“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
From the moment the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the idea that “all men are created equal” was a lie.
It took nearly 100 years for the lie to become visible to those who cared to look – and today, 240 years after the document was signed, the lie persists.
Suffice it to say, I am not what people envision when the words “Black Lives Matter” are bandied about.
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I am a proud son of South Central Los Angeles, a graduate of Los Angeles High School and an alumnus of both Loyola Marymount University and the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.
Today, I live in a comfortable and safe, gated, lakeside community and drive a convertible foreign automobile. I was an investment banker on Wall Street and worked for former Gov. Gray Davis and for the Honorable William Jefferson Clinton in Washington, D.C.
All that said, I am unapologetically black, and as such I completely embrace the thinking behind the Black Lives Matter movement. I think those who oppose the movement might have an easier time accepting the concept if they merely added one simple parenthetical that should not be necessary: (Equally).
It was in 1857 that a former slave named Dred Scott, plaintiff in Scott v. Sanford, would have the temerity to put forward the simple premise that a slave entering a “free state” was no longer a slave.
To that rather common-sense proposition, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney opined that neither Scott nor any other person of African descent – regardless of slave status – could be counted as a “citizen of a state.”
The court, in effect, validated the so-called Missouri Compromise, keeping in place the castigation of those of African descent to the status of three-fifths of a human being, or mere chattel.
According to Taney, the U.S. Constitution itself recognized the inferior status of blacks by the adoption of the so-called “three-fifths clause” (Article I, Section 2), which declared that for purpose of determining congressional representation, enslaved blacks would be counted as three-fifths of a person in population counts.
This barbaric treatment of African Americans was established during the original Constitutional Convention in 1787 and remained in place, by law, until the passage of the Civil War Amendments – the 13th, banning slavery, and the 14th, which purported to grant full citizenship and “equal protection under the laws” to all who were born on American soil, regardless of ethnicity.
America has never apologized for the genocide of slavery and the legacy of the Dred Scott decision.We have been taught since early elementary school to believe this nation’s so-called Founding Fathers were statesmen and heroes, rather than the prolific slave owners some of them were.
If African Americans speak of America’s discriminatory past, they are met with derision and treated as unpatriotic. Mere mention of the fact that Crispus Attucks and many other African descendants were the first to shed blood during the Revolutionary War is treated with dismissal as though it were fantasy, as opposed to fact.
My father, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Stanford E. Harris, served with distinction in World War II. My father-in- law, Air Force Master Sgt. Lawrence Martin Valmore, was a non-commissioned officer in the Vietnam and Korean Wars. To this day, I fly the red, white and blue in front of my home.
It should go without saying that the Black Lives Matter movement is simply calling for what this nation’s Declaration of Independence omitted for our race and what the 14th Amendment says we are in fact entitled to – no more or no less than any other American citizen.
If our country does not recognize the disparity between how African Americans and white Americans are treated when interacting with law enforcement, I fear more bloodshed will be in the offing. And let me be clear: To predict is not to condone. It is my heartfelt hope that this nation will wake up in time to recognize as a matter of law and humanity that Black Lives Matter (Equally).
Professor Mark T. Harris is the president of Central Valley Leaders; an attorney practicing in Sacramento; a radio talk show host on Sacramento’s KDEE FM; director of Pre-Law Studies at the University of California, Merced; and most important, the father of two baseball cap-, saggy short- and flip-flop- wearing, hip-hop- listening; law school-educated, African American sons.