At the Corner of Justice and Juneteenth

by Sabirah Muhammad

Sign: a posted command, warning or direction. Something material that signifies something spiritual. 

There’s no mistaking God’s timing. There’s nothing accidental about the brutal killing of George Floyd just prior to our annual Juneteenth holiday celebration, and on the day that we surely forgot was Memorial Day. Juneteenth is our declaration and celebration of freedom, but Memorial Day commemorates those who fought and died for it. It’s through this lens – and between these two signs that we must filter the events of this new season, where even the evil machinations of our open enemies work to our advantage.

 Amidst the turmoil in the aftermath of the Floyd murder, Donald Trump wanted to spit on our pain by holding a rally where Black people were slaughtered, (Tulsa Oklahoma) and to showcase the fallacy of our freedom on the very day that we gather to proclaim it. He reveled in the fact that we were powerless to stop him; to enforce the boundaries of an independent community and protect our sacred space. But the controversy created by the brazen insult broadened the picture, spanning out from the lifeless body of George Floyd to the panoramic view of an absolute orgy of violence, wanton killing and destruction of a community with over 10,000 homes. It amplified and emphasized the message of White supremacy through its chief representative: The force of the state is not arrayed against one individual or one alleged crime, but against the entire family of Black people and your very existence. We have no intention of making you whole… not for a hundred years since this event, and not now.

 For a month we’ve taken to the streets. But instinctively, those who demean our existence are following standard protocols for what they believe is a prolonged temper tantrum. They’re taking down monuments, portraits and Confederate flags. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Senator Mitt Romney and others formerly adverse have now mouthed the words “Black Lives Matter.” In their misreading of the season, they’re spontaneously reaching for symbols to avoid our demand for substance. 

Maneuvering in the Floyd case started early, with the coroner posturing to claim that pre-existing health conditions caused our brother’s death. It continued with the moving of Attorney General Keith Ellison to the forefront of the proceedings, so that when the powers behind him let these killers walk, a Black man can take the fall. As “consent of the governed” is revoked, Police departments all over the country are staging sick-outs and ramping up their abuse. In Buffalo, the pension of former Officer Cariol Horne has not yet been restored. 

We are at a crossroads. We can allow the energy of this moment to dissipate and settle for the symbols, or we can follow the signs. In June of 2010, in our message titled “Understanding the Purpose and Power of Juneteenth” we wrote: “Like Kwanzaa, Carribana, and the Holy Day of Atonement, Juneteenth is one of a few holidays established by the Black family without a single picket sign, a single demonstration, petition drive, persuasive speech, or ‘please mista please.’” In this moment, when the hearts and minds of the world are bent toward Black people, legislators and commentators are calling for Juneteenth to be made a Federal holiday. One well-meaning brother even marveled at the speed at which it could “become” a holiday. Because it’s not, of course, until White folks say it is. 

Frederick Douglass told us that the limits of tyrants are prescribed by our endurance. Have we had enough yet? Just as Federal recognition for Juneteenth is only an outgrowth of our own, every solution to our current dilemma lies with and within ourselves. Let the energy spent in aimless wandering up and down streets that we don’t own be transmuted into focused, organized, unified plans of action.

Columnnist /Sabirah Muhammad

We have endless blueprints – from Garvey’s UNIA platform, to Kwame Toure’s All African Peoples’ Revolutionary Party Platform, to the Black Agenda developed during the Million Man March, oh for heaven’s sake, just pick one. When disrespectful police withdraw from our spaces to punish us, let’s move quickly to fill it and truly protect and serve – but be wary of agent provocateurs sent to prove the lie that we need their constant presence. We are on the precipice of a freedom that cannot be given, and therefore, cannot be taken. In memoriam… for George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin and Emmitt Till and every one of our Grandmothers who sighed breathlessly that “chile… one day my change is gonna come,” let’s move from passion to planning, from emotion to evolution… because we say so.