From The Final Call Newspaper

Racism, police violence, homelessness and hip-hop’s 50th among top stories for Blacks in 2023
By Charlene Muhammad, National Correspondent
- December 26, 2023

Demonstrators hold signs during a protest at Washington Square Park in New York on Jan. 28, 2023, in response to the death of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police during a traffic stop. The beating and death of Nichols by members of a plainclothes anti-crime task force has renewed scrutiny on the squads often involved in a disproportionate number of use of force incidents and civilian complaints. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

A year plagued with racism, police violence, mass shootings and attacks on Black people in America, rounded out with high figures of homelessness, and threats to voting rights in 2023.

The year 2024 may be more of the same, unless Blacks unite and do for self, according to political scientists, educators, activists, and spiritual leaders.

“Oh, 2023 was heightened, of course,” emphasized Cephus “Uncle Bobby” X Johnson. He is the uncle of Oscar Grant, III, the young, Black man who was fatally shot in the back by then Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle on the Fruitvale station platform on Jan. 1, 2009, in Oakland, Calif.

“We’re all over the country, working with families concerning this egregious act of police violence and even more extremely, the failure to be transparent and accountable, especially in the Black Belt states,” said Mr. Johnson. But California, thought to be one of the more progressive states, was one of four other states that just got decertification legislation passed.

Every state except for 46 has some form of decertification, meaning not only may rogue police officers be terminated, but they are prohibited from ever getting hired in that particular state again, according to Mr. Johnson, who is also co-founder of the Love Not Blood Campaign, Families United 4 Justice, and newly appointed member of California’s Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board.

He predicted that the future of policing in 2024 requires a review of technological advances, such as lapel cameras and the fact that police turn them on and off at will. Plus, they have a delay mechanism that starts video or audio 30 seconds after they’re turned on, he noted.

“I don’t want to be pessimistic about it, but we can expect this act to get more egregious, especially as we find out how important it is that we unify ourselves whether through legislation, protests, whatever it is we have to do to stop it,” he added.

Los Angeles certainly saw an increase in police, according to Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in July. It has been a year of struggle, challenge, and pushing back against the backlash, she told The Final Call.

Clarence Avant Photo: MGN Online

“2023 has been a year where White supremacy has come back with a vengeance and Black people and people who say they love Black people are challenged to really put in work,” said Dr. Abdullah, who is also a professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Police Department officers began 2023 killing three people in less than 24 hours, and they have shot 11 people since Aug. 1, twice the number of people shot by officers during the same period in 2022. However, police data indicates the total number of police shootings year-to-date in 2023 was still below last year at this time, according to news reports.

She has also seen a surge in White supremacist violence against Black people, stated Dr. Abdullah. “2023 calls into question do we really believe in our own freedom and if we do, then what kind of work are we willing to put in,” she said. “Getting through 2023 reminds us that we can get through, we can make it, and it takes work. It takes struggle.”

Whether through attacks on voters’ rights or Black history, activists say Black people must unite to survive in the next decade much less 2024.

Legacies remembered

The year was also one in which several important luminaries passed away, leaving tremendous legacies and memories. There was no stopping Clarence Avant. He was a force of nature. He came from a poor family in the Carolinas and made his way in the music business. He paved the way for many acts and was called “The Godfather of Black Music.”

Avant won several awards, such as the NAACP Image Award – Hall of Fame Award and the BET Honors Entrepreneur Award. He started Sussex Records and Tabu Productions. Mr. Avant helped singers like Michael Jackson get big record deals and was the head of the Motown Records board.

Harry Belafonte Photo: MGN Online

Music icon Tina Turner and football Hall of Famer and activist Jim Brown also passed away in 2023.

William Edward Spriggs was an American economist who dedicated his life to fighting for economic justice and equality. Throughout his distinguished career, he wore many hats: Professor of Economics at Howard University, Chief Economist for the AFL-CIO, and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy in the Obama Administration. During this critical period, Dr. Spriggs played a key role in shaping economic policy responses to the Great Recession.

Roslyn Pope, born in the 1940s segregated South, grew up immersed in racial injustice. She was impacted during a Girl Scout trip to Wyoming where she surprisingly witnessed a society free from segregation. This fueled her early commitment to equality.

