Chesapeake High School is 7.4 miles from my home in Pasadena, MD. On April 4th, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, officials saw a pick-up truck driving through the school’s parking lot flying a Confederate Flag from the rear of the vehicle. That same truck with the flag, as well as a noose, belonged to one of the school’s students.
This incident is the second involving a noose in my county. This appalling behavior isn’t a one-off act, but a steady stream of indefensible acts of racism carried out in my area. Days after the latest noose was found, the Maryland House of Delegates cast a deciding vote to strengthen Maryland’s hate crime laws. The broadening of Maryland’s hate crime law now includes specifying “groups of people” rather than requiring names of individuals being targeted. Do not mistake this post as an attempt to discredit the broadening of this law, it was certainly necessary to safeguard Marylanders from these repulsive crimes, and it ensures that legal semantics does not get in the way of justice.
As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, or Life in the Woods, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” When it comes to racism, the expansion of this law (although necessary) only hacks at the branches of this evil.
Well, how do we get to the root?
Erasing racism doesn’t come along just by criminalizing racist symbology and threats. There is a major educational reform that needs to take place, and I’m not just talking about the school system. This reform must also be adopted by our community’s public and private sectors. Maryland's NAACP offices have taken the charge in addressing the actions at the schools in Anne Arundel County, but that is only the first step. Educating the children AND adults of our community will require a total effort from us all. The efforts of the NAACP, and other organizations willing to attack this behavior, must be adopted by others, and supported by local and state government. As a contributing member of this community, I will dedicate myself to educating those around me, and pledge to speak to all who are willing to listen, to put an end to this unacceptable way of looking down on our fellow brothers and sisters.
There is a debate swirling between two schools of thought; some believe people are born racist, others believe people are taught to be racist. I believe the latter. If we can be taught to be racist, then we can be taught to never tolerate such wickedness. In 2018, we have a national movement to assert that black lives matter. We can no longer accept this in our lives, our culture, or in our state.
Maryland and the Noose
Here is a story about a 23-year old black man in Salisbury, MD named Matthew Williams. It was 1931, and Williams was shot in the shoulder and leg after being accused of killing his white employer. Recovering in a hospital from his wounds, a mob gathered, and proceeded to carry out justice in their own way. Members of this mob entered Williams’ hospital room, with little-to-no-resistance from hospital staff, and threw him out of the window to a crowd of 300 anxious people. According to the Archives of Maryland Biographical Series, Williams was then dragged behind a truck for 3 blocks to the lawn of Salisbury’s downtown courthouse, and lynched from a branch high up in the trees. After his lifeless body spent 20 minutes dangling in front of the courthouse, members of the mob brought Williams’ body down, cut off his fingers and toes, dragged his body by truck, and discarded the appendages on the porches of other black families in the Salisbury area to send a very distinct message.
According to Equal Justice Initiative, between 1877 and 1950, there were 29 reported lynchings in Maryland. Of these reported lynchings, Anne Arundel County is at the top, along with Somerset County, with 4 lynchings each—the most in any county across Maryland. I stress again, these are only the reported numbers. Nooses are the preferred tool of death when it comes to this domestic racial terrorism. When the high school student made the choice to parade a flag that was adopted as the symbol of the Ku Klux Klan, and a noose, there was a clear and undeniable message this student was sending, and it is shameful.
As a community, we need to wake ourselves up to the truth about the way people are treated—especially those who look different than you; than me; than any of us. If we see acts of racism happening, we cannot shy away from our basic moral principles, we must confront this issue and take a stand against this injustice. By being honest with ourselves, we can be honest with others and begin to transform the way we think about our brothers and sisters in our communities. We educate ourselves—we educate our communities—we shape our society.
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