Offering Meaningless Condolences On Our Race War Against You

Offering Meaningless Condolences On Our Race War Against You


Michael Sabbie with his kids. Family photo.

To Pence and other conservatives whose willful moral blind spots include the especially repugnant denial of systemic racism in a country where so many are reeling, bleeding and dying from it, take note: It is everywhere. Police continue to shoot and/or kill unarmed black men (mostly) with grisly regularity, wildly out of proportion to their population and at a rate about five times that of whites. Many thousands more are routinely targeted, harassed, abused.

Last month, John Walker, a black 79-year-old civil rights attorney and Arkansas state legislator who has been fighting racial injustice since the 1960s, was arrested for filming a traffic stop. Walker, who recently helped pass legislation protecting the right of citizens to photograph and record the police, was driving with colleague and fellow civil rights attorney Omavi Kushukuru when he stopped to film the actions of Little Rock police arresting another black man; when the suspect saw him and asked what he was doing, Walmer sensibly replied, “I’m just making sure they don’t kill you.” Police arrested Walker and Kushukuru for "obstructing governmental operations" after talking “in an antagonistic and provocative manner.” When the arrest was reviewed, police backed down and issued an apology to Walker, who declined to accept it. The charges against Kushukuru still stand. There is video.

Last July, newly surfaced, almost unwatchable video shows the brutal treatment of Michael Sabbie, a 35-year-old black father of four, inside the small for-profit Bi State Jail on the border between Texas and Arkansas. After being held for 48 hours after a domestic assault charge stemming from an argument with his wife in their car - he walked away - he began experiencing breathing problems in a hallway; at that point, five beefy white cops jumped him, pepper-sprayed him, heaved him across the floor and piled on top of him even as, over nine grueling minutes, he begged 19 times for help, horrifically and politely echoing Eric Garner:  "I can't breathe, sir....Please! Please! I can't breathe... Sorry! Sorry! Sir, I can't breathe!" Shortly after, he was found dead in his cell. There is video.

His family took legal action, but in August the Department of Justice (sic) wrote Sabbie's wife that "after careful consideration" they had determined "the evidence does not establish a prosecutable violation" of federal civil rights laws. They ended with, “Please accept or (sic) condolences on your lost (sic).” Since Sabbie's death, around the same time as Sandra Bland's, there have been a reported 800-plus other jail deaths. Despite growing awareness, some (but not enough) press attention, and the work of activists and watchdog groups like Police the Police, there continue to be countless police shootings, beatings and assaults. Here are a few. There are many more. There is video.

For activist and New York Daily News writer Shaun King and many others, there is a sense that after decades of abuse,  "We've crossed a line in America. Police brutality and racial violence have pushed people far past a reasonable or compassionate human standard." In response, King is helping organize a national boycott of states, cities, companies and public institutions that perpetuate racial injustice; it is scheduled to begin December 5, coinciding with the start of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott by Martin Luther King and other activists. Citing the urgent need for action, King quotes from King's renowned Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period (was) not the strident clamor of bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Below, video of Michael Sabbie pleading for help. Warning: It is extremely, sickeningly graphic.

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