She enjoyed a fulfilling career as a college professor, sharing her knowledge and inspiring new generations. Moreover, she remained a vital voice in the ongoing pursuit of social justice, participating in marches, speaking engagements, and advocacy efforts.

The year also saw the loss of Harry Belafonte. Mr. Belafonte was a Renaissance man, captivating audiences with his music, acting, and activism. He broke barriers, paved the way for future generations of artists, and used his platform to champion social justice. His legacy continues to inspire and resonate today.

The Nation of Islam experienced the loss of two powerful helpers in the cause of Allah (God), Minister Jabril Muhammad and Brother Joshua Nasir Farrakhan, the second oldest son of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Mother Khadijah Farrakhan.

Attacks on multiple fronts

Dr. Kathie Stromile Golden, executive director of the National Association of Black Political Scientists, also has been concerned about the attack on what has been termed Critical Race Theory. “Critical Race Theory” is the name of a slogan right-wingers attached to schools teaching about this country’s true racial past, or a rejection of education reforms, such as accurate teaching of the treatment of Black people in this society for nearly 500 years.

People don’t really understand it, and a lot of the things that were fought hard for are being rolled back, according to Dr. Golden. “It’s just so incredibly disheartening in terms of the Congress, decision-makers, divisiveness,” she told The Final Call.

“Higher education is a mess. The whole notion of not being able to teach history, I see this attack as revisionist and the powers that be, particularly White men, attempts to rule at any cost, have no concern for democracy and how it should work,” argued Dr. Golden.

In June, according to the Associated Press, within hours of a U.S. Supreme Court decision dismantling a key provision of the Voting Rights Act—the requirement that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mainly in the South, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections—Texas lawmakers announced plans to implement a strict voter ID law that had been blocked by a federal court. Lawmakers in Alabama said they would press forward with a similar law that had been on hold.

“In my opinion, African Americans, people of color, are just being attacked at every point. It is really troubling,” said Dr. Golden. From her perspective, Blacks and other non-Whites are not as organized and united to combat some of these attacks.

Other violent attacks include mass shootings, such as when a 21-year-old White man used his assault-style rifle to kill three Black people at a Jacksonville, Fla., Dollar Store. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Jacksonville shooting, which happened August 26, as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

The gunman, identified as Ryan Christopher Palmeter, shot and killed Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19; Jerrald Gallion, 29; and Angela Michelle Carr, 52, before he killed himself.

Also, six White former officers pleaded guilty on Aug. 3 to torturing two Black men in Rankin County, Mississippi, among other atrocities.

In the Jan. 7 beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, five Black officers were terminated and charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression; one White officer was relieved of duty but not terminated.

In Florida, Susan Lorincz, a White woman, was charged with one count of manslaughter with a firearm and one count of assault in the shooting death of a 35-year-old Black mother, Ajike Owens on June 2. Ms. Owens had walked with her son to 58-year-old Ms. Lorincz’s front door, to confront her after she allegedly took an iPad from one of Ms. Owens’ children and threw roller skates at them.

And in Akron, Ohio, despite findings by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation that police fired a total of 94 rounds, including a combined 70 shots from four officers, striking 25-year-old Jayland Walker a total of 46 times both before and after his body fell to the ground, a grand jury failed to return an indictment April 17, against any of the eight Akron police officers involved.

This image from video released by the City of Memphis shows Tyre Nichols leaning against a car after a brutal attack by five police officers on Jan. 7, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. Nichols died three days later. The five police officers, all of whom are also Black, were fired and later charged with various state felonies, including second-degree murder. (City of Memphis via AP)

Mr. Walker was shot down, unarmed, in a hail of gunfire after the young, Black man exited and ran away from his vehicle during a car chase on June 27, 2022.

Damien Pickett a Riverboat co-captain in Alabama, was attacked by a group of White people who refused to move from a designated docking area. Mr. Pickett was attacked by several members of the private boat. Then, several Black passengers of the Harriott II (another riverboat) came to Mr. Pickett’s defense, resulting in what’s been termed a brawl, riot, melee, and by some intellectuals, “a cathartic release for Black folks.”

“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us that one of the things that must be done, in this time, is that we must be separated from our former slave masters and their children—because time will prove that they will become more and more disagreeable to live with in peace,” stated the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan during Part 39 of his 2013, 58-week lecture series “The Time and What Must Be Done.”

