In nations around the world, thousands of people will demonstrate in anger if the police do harm to a citizen. Not so in the United States. In this country a uniform provides a license to maim and to kill. American police routinely beat, Taser and shoot people and no one even knows how often these assaults take place. The same government which tells us how many times police are shot doesn’t keep statistics on how often the rest of us may become victims. An estimate from 2011 indicates that American police shot 1,100 people, killing 607 of them.
Kwadir Felton is one of those shooting victims. In 2010 the then 18-year old was shot in the head by a police officer in Jersey City, New Jersey. Felton lost his eyesight as a result of the shooting but his suffering wasn’t over. Prosecutors chose to charge him with assaulting the policeman who blinded him and a jury found him guilty in 2014. He has yet to be sentenced but faces a possible 30 years in prison. Felton’s name should be a household word but his story has relied on mentions here in Black Agenda Report and in social media by a few stalwart activists.
Felton is not alone. Police surveillance and its resulting brutality leave many victims. A black person dies from extrajudicial murder every 28 hours. Black people can be arrested for pursuing perfectly legal activities such as spending their own money in high end stores. Floridian Allen Hicks, Sr., suffered a stroke while driving and was treated as a criminal instead of as a critically ill man. He lay on a jail cell floor without medical treatment for two days and eventually died from lack of care. These stories become more and more common at a time when black people stood down politically. The infamous stand your ground laws are a result not just of the machinations of racist, angry, white people but of the decline of black political engagement.
The case of Kwadir Felton ought to stir activism and righteous anger but instead has been met with muted attention. The era when his case would have been a cause celebre passed long ago. Black people have settled for the crumbs of seeing some success among others in their group, allowing the false joy of seeing a black face in a high place to replace demands for justice.
“The infamous stand your ground laws are a result not just of the machinations of racist, angry, white people but of the decline of black political engagement.”
That satisfaction with the success of a small cohort has done terrible damage to the masses. New Jersey has black elected officials in office, including Cory Booker, a United States senator. Other races and religious and ethnic groups can guarantee that no member of their community would face what Kwadir Felton has experienced without being championed by their people in power. No such luck exists for black people in New Jersey or elsewhere.
Booker is well known to any reader of the Black Agenda Report. He came seemingly out of nowhere in 2002 before being narrowly defeated in a Newark mayoral race. He eventually won that office and was elected a United States senator in 2013. He may have been little known by the public but he was very good friends of the 1%, the people whose water he still happily carries. Booker was and is a fund raising juggernaut, fetching millions of dollars from supporters of privatized education and the financial services industry. He even went so far as to sing the praises of Mitt Romney’s infamous Bain Capital during the 2012 presidential election.
What good does it do to have black people in exalted and prestigious places if they do nothing to help the rest of their community? Kwadir Felton certainly doesn’t benefit from Booker’s presence or apparently from the presence of any black mayor, state legislator or member of Congress from New Jersey.
Every black elected official in that state should be fighting for justice for Kwadir Felton and for the others like him whose stories remain untold. The prosecutors who put Felton on trial should fear everything from public ridicule to job loss if they ever thought to act as they have done but they know they have no reason for concern even when they act like criminals themselves.
“The preachers who brag about having access to the halls of power should be asked what they have done for Felton.”
If Cory Booker cared at all about his black constituents, justice, or morality Felton would have no fear of imprisonment. In a state with a powerful gubernatorial office, a call to Chris Christie ought to bring some justice to this horribly unjust situation. But Booker has no reason to lift a finger for this young man unless he knows he will pay a price for inaction.
History teaches that we can give power to people in dire circumstances such as this if we speak for them and in a loud voice. Felton’s attorneys have filed their second motion requesting a new trial, having presented evidence of a taint in the jury pool. While they wait to hear a decision on that motion there should be demands made of all the people in positions of power to free him from grave injustice. Cory Booker should be told to intercede on Felton’s behalf. The state legislators and mayors should be asked to do the same thing. The preachers who brag about having access to the halls of power should be asked what they have done for Felton.
What good does it do to have senators or presidents who look like us and get our votes as a result but who do nothing to help us in our time of need? Black Americans should expect no less from their leaders. Perhaps Kwadir Felton should claim to be a charter school company owner or an investment banker. That may be the only way he can get his senator’s attention.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.