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Effigies of Ancestors at UC Berkeley

Regardless of who re-hung them, and whether in support or mockery of the times we are in, they show that black life is still being strangled out.

Arlee Leonard

Look at these painful reminders of American history past and present. ‪

So, who hung these effigies of presumably historically hung African-Americans on the University of California, Berkeley campus, on Saturday morning ‪December 13, before the planned ‪‎Black Lives Matter‬ protests there and across the country?

Strangely, it could have been done by people either in support or in mockery. It is certainly painfully disturbing and attention-catching. The University authorities are looking into the matter. UC Berkeley is my father's alma mater, and a place I used to play as a kid.

Regardless of who re-hung these ancestors, and whether to support or mock of the times we are in, they show that black life is still being strangled out with the "I Can't Breathe" quotes, the final words spoken over and over again by Eric Garner as his life was strangled out of him by the New York Police Department this summer for selling "loosies," loose cigarettes.

Personally, I saw the video of the end of Mr. Garner's life and it made me cry and cry. It took me right back to the time I stood witness at age 9, with other kids and adults, over a man who was shot as he lay dying on the streets of Detroit near my home at Beaubien & Ferry Streets, presumably for stealing a pack of cigarettes from the corner store. I watched as blood poured out of him after being shot. I stood over him and watched as he gurgled through his blood trying to breathe. It makes me cry right now. There was no response from the fire department, and no ambulance seemed forthcoming in our neighborhood. Police came, and this man was then lifted into the back of a police car and driven off.

The next day that store was fire-bombed and closed down for good, and we knew the man was dead. Over a pack of cigarettes. Eric Garner's "resistance" to arrest, as captured by video, was standing by a wall, calmly asking the cops to please stop harassing him.

Yes, he was a large black man, perhaps intimidating. Yes, he did not comply with any previous request, but he was also not acting in a threatening manner. Next thing we know he is having his life choked out of him. And the EMT were of no more assistance than the absent ambulance of my childhood.

‪No Justice, No Peace.

The times we are in are stirring up new divides. Divides between people who are sick of hearing about this, who don't understand the reasons for the protests, who think the police were just doing their jobs, and those who are sick of the devaluing of their sons, husbands, brothers, mothers and lovers lives; who experience daily inequality of justice and opportunity, who are tracked from school to prison, who can't find jobs or decent affordable housing, and those who are automatically seen as trouble or criminal based on the color of their skin.

This is a rallying time for any people of conscience who care to see systemic and economic injustice ended. This is a potential watershed moment in American history, our modern version of ‪Selma, Alabama fifty years ago‬: a timely film release to perhaps see some of what's different, what has improved and what has not yet changed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Spiritually, I believe we are in this moment to grow. As with any moment of our lives, we have choice. There is an opportunity here for greater understanding if we are willing to listen, really listen, to another person's experience.

If we are willing to patiently look, perhaps with new eyes, we can more clearly see. Consonant dissonance is run rampant. Enough dividing!

I feel we beings of this mosaic human race would do well to take a deep breath and BREATHE in some love, understanding, patience and tolerance. And we need to ACT because there is much injustice in our homes, schools, communities, city, country and world that needs to be addressed. Period. Pick your sphere of influence, pay attention and act with love as we find our way to equality and justice for all.

‪Breathe in love‬. Breathe out fear‬.


Arlee Leonard is a world-traveling soulful jazz singer/songwriter/poet/actress & ordained Interfaith Minister in Brooklyn, NY. Photos of effigies from Afro-American Newspapers. Relevant hashtags: #‎Lynchings‬, ‪#‎ICantBreathe‬, #‎Dec1314,‬ #‎BlackLivesMatter‬, #‎NoJusticeNoPeace‬, #Selma, #‎Unite4Justice‬, #‎BreatheInLove‬, ‪#‎BreatheOutFear‬.

Copyright © Arlee Leonard. All rights reserved.