The United States of America positions itself as the greatest nation the world has ever known.
The nation was founded on the principle of “We the People” and majority rule and minority rights. I recall as a young man in junior and senior high school that the nation was truly focused on its principle of justice and fairness for all. I knew the nation was falling short as I watched the characterization of Black Americans on television, in magazines and in newspapers. To my disappointment, the nation continues to treat Black Americans as second class citizens.
Supreme Court Justice Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a well-educated and experienced jurist who was confirmed by the Senate, is being challenged for not being qualified. Tucker Carlson, commentator for Fox News asked to see Judge’s Brown LSAT score. This is shameful and another example of a Black person being subjected to a different standard. Carlson never asked for the LSAT score for the previous three White Supreme Court nominees. President Joe Biden calls Judge Brown “one of our top legal minds.” Don’t disrespect her and Americans with such outlandish requests!
Being an athlete, I paid close attention to how my heroes were discussed, profiled and treated. We are all familiar with the fact that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for major league baseball in 1947. We are not as familiar with Robinson’s story. He was not only a legendary and hall of fame baseball player, he was a civil rights icon.
Starting in 1957, Robinson was vice president of personnel for the coffee company Chock full o’Nuts. If an employee had a complaint, he was the guy to talk to. That same year, Robinson started getting heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement, looking for equality for all African Americans. He spent a lot of time raising money for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), according to a story by Bill Ladson, who writes for MLB.com.
America has recognized the greatness and courage of Jackie Robinson. I mentioned Robinson because of h
is fame, but there are so many more Black Americans who have made significant contributions to the culture and greatness of America.
Which brings me to the question of why Black people are treated differently in our country.
It troubles me to see Americans such as Ahmaud Arbury being suspected of stealing while he is simply jogging down a quiet American street. His killers, Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan have been held accountable for basically saying he’s Black, we’ve had break-ins, so he must be the perpetrator. Fortunately, an all-White jury convicted these men for their racist and murderous act and they were convicted of federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery for targeting him because he was Black. That is a good thing. But Arbury should never have been killed.
During a recent incident in New Jersey, police handcuffed and placed a knee in the back of a Black teen and directed the White Latino teen to sit on the sofa. The 15-year-old Joey, who identified himself as Latino, told a news outlet he was confused about why he wasn’t also detained, according to a report by Garin Flowers, an award-winning journalist and writing coach at the University of Southern California. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called this incident disturbing. I would agree.
The point is, we have far too many instances of Blacks being killed by police and treated differently in this country. The question is, why? The same question could be asked about the unfair sentencing laws. Kim Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who mistakenly drew a gun instead of a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop was sentenced to an unbelievable 24 months.
The sentence comes nearly two months after Potter was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors had requested seven years and two months while Potter's attorneys argued for a lesser sentence, pointing to her lack of a prior criminal history and remorse for Wright's death, according to CNN.
I know an individual who has served more than 25 years in prison for a marijuana charge, albeit the since discontinued California “three strikes” sentencing guidelines.
The family of Daunte Wright has every right to be upset with the sentence handed down by Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu, who called the sentence "an extremely difficult decision." Judge Chu was so upset she was on the verge of tears having sentenced Potter to 16 months after good time served and a $1,000 fine. DUI defendants receive more stringent sentences. This was a miscarriage of justice.
That parents and school districts around the nation are focused on eliminating history that upsets or makes White people feel bad is a travesty. Are we ashamed of the history of Jackie Robinson? Who is now considered an American hero? Every player in Major League Baseball wears his number on April 15th every year. A mosaic of people contributed to the success of America. Yet we want to distort history because some folks are ashamed of parts of our history and don’t want children to know the truth.
If Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Harvard graduate and distinguished jurist, is not qualified to be considered for the highest court in the land, Black people will never be considered equals in America.
Our forefathers certainly embraced slavery, an act that is consciously abhorrent. Yet they had the wisdom to frame a document, the U.S. Constitution that began with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
We have to move beyond the belief that Black Americans and People of Color are second class citizens, if we truly are to be a great nation that espouses these principles and values the contributions of everyone.
Dr. Martin Luther King, said it best: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
Virgil L. Smith formerly served as president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times and Vice President for Human Resources for the Gannett Company. He is the principal for the Smith Edwards Group and writes for Carolina Commentary.