Movies provide a reminder that helps explain the emotional national outrage after the brutal death of George Floyd, a black 46-year-old Minneapolis resident. He died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes.
Many cities, including Indianapolis, erupted in rage. Buildings were damaged and many political leaders and commentators expressed more condemnation on the violent, angry protestors than on the police excesses that resulted in Floyd’s death.
Many of these critics are profoundly hypocritical. Like our vice president, they urge African Americans to peacefully protest while condemning NFL football players of color who did that very thing while quietly kneeling during the National Anthem to protest the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, inspired by Colin Kaepernick. If honest attempts to make a statement are condemned by our president, anger will build over time, resulting in violent riots.
What many Americans are ignoring is that the diabolical consequences of slavery linger to this very day. Slavery may have legally ended in 1865, but the Ku Klux Klan, segregation, Jim Crow laws and public lynchings resulted in black Americans being treated as second-class citizens at best.
Ignore “Gone with the Wind” (1939) and watch both “Roots” (1988) and “Harriet” (2019) to get an honest picture of how slaves were brutally treated. Hunt down “Amistad” (1997) and reflect on the fate of slaves who forcefully took command of their ship only to be left fighting for their freedom when docking in Connecticut in 1839. Finally, don’t forget to see “12 Years A Slave” (2013), which tells the heartbreaking true story of a free black New Yorker kidnapped into slavery who he fights to maintain some dignity.
The sad fact is that our country failed to help freed slaves and their descendants learn to prosper. They needed help and we largely ignored their anguish. For too many, prisons replaced plantations as their new home, and many swallow their resentment until another black man is killed by a white officer.
This is a story that plays out with force in “Queen & Slim” (2019). There you watch a black couple, one a lawyer, get stopped by a racist white cop as they leave a restaurant following their first date. They are forced to flee after shooting him with his gun in self-defense. Black citizens try to help them as white officers want them dead.
However, there is an answer to this racial pandemic, and the time to demand action is now. A big problem in the black communities is that they lose many teenagers to the streets after they drop out of school. Let’s end that with legislation that requires all kids to stay in school through Grade 12. On top of that, make school last all year, as summer vacation for many results in little more than boredom and violence.
As I make this suggestion, I’m reminded of my experience as a fifth-grade teacher in Indianapolis in 1969-1970. All of the kids in Public School 87 were African Americans, and I was the only white male teacher.
Several weeks after school started, three young girls came into class crying. When I asked what was wrong, one yelled, “We hate all white people!” When I asked what happened, they told me of two white guys in a truck who laughingly dismissed them with the “N” word.
As I tried to console them by admitting there were a number of white people I didn’t like, one quickly responded, “I don’t care Mr. Hammerle, we hate all white people!”
I then said, “Well girls, what about me?” Staring at me with tears running down their cheeks, one cried, “Well, we hate all white people but you!”
It was then that I learned the value of education. Police brutality ignites a time bomb where anger consumes peaceful protest. Why don’t we welcome back Kaepernick as an inspirational leader who can help these kids see light at the end of life’s tunnel through the educational process? Isn’t that a proper way to pay reparations to a group of Americans who are in our country only because their ancestors were kidnapped and brought in bondage beginning in 1619?
“Roots” taught us to recognize the danger caused by forgetting our past transgressions.•
• Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. Opinions expressed are those of the author.