Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The return of "Burn, baby! Burn"

Rioters in Watts shouted “Burn, Baby! Burn!” during uprisings that began on August 11, 1965.  The riots within the South Central Los Angeles area resulted in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage.

"Burn, Baby! Burn!" was the trademark of Magnificent Montague, a popular R&B disc Jockey on KGFK in Los Angeles.  Montague would howl “burn” when a song moved him.  Listeners responded by calling the DJ and shouting “Burn” on the air.
They yelled “Burn, Baby! Burn!” to articulate frustration after word spread that Marquette Frye and Rena Price were roughed up by police.  It wasn’t the first time.  It was a common practice – police brutality, not only in Watts, but in black communities across the country.

Yesterday was the 49th anniversary of Watts.  People are still asking why did people burn and loot in Watts?

Why are people rioting in Ferguson, Missouri?
It’s a question we shouldn’t have to ask.  The question reflects a deep divide between the pain of rioters, and the assumptions of those who believe these types of matters should be left to the system to unravel.  Those who ask the question miss the point of the rage.

The system is the problem.
How do you respond when yet another black youth is killed for no reason?  How do you keep that rage contained when confronted with too many examples were justice fails to prevail? 

How do you watch Michael Brown’s mother cry without feeling compelled to respond in a way that reflects your sorrow? How to you respond to those who refuse to listen?  What do you say to those who discount the dignity of the life taken, and use excuses to justify the death of another black man?
What do you say to a nation that blames victims for crossing the line? What do you do when authorities refuse to listen to the witness who watched a police officer kill his friend?

“I saw the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend,” Dorian Johnson, 22, told Trymaine Lee of MSNBC. “Then I saw the fire come out of the barrel.”
Johnson told MSNBC the incident began as an order by a police officer to ‘get the f— onto the sidewalk’ and quickly escalated into a physical altercation and then, gunfire.

“I could see so vividly what was going on because I was so close,” said Johnson, who was within arm’s reach of both Brown and the officer when the first of several shots was fired.
Johnson said they continued walking after telling the officer they were close to their destination.  He says the officer then slammed on his breaks, backed up, nearly hitting them.

They heard him say something to the effect of, “what’d you say?” At the same time, Johnson says the officer slammed the door into Brown, and, with his left hand, grabbed Brown by the neck.
“I could see the muscles in his forearm,” Johnson said. “Mike was trying to get away from being choked.”

 “They’re not wrestling so much as his arm went from his throat to now clenched on his shirt,” Johnson said. “It’s like tug of war. He’s trying to pull him in. He’s pulling away, that’s when I heard, ‘I’m gonna shoot you.’”
 Johnson said he looked at the officer to see if he was pulling a stun gun or a real gun. That’s when he saw the muzzle of the officer’s gun.

 “I seen the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend,” he said. “He had it pointed at him and said ‘I’ll shoot,’ one more time.”
Johnson said he heard the first shot go off.

 “I seen the fire come out of the barrel,” he said. “I could see so vividly what was going on because I was so close.”
 Johnson says he looked over at Brown and saw blood through his shirt on the right side of the body.

 “The whole time [the officer] was holding my friend until the gun went off,” Johnson said.
 Johnson said he and Brown took off running together. There were three cars lined up along the side of the street. Johnson says he ducked behind the first car, whose two passengers were screaming. Crouching down a bit, he watched Brown run past.

 “Keep running, bro!,” he said Brown yelled. Then Brown yelled it a second time. Those would be Brown’s last words.
 Brown made it past the third car. Then, “blam!” the officer took his second shot, striking Brown in the back. At that point, Johnson says Brown stopped, turned with his hands up and said “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”

 By that point, Johnson says the officer and Brown were face-to-face. The officer then fired several more shots. Johnson told MSNBC he watched Brown go from standing with his hands up to crumbling to the ground and curling into a fetal position.
“After seeing my friend get gunned down, my body just ran,” Johnson said. He ran to his apartment nearby. Out of breath, shocked and afraid, Johnson says he went into the bathroom and vomited. Then he checked to make sure that he hadn’t also been shot.

Five minutes later, Johnson emerged from his apartment to see his dead and in the middle of the street.
What do you say and do after hearing a story like that? Freeman Bosley, Johnson’s attorney, said police have declined an opportunity to speak with Johnson.

What do you think after Trayvon Martin?  What do you do after Eric Garner was choked to death by police in New York City?  Do you wait?  Do you hope for justice?  Do you maintain trust in the system?
Do you accept the notion that we are experiencing a post-racial America, and that time will prove the police did nothing wrong? Should we indict rioters for overreacting, or is something deeper taking place to reshape the conscious of black America.

Are we experiencing the return of “Burn, baby! Burn!”
Listen to the rage.

1 comment:

  1. Appalling and all too common. I am saddened by this killing, this police murder, and cannot imagine his family ever recovering from this trauma. And I bet nothing happens to the murderer except a paid leave and a temporary desk job.