“Unfortunately, race relations will continue to get worse because the government just cannot provide enough food, clothing, shelter and jobs, or justice, for us. And as we sit around, waiting for somebody else to do this for us—and demanding what we feel are our basic rights as so-called citizens—we are making our former slave masters and their children more angry with us; and thus, they are becoming more disagreeable to live with in peace.

That’s why the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said, ‘We must be separated if we don’t want to continue to suffer great loss,’ continued Minister Farrakhan.

Demonstrators hold signs during a protest at Washington Square Park in New York on Jan. 28, 2023, in response to the death of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police during a traffic stop. The beating and death of Nichols by members of a plainclothes anti-crime task force has renewed scrutiny on the squads often involved in a disproportionate number of use of force incidents and civilian complaints. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

Progress amid challenges

“The educational system is still failing. Prison beds are still being built. Culturally, we are still suffering with these digital wars between Black men and Black women, creating such toxic narratives that are causing the breakup of the family and, ultimately, it is our children who suffer,” said Deric Muhammad, a Houston, Texas-based activist who founded “Smart’n Up” Black Male Summit. The community-based motivational and educational summit is designed to address the unique needs of Black men and boys.

Constant attacks by the government of America against Black youth have shaped their environment and thus their condition, according to Deric Muhammad. The year, though trying, has seen some victories, he noted. “But 2023 was what we made it and I believe 2024 will be the same, what we make it,” he stated.

He has witnessed a lot of young people make progress in business and believes they have completely given up on the notion or idea that the American educational system is one for them to live up to their highest potential. He also believes that the failure of the system has caused a mere total rejection of it from Black youth, which has played into their favor.

“I see a trend among our young people of them wanting to do for self, and the more they want to do for self, the more they are willing to take a risk and try to do for self, the more they see how capable they are of doing for self, and in that they begin to find their God power,” said Deric Muhammad. He believes the entrepreneurial spirit, even young rappers, is something to be applauded.

Speaking of rappers, Black people, worldwide, celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, which grew from Bronx block parties to global domination. Hip-hop’s influence has endured for half a century. In 2023, the world celebrated a genre that has not only shaped music but also impacted fashion, art, and social activism.

One of the key challenges for Black people in 2023 is to have paid close attention to Minister Farrakhan’s Saviours’ Day lecture, “The War of Armageddon Has Begun,” stated Student Minister Abdul Haleem Muhammad, Southwest Regional Representative of the Nation of Islam.

Protesters take over a bridge Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn., as authorities release police video depicting five Memphis officers beating Tyre Nichols, whose death resulted in murder charges and provoked outrage at the country’s latest instance of police brutality. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

From that lecture, the Minister laid out in a global sense the war to end all wars had begun and pointed out its initial stages, he said. The second thing was Minister Farrakhan speaking of the unconstitutional function of the Federal Reserve and the stranglehold that the International bankers have on the country and American taxpayers, and most importantly, Minister Farrakhan warning Black people of their need to be pleasing in the eyes of Allah (God), so that Allah would not have to chastise them out of love for them, and a desire that they make a full break from Satan, and inherit the kingdom of God, said Student Minister Abdul Haleem Muhammad.

He highlighted housing, or the lack thereof, as another key challenge for Black people in America in 2023. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness in the U.S. hit a record high last year as pandemic aid ran out.

Its 2023 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, an annual snapshot of the number of individuals in shelters, temporary housing, and in unsheltered settings, found more than 650,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2023, a 12 percent increase from 2022.

According to the report, nearly four in 10 people experiencing homelessness identified as Black, African American, or African. People who identify as Black made up just 13 percent of the total U.S. population but comprised 37 percent of all people experiencing homelessness.

It goes back to the Federal Reserve and the raising of interest rates, the inability of people to purchase and sell homes, the rise in rental rates and the slowdown in house construction, and, the overall change in the economy, noted Student Minister Abdul Haleem Muhammad.

People are working two and three jobs, that can barely pay rent in certain urban areas, which therefore increases those that are considered homeless or the “unhoused.”

“Black people are often on the top of all of the bad statistics, and on the bottom of all the good ones, in terms of wealth, income, health disparities, and anytime America catches a cold, Black people catch pneumonia,” he said.

Final Call Staff Writer Nisa Islam Muhammad and Final Call Staff contributed to this report.

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