Ruby Sales. Daniels moved quickly to shove Ruby out of the way taking the full brunt of the shotgun blast himself. He was killed instantly. John Morrisoe, also a protester and a Catholic Priest, was shot in the back as he fled with the other black protester.

Thomas Coleman was acquitted by a jury of his all white peers after Shooting a priest and a priest-in-training downtown in broad daylight.

July 23-28, 1967 had one of the worst riots in American histories. The streets of Detroit saw 467 injured, 2,509 stores looted, 388 families left homeless and 43 killed.

Clifton Pryor was mistaken for a sniper and shot dead by the National Guard. Ernest Roquemore was shot in the back by a US Army Paratrooper. He was 19. Roy Banks was shot when he was mistaken by a National Guardsman for a looter. He was a deaf mute. A tank rolling through the streets of Detroit shot Tanya Blanding. She was upstairs in her house. She was four years old.

On May 4, 1970, nine unarmed students were wounded and four more shot and killed when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd with live ammunition. Jeffrey Miller, 20 (Pictured), was shot through the mouth and killed instantly while standing 81 meters from the National Guard. Allison Krause (19), William Schroeder (19), and Sandra Scheuer (20) were also unarmed protesters shot by the Ohio Army National Guard.

As the US invaded expanded involvement in the already unpopular VietNam War into Cambodia, these students who were protesting the expansion of the use of force were unarmed themselves, but cut down by the US military. Again, none of the shooters faced criminal charges.

These were dark moments in American history, in fact, they were some of the darkest. As we debate now our views and lament our losses, whether they are a lack of legislative achievement or a perceived loss of American values, we would do well to remember that a generation ago Americans were killed at home with impunity, often by our government. Those in my generation could not conceive of tanks rolling through any of our cities instituting martial law and backing it up with lethal force. Shooting even the most unpopular people point blank in broad daylight would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, just ask Scott Roeder.

Though we have far to go and much work to do, we should in our defeats draw strengths from our victories over violence and hatred and be glad at least, that we no longer have to fear the bullets of our own soldiers turned against us as a method of crowd control. So let us continue to debate passionately about our future, but let us remember together how far we've come.

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