September 29, 2016
Bernal Smith II, publisher of The New Tri-State Defender, did not mince words after receiving a letter from a white journalist, criticising his reporter for sitting during the national anthem at a recent sports event. Smith shared his account and issued this unbridled response which he published in his newspaper.
The letter read as follows:
“Dear Mr. Smith,
I was in the press box at the Memphis Tigers game on Saturday and noticed that your reporter did NOT stand during the national anthem.
I know this seems to be the fad of the moment for athletes to disrespect our flag, but it is nevertheless disrespectful and not a good reflection on your publication.
There were two African American men standing next to me…both of whom took their hats off and stood.
Smith printed this article in response:
I was in Washington D.C. last Saturday evening celebrating the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture when I received an email from Mark Randall, a writer for the Evening Times (Crittenden/Marion, Ark.). On the heels of a week where the country experienced at least three police shootings of African-American men, I paused to ponder my response.
I am glad that I took that pause. I realized as I begin writing that one can only appreciate the significance of this issue and my response by understanding the totality of all that led up to this point.
So let’s go back.
In the press box at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium before the University of Memphis football team started beating up on Bowling Green, TSD freelancer Anthony Sain made an independent decision to sit during the singing of the National Anthem. It was a personal show of solidarity with those taking stands against the ongoing killing of black men by law enforcement officers and the nauseating lack of prosecutions.
Mr. Randall was in the press box and felt compelled to email me with his opinions, disdain and judgment. Mr. Sain’s actions, he concluded, were “not good” reflections on The New Tri-State Defender.
First of all Mr. Randall, the TSD unequivocally supports Mr. Sain’s right to peacefully demonstrate and protest. One of the greatest principles of this nation is the first amendment. I suggest you revisit it as both a journalist and citizen of an ever-evolving nation.
Now, getting back to the journey.
On Friday in D.C., I initiated and participated in a National Newspaper Publishers Association press conference declaring a state of emergency relative to police brutality and misconduct in and on the black community. We demanded that four initial steps be taken by President Obama, Congress and Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch to provide protection and justice to a community seemingly under siege with inadequate protection from local and state entities. Dr. Ben Chavis, president of NNPA, and Denise Rolark Barnes, NNPA board chairman and publisher of the Washington Informer, joined me.
The next day on Saturday also in Washington D.C., I attended the opening and ribbon cutting of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was both an exhilarating and sobering day, witnessing a historic moment in the recognition and acknowledgement of the contributions of African Americans to this country. Yet as we recognized the great tributes to our growth and our ability to overcome painfully difficult circumstances, the ongoing struggle for progress, freedom, and justice remained paramount.
Then, on Tuesday of this week here in Memphis, the U.S. Atty. for the Western District of Tennessee Edward Stanton III announced that there was insufficient evidence to file federal charges against now former MPD Officer Conner Shilling in the murder of Darrius Stewart.
No peace, no justice, more deaths, more questions, few answers and certainly more demands describe the reality squarely facing the African-American community and America as a nation. Yet, some – including Mr. Randall – would challenge and attempt to discredit the protest of Mr. Sain, of those proclaiming black lives matter, of those seeking to hew out a stone of justice from a mountain of despair.
With unmitigated gall and audacity, they label protests such as those by Colin Kaepernick and Anthony Sain and numerous others as a “fad” and “disrespectful.” These protests arise out of real pain, real anguish, real trepidation about living in a country where your mere existence, mere presence is a threat to many sworn to serve and protect. When one can be deemed a “big, bad dude” because of the color of his skin and shot down without provocation or threat, does that not warrant and require protest and a demand for justice?
I am publicly responding to Mr. Randall’s letter because intuition and social media posts tell me there are hundreds and thousands that think just like him and feel they are defending the honor of the flag and our country. They appear to feel that it is more important to defend symbols than the sanctity of life. They have more of an affinity for symbolic action and the notion of freedom expressed in a song than they do for the realization of actual freedom and justice for all of this country’s citizens regardless of race, color, creed or belief. While we understand symbolism, I – and this publication – stand on the side of the actualization of freedom and justice for all.
My response to Mr. Randall is me seizing an opportunity to try and enlighten those that misread a patriotic stance taken to challenge behavior that falls woefully short of the most foundational and powerful tenets of our republic. I write to demonstrate the necessity of speaking out and taking action when the nation does not deliver on its quintessential promise of “certain unalienable Rights.”
The Declaration of Independence presents powerful statements about the importance of challenging injustice and government when it has become derelict in its duties. And although not inclusive of African Americans when penned, it rang prophetic and today it applies widely to all citizens of this great nation.
“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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
I both understand and stand solidly with those that protest and challenge injustice, proclaiming as did the sanitation workers of 1967 and 1968, “I Am a Man!” And as a man, I boldly proclaim that “Black Lives Matter!” As a black man and a student of history I understand the inextricable tie of these proclamations to the ongoing fight for humanity and justice, specifically for African American in a country where slavery, 3/5, Jim Crow, Black Codes, lynchings and police brutality have marked our reality but never destroyed our faith nor our fight.
To all the Mr. Randalls of the world, it is your right and freedom to be offended. However, it is Mr. Sain’s right and responsibility to press towards the realization of those unalienable rights. And it is my, no OUR duty to do nothing that encumbers or discourages that path.