A review of a documentary on John Coltrane reminded me that the iconic jazz musician died on the same day that the Newark Riots officially ended. I trust that the reader knows why I’m using italics here; fact is, the trauma of those riots — fifty years old as of 2017 — never went away. Definitely not for me, as I knew colleagues of the two officers who sparked the riots by mercilessly beating a poor black man they had pulled over for trying “to evade arrest over a traffic violation.” Their story. Mayhem followed, its ripples resonating today.
After a number of deaths and other abominations were reported, I cut my vacation in Italy short, and returned to the states to deal with the aftermath of four days’ worth of devastation in my home town. Numb.
The spirit of Coltrane was hard to come across. I felt that I was honoring the thrust of A Love Supreme; there was lots to do on Central Avenue, much to repair. But I certainly didn’t see it manifested in many quarters there.
White kids I had gone to school with grew up to be police officers, and were involved in some of the killing during those days of rage between July 12 and July 17. On Central Avenue, where they boasted of what they had done, I saw heavy hatred in many eyes alongside some souls who were quietly mourning their lost loved ones. There were 145 black officers on a force that totaled 1322 police officers (representation of 11%, mirroring the national average), but the Flower of the Garden State had a black demographic that had been viciously abused for decades, and Newark was 50% black.
It was “an unweeded garden,” to invoke Shakespeare, things “rank and gross” possessing it, controlling it, that being corrupt and racist law enforcement officers and their political leaders. Mayor Hugh Addonizio was succeeded in ’70 by black Ken Gibson, the first African-American elected mayor of any major Northeastern American city, but his corruption kept blacks on Central Avenue and every other neighborhood in Newark immiserated and under-served, for the most part, for decades… with the help of all the mayors that followed. Including Cory Booker, a black soul (in a negative sense) if there ever was one, presently being touted as the next Barack Obama (with Oprah’s imprimatur).
Under Mayor Ras Baraka now the crime rate overall is 26% below the national average, but the environmental horrors have gone unaddressed, and what one is left with is slow motion genocide. Not as blatant as what transpires in Palestine and Flint, Michigan, but genocide nonetheless, courtesy of ignorance, courtesy of sin of omission…. It doesn’t matter. Does it? At the end of the day. At the end of someone’s life. At the end of the life of a vibrant race.
No need to argue with me about my use of the word genocide. For blacks (call ’em African-Americans, if you like, people of color, whatever) things have gotten infinitely worse since Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church April 4, 1967, calling for a radical restructuring of society. That that has not happened has led to black kids and others in Flint (with a 56% African-American population) drinking toxic water… still. Still most of the most “intelligent” folks I know in academia and elsewhere tout Obama as a positive. He is not, never was. Not for blacks. He just speaks better than Bush and those others. Google anything on Barack by Paul Street, if you doubt this point of view.
And one does not have to be a postmodern John Brown to see that neither Mayor Ras Baraka nor any other black leader is taking people of color down a healthy enough road, to put it mildly. Things are wildly out-of-control for the immiserated of any color, but blacks are, arguably, doing worse than anyone on the health front. I know that — for the first time, recently — the longevity for white blue collar workers went down. Amazing. But, as per a recent edition of Harper’s Magazine — there seems to be an incurable outbreak of TB in Alabama. [Pause.] What’s the word one uses when “Amazing” won’t cut the muster?
Love Supreme is not ruling.
The article I opened with here inspired me to try to reach out to Coltrane’s son Ravi. To DO something about the horror I’ve delineated above… in solidarity. On any basis that might resonate with him. No responses to my outreach yet, but I can report that if you go to his contact page, you’ll find a phone number for his father’s foundation that’s not functional. Oh, it does ring if you call, but the person who answers will tell you that it’s some sort of company that does deliveries, and that they get lots of wrong number calls.
What’s with that?
I wouldn’t have written this piece if the dynamic I’m delineating was atypical. It’s not. Rather, it’s very common in one form or another. Meaning, there are lots of heartbeats being wasted in the activist realm. My unrequited outreach vis-a-vis Coltrane’s kid (an excellent, well-respected musician who is as supremely socially-conscious as the son of Amiri Baraka, my old friend from Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka’s dad) is something I constantly experience in one form or another.
Love Sad, not Supreme at present.
This sad state of affairs can be turned around. The attempt can at least be made. But first the state of things must be acknowledged. It is not being acknowledged.
Even among most of the best concerned citizens I know a spade isn’t being called a spade when it comes to black leaders or leaders of any stripe. All leaders are wiping us out. They’re hyping the American Dream still, underscoring the dated notion that all a youngster has to do to create a beautiful future for herself/himself (itself?) is to study hard in school, and then wholeheartedly embrace traditional values. That looking out for oneself should be the primary focus.
But that has nothing to do with reality. And less to do with Love. Note that not a single American leader or educator or anyone at all has spoken out about how providing the citizens of Flint with bottled water fails to acknowledge the fact that that form of “rescue” is contingent upon the proliferation of plastics. Intentionally poisoning the supposedly potable water of Flint is certainly not Love. But the same must be said about the so-called loving response to the emergency. It is not Love to lead people to believe that you’re addressing their interests when you are not. Even if you mean well. [Especially if you factor in Flint’s Super Fund sites.]
How to increase the Love I speak of? Well, you well know what’s usually advised. I won’t go over that territory. What I am going to do, though, might inspire you to add something new to your efforts, a fresh arrow for your activist quiver. A seemingly small gesture, but — in light of the ignorance and half-measures I’ve cited — an enormously loving leap toward a better world.
If this article gets posted, I’m going to send a copy of the piece to John Coltrane’s son’s Management (Anna M. Sala of AB Artists), as a follow-up to my telephone call and email today. That will pave the way for some possible movement in loving solidarity. And I trust that interaction with whoever runs that website of Ravi Coltrane’s will lead to an updating of contact info. Worthwhile inquiries like mine which are focused on wanting to make a difference in this troubled world must not be lost in anyone’s shuffle. Even if they mean well. Even if they have a glowing track record of success in social action. Even if they’re… anything. There can be no excuses for the activist realm cannot afford miscues with Hate working ’round the clock.
All loving, proactive socially-conscious souls should make sure that they keep such information up-to-date. That’s a basic to honor.
You could say it’s a black and white matter. You either do everything you can to encourage movement in solidarity (with yourself as part of the mix), or you don’t.
If you do, well… I consider that Love Supreme.
Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at firstname.lastname@example.org.