- Pawns Are But Poor Men
- Mighty Pawns by Major Jackson | Poetry Foundation
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Martin Luther King Jr.
Pawns Are But Poor Men
A pawn with state sanctioned power to kill is still just a pawn. They are often sacrificed to protect the more powerful pieces that determine who wins and loses. Yet, as one police killing of unarmed black men after another has unfolded before our eyes, we have been encouraged to see, to focus our attention on, to demand accountability for, only the pawns. Cops are assigned to keep order in a deeply disordered society — one they did not create.
They are supposed to provide equal justice and protection to communities of people who virtually every other social institution treats the most unjustly and who are the least protected from violence daily inflicted in myriad forms. They are officially expected to treat all people, including those of color, with the respect and dignity that our social systems deny every day.
Mighty Pawns by Major Jackson | Poetry Foundation
The police force as a whole, whatever the attitudes of individual cops, reflects the pervasive racism, both blatant and subtle, that drives that denial in small, large and frequently deadly ways. Community demands to hold police accountable for their acts of brutality or killing are seldom, if ever, met.
Accountability from those responsible for the conditions in which those acts take place is not even publicly discussed. So when cops feel they are asked to do difficult and sometimes dangerous work and then are portrayed as the main source of racism, violence, and injustice in society, they get angry. As they are encouraged to do, they often focus their anger on the ones closest at hand — those in the community, the streets, and sometimes local government who are advocating change.
In this limited vision, they are hardly alone. It violates who we could be.
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It seeks to treat us all as pawns. The fight to stop police killings of black men necessarily makes demands for police accountability and criminal justice reforms that could easily be accommodated and could help save lives and reduce routine acts of brutality and humiliation.
But what gives the assertion Black Lives Matter its revolutionary power is that it directly challenges the larger social system that has at its heart the use of racism to control us all. It is a fight being led by young and other people of color. Their struggle raises what has always been a determining question in this country: Can white people, and in particular the white poor and working classes, not only see and value black lives, black people who are fighting and those they are fighting for, but also understand and join that fight as one to liberate all of us?
This is a question that very early began to shape my life. I grew up in a poor single parent white family, outliers in an all white largely middle class Ohio town. Turning on our shaky black and white TV, we saw startling images of people marching, and frequently being beaten and arrested, in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma.
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We were told these were black people fighting for their rights, but what I saw, from the outset, were poor people fighting for all our rights. They were fighting, I remember telling my puzzled mother, the same system that kept us poor.
That is not what many of my relatives saw. I am not sure what my mother thought at first. She grew up imbibing the racial prejudices of many poor whites, but her experience as a poor woman gave her both deep class and early feminist instincts.
Poor Man's Pawn
All I know for sure is that when I came home from school in June , my worn out and Republican-voting Mother announced that she wanted to go to Alabama to march in protest of the shooting of James Meredith. Dora Black, a community member who participated in the simulation with students, was in charge of distributing, among other cash-related items, SEPTA transpasses and loans. Just then someone came up to cash a paycheck. She finally got the entire amount because she had finally managed to pay off her school loan.
But after the simulation concluded, during the debriefing, several groups admitted to resorting to theft to get enough cash to live. One group sold its car that was paid off to get money for expenses and then stole another car so they would still have transportation. Deborah Byrne, a member of the nursing school faculty who ran the pawn shop, told the students they were getting majorly ripped off during the simulation.
He was paying a special visit to La Salle and sat in for part of the simulation.
The things that are thrown at us are things that I can see happening in real life. Can this charismatic pastor rally Philly around its most intractable problem? The excruciating challenge of being a high school athlete without enough to eat.
Food insecurity causes drastic and unhealthy coping solutions for many high school athletes in and around Philly. But many have overcome its consequences.
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