On Nelson Mandela’s birthday, we celebrate his courage and dedication to end apartheid in Africa.
He would have been 98 on Monday. We turn his name into a hashtag, #MandelaDay. And we quote the great man who sought human dignity and equal opportunity for all.
“Difficulties break some men but make others,” he said. “No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”
But in America, I fear our difficulties are breaking our spirits.
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On Monday, while we were eager to quote Mandela’s views on freedom and democracy, Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice was acquitted of all charges relating to the in-custody death of Freddie Gray last year. All officers involved have walked away free, just like the officers connected to the deaths of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and countless others.
On Monday, we mourned the lives of officers Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola, slain in Baton Rouge, La. Their killer, 29-year-old Gavin Long of Kansas City, was shot dead on the scene Sunday.
And we still grieve Dallas officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael J. Smith, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Krol, who were victims of a terrorist attack on July 7. The gunman, 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson, was bombed by police.
Killing cops does not bring equality or peace to anyone. Killing cops is a travesty to everyone. There is no justification for it.
Long and Johnson were terrorists. Call them that. I certainly do. Don’t even hesitate the way you did with Dylann Roof, James Holmes and Adam Lanza. Because when white men with guns slaughter people, we talk gun control and mental health before we call them monsters. Yes, we should talk about gun control and mental health. We should change policies to prevent insane violence. I just find it interesting that when black men commit these same horrific acts, there is little talk of their mental state.
And despite police saying these men acted alone, a number of people refuse to believe it. They want to blame this on Black Lives Matter activists. Never mind that officers of color have been killed alongside their fellow officers. In America, it is easier to believe that black people are naturally dangerous. So instead of Long and Johnson being lone-wolf shooters, we have to attach them to Black Lives Matter and discredit a movement dedicated to justice.
Meanwhile, some of us are still crying for Alton Sterling, shot in the chest and back while two Louisiana officers held him to the ground on July 5. We’re still hurting for Philando Castile, who was pulled over for a broken taillight, reached for his ID and was gunned down by a Minnesota officer on July 6. You know, it is possible to respect and mourn our police while standing against brutality.
The problem is, while we all can cry for the cops, so many of us find ourselves having to argue for the humanity of black and brown folk in this country.
Instead of asking why black and brown people were killed by officers, the first question is often what did they do to be killed? Even when it’s a child like 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Nelson Mandela fought against white supremacy. But he fought against black domination, too. He wanted true equality for everyone. Killing cops can only hurt, divide and destroy us.
But if we continue to ignore the systemic oppression on which the country operates, we’ll find peace elusive and our collective humanity endangered.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,” Mandela said, “but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”