The basketball coach sat before the microphones in what appeared to be a press conference. He is black and had been explaining why his team refused to play a tournament game. The team sought to shine a bright light on yet another shooting in the back of an unarmed black man by the police.
Although I didn’t hear it said, I got the sense that the team was grappling with being black men whose skills on the court brought excitement and entertainment to millions while millions turned their backs on the deadly violent treatment of men just like them.
The coach — Doc Rivers, of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers — seemed to become more reflective. His shoulders hunched a bit; his eyes were open but not seeing the questioners in front of him.
He said, “We keep loving this country and this country doesn’t love us back.”
His sorrow was deep and mystifying as if he lost the love of life and didn’t know why. Was it the sudden realization that he was accepted as part of a team sport that entertained people but not as an ordinary man who shopped, paid his bills, drove a car and made mistakes?
America and civil unrest in 1960s
My first experience with civil unrest over the treatment of black people by police was in the mid-1960s. Reportedly, the triggering incident involved a traffic citation, a mother disciplining her grown son for drinking and driving and a shoving match that resulted in the arrest of the errant son, another son and mom.
Community alarm over the treatment of the black family grew into an escalation of throwing words and objects at the police.
Surely it was the straw that broke the back of the spirit of the black community in an environment of housing and job discrimination. The situation turned into the Watts riots of 1965. Police officers were unable to control the streets and the National Guard was brought in to help.
I was just starting into my career in public health nursing in the summer of 1965.
A short three years later Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered on April 4, 1968 — triggering the “Holy Week Uprising” also known as the King assassination riots. Riots filled the streets of several American cities.
By then I was the supervisor of the public health nursing team that worked in the central area of Seattle, which could be described as a lite version of a ghetto but was still the poorest area of the city and mostly populated by black families.
Public health nurses got a free pass as nurses were seen as supportive to the community’s families.
This small column can’t do justice to the extent and drama of civil unrest of the time whether because of unequal treatment and opportunity for black people or protests opposing the Vietnam War. At some risk of oversimplification to make a point, I will tell you what shifted the sentiments and lives of the people in this neighborhood.
President Lyndon Johnson recognized the danger of escalating civil unrest but also saw them as cries for attention and action. He had already been a primary player in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He soon used his considerable legislative skill to drive legislation and programs to show the black communities they were heard.
Johnson presented the nation with the “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” programs through legislation that included the Model Cities Program. I had a front row seat as money and resources poured into our central area. Programs were initiated to involve the community and begin to lift people out of poverty and despair.
Critical to the development of each and all programs was the requirement they be community driven. In other words, the community defined its own needs and solutions; outside experts only came in when asked.
Freedom, opportunity and power to form their own destinies begin to identify natural leaders, build community processes for community results and establish useful programs for development. My team brought in a family planning clinic that was wanted and helped develop a well child clinic.
I felt their pride and got to share in their companionship. I learned too about the strength of a culture that existed in the community which included religious leaders and strong moms.
President Richard Nixon changed course in 1969. The program and intent dissolved, but it and the Civil Rights act left a strong resolve on the part of black people to gain equal representation in all aspects of American life, including being elected to positions of power.
And yet …
Today, riots triggered by the several unexplained killings of black men and women by the police are plaguing some cities.
The question in the coach’s statement remains unanswered. I will add this question: Why is this country so afraid of black men?
Recent history has shown when black people “get their belly full,” alarms go out to white people that they are in danger. Why not solve the problem instead? The times are different.
Different this time, because we hear the voices of black people, who have risen to voices of power and influence. Cell phones with video recordings have brought white people to the undeniable understanding that these killings are unexplained; we don’t kill people for passing counterfeit bills, sleeping in a drive through or showing. Many white people have joined the protests.
Different this time, because President Donald Trump has nothing to offer but the National Guard, one of the first actions in the riots of the 1960s, Homeland Security personnel and fear. He seems to have no intention to understand inequality and prejudice, let alone propose legislative solutions.
Instead, he recognizes people known for racial animosity and carrying his banner to join the riot.
Instead, he says he thinks the teenager with the rifle attending a protest in Kenosha, Wisc., was acting in self-defense when he killed two unarmed people, at least one who was trying to take his gun from him.
Why do we want this cruel distortion of justice delivered on the streets?
Think about it, please. Who do you give the benefit of the doubt?
Police pointing gun at unarmed black men with intent to … do we know?
Men with guns attending peaceful demonstrations with intent to defend … do we know?
A teenager with a rifle entering demonstrations or protests or riots with intent to defend … do we know?
A teen with a rifle entering classroom of classmates with intent to kill … do we know?
Thanks to an alert reader who pointed out an error in my last column “When the air clears” (Aug. 26, page A-14). I wrote that individuals/families received money under the payroll protection plan regardless of need. There was an income eligibility requirement for the first stimulus check which was $99,000 adjusted gross income for a single resident, $146,500 for head of household and $198,000 for a couple filing jointly without children at home.
Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim for more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.