America, welcome your new Rosa Parks

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. © Jonathan Bachman
Sixty-one years after she refused to sit at the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sparking the black civil rights struggle, America has its new Rosa Parks. Her name is Ieshia Evans.

The image could not be more evocative. A young black woman stands alone, the epitome of reason, composure and certainty in both herself and her cause, confronted by two police officers clad from head to foot in black body armor, backed up by massed ranks of more such officers behind them. It is an image that will go down in history as representative of the moral sickness that is destroying America in the second decade of the 21st century, one rendered even more resonant in that it comes over two generations after Rosa Parks made her fateful decision to defy apartheid in the Deep South to trigger the US civil rights movement.

It is all proof anyone needs that black people continue to be denied justice and equality in the land of the free.

Barack Obama may have made history as America’s first black president, but history will record that on his watch the plight of the nation’s 46 million black citizens regressed rather than improved. Mass incarceration, joblessness, poverty, social exclusion, and police brutality are the words that spring to mind when we consider the status of African Americans in 2016.

It’s a far cry from the heady days of 2008 when, as a young black senator from Chicago, the future president drew massive crowds as he traveled the length and breadth of the country, delivering speeches which in their soaring rhetoric and oratorical brilliance stood in the tradition of Martin Luther King. And as with King, Obama lifted the hopes of millions - not only in America but also across the world. When he won the election and entered the White House it seemed that Black America’s long struggle against oppression and injustice had ended, and that King’s dream of a post-racial America had finally come to pass.

Eight years on and those hopes lay rotting and forlorn in the dust. A man who promised a break from the cynicism and mendacity of the Bush years instead continued where Bush left off. Yes, as soon as he took up office Obama was placed under siege by a Republican Party that regarded him as an impostor, quite literally a fly in the milk of their rightful status as men and women who were born to rule. But even so, in the areas where he did have the ability to impact and shape events – in particular when it came to foreign policy – Obama proved himself the presidential embodiment of the mantra, “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

In 2016, it is the grassroots movement Black Lives Matter - not Barack Obama - leading Black America’s struggle for justice. In the process, Obama has been reduced to a spectator making futile calls for unity in the wake of every new occurrence of police brutality and lethal violence committed against unarmed black men, people whose only offense is that they happen to be black with the misfortune of encountering racist cops.

The explosion of violence in Dallas, though horrific, was inevitable considering the pattern of police killings of black suspects in recent years, with grand juries refusing to bring criminal charges against the officers involved in most cases.

When you deny justice to a people long enough you sow dragon’s teeth, and the enmity between black people and law enforcement in America now runs so deep it’s a safe bet that more than a few residents of black communities around the country did not join in lamenting the deaths of the five police officers killed by Micah Johnson in Dallas. Indeed, it is safe to assume that some consider him a hero rather than a murderer; such is the breakdown in social cohesion in a country that has made it its business to lecture the world on human rights and democracy.

Which brings us back to Ieshia Evans. She was one of 102 people arrested at a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Alton Sterling was shot by police officers as they lay on top of him on the ground in the process of arresting him. It came in the same week that Philando Castile, another black man, was shot by the police during a traffic stop in Minnesota; the aftermath of his shooting was recorded and live streamed on social media by his girlfriend, who was in the car alongside him with her daughter at the time.

In the aftermath of these latest high profile killings by the police, Ieshia Evans, a 28-year old mother and qualified nurse, felt compelled to join the protest rally in Baton Rouge. She claims it was the first protest she has ever attended, evidence of the extent to which this pattern of police violence has gone on so long and is so prevalent that it is galvanizing more and more people to come out onto the streets and raise their voices protest.

When Rosa Parks found herself elevated to national prominence for the simple act of sitting at the front of a bus in seats designated whites-only, she said, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free... so other people would be also free.”

Ieshia Evans is irrefutable evidence that 61 years later black people in America have to win the freedom that Rosa Parks and many, many others before and after her have struggled to obtain in a society that rests on foundations of slavery, racial oppression, and brutal inequality.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.