Consider the physical, financial, mental, even spiritual deaths inflicted on black Americans, writes Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney
In the weeks since the release of my book, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People, the question Ive been asked most often is whether my use of the word genocide in the title was meant to be intentionally provocative, rather than reflective of reality.
Surely, genocide is too strong a word for the maltreatment of black people in America, some interviewers have suggested. True genocide is something that happened in Nazi Germany, Armenia and Rwanda, not the United States of America.
Yet we dont need to look any further than the definition contained in article 2 of the United Nations 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.It then goes on to describe the acts as killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births, or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The first case for charging the American government with the genocide of black Americans was brought in 1951 by a group called the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) inWe Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of The United States against the Negro People.
The CRC was attacked, accused of exaggerating racial inequality, and disbanded in 1956. In hindsight, the paper and its charge of genocide was prescient and has stood the test of time.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, has documented 4,400 racial terror lynchings so far. He has brought the historical evidence of genocide to life in an exhibit at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice; there, visitors walk under 800 steel columns representing black Americans who were lynched some bearing names, some printed with unknown and the location of the lynching.
Rather than fading into a shadowy past, the case for charging genocide has if anything – only grown stronger and clearer since the CRC first brought its petition.
Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Stephon Clark – daily, the news is filled with documentation of black people wrongfully killed by police, of black lives treated as though they had no value, of lives extinguished without accountability and without justice.
But the evidence of genocide doesnt stop with outright murder. The mass incarceration of black people testifies to a prison industrial complex that uses black lives as fuel to feed its profits. Consider the generational harm of incarcerating black people, who make up only 13% of the population but 27% of all arrests, 33% of those in jail or prison and 42% of those on death row. We see genocide in the generations of black families who have been economically and psychologically destroyed by a justice system that incarcerated poor blacks for using crack cocaine, while slapping the wrists of white professionals who used cocaine in its white powder form. We see that hypocrisy continue today as opioid use is deemed an epidemic and disproportionately white users are treated as addicts in need of treatment. We see it as the government devises ways to profit from the legal marijuana industry while thousands of black Americans rot in prison for possessing or selling weed to support their families.