From Selma to Madison…And Back?

Saturday, March 7th marked 50 years since the Bloody Sunday protest of 1965, when 600 civil rights advocates marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama were tear-gassed and beaten by police when they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge.

Nearly 70,000 people gathered in Selma, Alabama on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark victory for civil rights. The tone was celebratory–downright jubilant at times– Reutersreports, with attendees chanting “We Shall Overcome,” as they stomped in their forefathers’ footsteps across the bridge.

At that very time, a procession stomped through Madison, Wisconsin. This one was in outrage at the killing of 19-year-old Tony Robinson, shot dead by police the night before on March 5.

The previous day on March 4, the Justice Department released the results of their lengthy investigation into both the Michael Brown case and the Ferguson Police Department itself, The Atlanticreported on Thursday.

Predictably, the findings in the Brown case sided overwhelmingly in Officer Wilson’s favor, with near every imaginable scenario that didn’t paint Wilson as the victim dutifully dismissed.

Officer Darren Wilson’s murdering Michael Brown was deemed not to be in violation of any federal law.

Even more alarming than that outcome is the candid exposé on the Ferguson Police Department included in the report.

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates says the FPD regards its black citizens “less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue,” claiming they subsist on a diet of “willfull racism aimed at generating cash.”

The report found that Ferguson police handed out a wildly disproportionate amount of tickets to poor black citizens, while staff clerks gleefully dismissed legitimate traffic tickets for their friends. Emails containing all manner of racial slur, some directed at the president, circulated widely in the FPD. Reports of wanton police brutality that never made the news abound.

Writing on the 48th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 2013, the New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb said “the history of race in this country resembles a pendulum, not an arrow.” Impressive as the social advances made by black Americans have been, they can’t be taken as any kind of indicator of true social progress.

After all, let’s not forget that it wasn’t until 2000 that interracial marriage became legal in all states.

And that, despite enormous strides made during the civil rights movement, the population of uneducated black males in American prisons grew by more than 20 percentage points between 1980 and 2000.

Oh, and, Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act–the very one that emerged from the ashes of the Bloody Sunday march–was deemed unconstitutional in 2013, effectively rendering the Act powerless, the Washington Post notes.

“This nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us,” is how America’s first black president articulated the plight of black men and women on as he stood on the very grounds on which protestors denounced the police killing of an innocent young man 50 years earlier.

Though widely touted as the catalyst for the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 which outlawed voter discrimination based on race, color and literacy, the Bloody Sunday march, Democracy Now points out, was in fact a demonstration against the police killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson on February 26, 1965.

By the time Obama concluded his soul-stirring speech on March 7, 2015, hundreds had gathered in Madison, Wisconsin, to denounce the police killing of another innocent young man.

It was a tussle in a Marion, Alabama restaurant that resulted in the shooting death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson at the hands of state trooper James Bonard Fowler. He was known to be nonviolent. He was unarmed. He was black.

It was a domestic tussle in Madison, Wisconsin that resulted in the shooting death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson at the hands of an unknown officer. He was known to be nonviolent. He was unarmed.

He was black.

Photo Credit: The Huffington Post