An Endangered Species

Elder Zef Amen speaking about the future of African-American boys

Had the privilege of an invitation yesterday to a meeting of concern about the Trayvon Martin injustice.  Titled “Turning Tragedy into Triumph,” the event was hosted by the Oakland Brotherhood of Elders Network at Geoffrey’s Club on 14th Street in downtown Oakland, a traditional civil rights venue just around the corner from my old law office and the current LifeRing Service Center (

The Brotherhood Network is a group of African-American men 18 years or older, devoted to, among other things, protecting and upraising an endangered segment of the human species, the young African-American male.

A common theme among the presenters, which brought universal nods of agreement from the audience, was that the murder of Martin was not an isolated instance, it just happened to draw a lot of media attention.  Speakers and short film clips recited a long string of similar victims, many of them slain by their peers.  That took me back to Khadafy Washington, who was a client of mine in the Acorn Tenants’ litigation in the 90s.  A star football player and a good scholar at McClymonds High School, he had potential for a bright future.  He was killed while riding his bicycle on the school yard.  Many hundreds attended his funeral.

The meeting took up an action agenda presented by David Muhammad, a leading speaker and activist on criminal justice issues.  Muhammad cited a list of bills currently pending in the California legislature that deserved support, and provided links to organizations active on the issue.  Copy attached here.

It’s beyond me to analyze in detail why this epidemic of murders against young black men continues, but certain points suggest themselves.  One, that the justice system along with just about every other institution from housing to education to health to jobs is stacked against this demographic.  Two, that the main routes for advancement, namely professional sports and commercial music, provide real advancement for only a tiny fraction, and do so at the expense of promoting an image of the black man that differs only in degree from the romanticized vision of the plantation slave: “him strong, him got rhythm.”  Three, that the hopelessness and self-hatred that this situation breeds among its victims can only be broken, in the short term, by organized resistance in many forms such as we saw in the civil rights movement and its sequels, and in the long run, by a vast economic and political revival that creates meaningful, well-paying jobs for everyone, replaces the oppressive institutions with fair and vital ones, and thus drains the hopelessness and dead-end feeling out of the community’s marrow.

It was a privilege to attend the meeting.  It felt a little bit like the civil rights days of the sixties.  Possibly, hopefully, the Martin murder will trigger a new edition of this movement.

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