Photo by Cosmin Mîndru on Unsplash

George Floyd spent a horrific eight minutes and 46 seconds with a man’s knee pressing on his neck until he died. That is a crime. Police are not hired to play judge, jury and executioner. They are supposed to protect and serve the people of their community. 

But while the battle cry to defund the police may be necessary, there is still the problem of Black-on-Black crime. All police are not responsible for the harm inflicted on every Black man. Black people must demand the same treatment from each other as they do from law enforcement. 

There is, however, another deep underlying problem. Too many police view Black men with the same loathing some Black people have for each other. How many people can honestly say they respect a Black man sitting next to them in a classroom or on a  job site if his skin color is different from their own? If they see a group of Black men walking towards them, does a hint of fear invade their senses? 

These are problems many people of color face in America. Hatred and racism are learned behaviors. Many of the stereotypes of the way we talk and act that we see in the media are taken as reality. Could it be conditioning, as described in a speech that a slave owner named William Lynch delivered in 1712 on the banks of the James River in Virginia, according to legend? In that speech, the story goes, Lynch said slaves are easily controlled by exploiting differences such as age and skin color in order to pit them against each other. He ensured this method would work to control slaves for at least 300 years. 

Too many Black men are killing each other in the name of gang warfare, drugs and false pride. I am a firm believer that Black Lives Matter. When Black people are united, nothing can stop us. Every American grows up pledging allegiance to the flag. That pledge teaches that united we stand and divided we will fall. I ask myself if the mantra Black Lives Matter is truly a belief that all Black men in America harbor. I question this because too often Black people continue to kill each other on a daily basis. On the streets of Long Beach, California, there are Black gang turf wars ignited over sports apparel. Whether someone wears Raiders, Steelers, or Cowboys football gear — all of it can be grounds to be shot due to senseless gang violence. 

Gang violence hasn’t just plagued California, though. It’s a problem that exists around the world. So it begs the question: How do we explain Black men killing Black men at such an alarming rate? Black men account for 52 percent of all homicide victims, despite making up less than 7 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some social scientists have deemed fratricide committed by Black people to be more on pace with genocide. 

Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer, coined that term in the 1940s to describe what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany; he had earlier investigated the Turkish government’s massacre of the Armenian people from 2015 to 2018. In the 1970s in Africa, an estimated three hundred thousand people were murdered under the rule of Idi Amin, and roughly five hundred thousand died under his successor Milton Obote. Roughly 800,000 Tutsi people and others were killed by Hutu people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. 

These turf wars took place on our mother soil. It’s not clear where that ideology of superiority originated, or where the notion to kill each other for that purpose came from. But this type of systematic killing of fellow Africans seems to be done for social status. The idea that we’re ridding ourselves of an inferior group when we’re all African is ludicrous, yet the same thought process takes place on American soil. African genocide is relevant as it shows the thought process behind what Blacks do in America to each other physically, over something as trivial as clothing, and mentally, especially in rap music. Imagine a world with no rap music, no hip-hop gear, a place where young Black men are considered an endangered species. America isn’t too far away from that as a reality if more Black people don’t wake up. I am a Black man and I encourage others to change and stop the needless loss of Black Lives that Matter. I’ve personally witnessed levels of Black-on-Black racism, Black people killing Black people — it’s almost psychotic. Inter-racism among Black people is normal in too many communities. The N-word is used so frequently that Black people do not feel disrespected by the word. We hear it so much that it has literally become a part of the African-American vernacular. 

Conversely, those who depart from the use of such language and seek to broaden their education are sometimes criticized and ridiculed by other Black people, who accuse them of “acting White” instead of exhibiting some degree of intelligence. There are even instances in the Black community that provoke unsolicited laughter and finger pointing at a so-called “Uncle Tom” seen being interviewed using proper or “White” grammar. “You know he from the ghetto,” one might say. It seems that some Black people have forgotten that the slaves who were brought to America were descendants of Kings and Queens from the Motherland in Africa. That Black people in America would be better off if they understood intelligence is not an act. 

Society can alter the mind of each Black man by changing the way he thinks about himself and his brother, so that when Black people witness other Black people making it in the world, they feel joy for the strides towards success his brother or sister has made instead of envy. 

Is the current envy that is so prevalent a throwback to the times of slavery and Jim Crow that shaped such a mentality? Perhaps it is historic from our slavery days, when those who lived in the house were envied by those who lived in the fields. Perhaps it’s no more than an inherent need to want what the next man possesses. This behavior has been transferred to Black people from a distorted ideology. Because of this, Whites probably don’t believe we respect each other or value each other’s lives. And why should we? 

What happened to George Floyd and so many others whose lives were cut short by acts of senseless police violence is a brutal tragedy. I don’t see it changing, regardless of police policy changes, until Black people learn to respect each other — until, when we see another man of color, we do not see the color of his skin, but the merit of his conduct, instead of the reality of what some see: light skin, dark skin, good hair, nappy hair. These types of stereotypes are sad but true. 

Lynch suggested to slave owners that they exploit differences, such as age and skin color, to pit slaves against each other. The rest, as it’s said, is history.

There is a solution. We need to embrace one another. There is a real need to talk about the shame and pain we carry. If it was a gang or street thing, let the dead take care of the dead. Fifty years ago, George Jackson said, “Settle your quarrels.” We have to live for our future, free from America’s penal colonies and cemeteries. Let’s respect each other and make Black Lives Matter not just an outlook police should embrace, but a concept we cherish.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Harry Goodall Jr.

Harry Goodall Jr. is a writer incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. He is a journalist and frequent contributing writer to San Quentin News.