Sense of Decency

Listening to others, seeing things through their eyes.

Jamal Johnson, second from left, outside a House of Representatives office building in Washington, DC, last week after completing his fourth Stop Killing Us march from Philadelphia. Photo by Mary Anne Bucci.

Jamal Johnson, 63, is a retired postal worker and Marine who lives in Philadelphia but travels wherever his activism and passion take him. He’s been to Mexico to deliver food to migrant shelters; to Minneapolis, Seattle and Birmingham, Ala. to support Black Lives Matter protesters, and to California where he took part in a desert water drop for migrants crossing into the U.S. (The three Sense of Decency co-founders volunteered with Johnson in California and Mexico last September.)

Each of the past four summers, Johnson has walked from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., on his Stop Killing Us (SKU) march to call attention to the disproportionate number of killings of Black people — by people within their own communities, and by police. 

He wrote this essay June 25 as he neared the end of this year’s march. 

By JAMAL JOHNSON

I am on the next-to-final day of the march that began June 5 from Philadelphia Police Department headquarters to address the ongoing police brutality that the Stop Killing Us (SKU) organization has been marching and bringing to the attention of lawmakers in DC for the past four years. 

Of course, with the untimely death of George Floyd, it seems to have more support and recognition than in the past three years. But this has also been the most disappointing of the past marches and I would like to share why.

We black people in this country are in a moment of change like no other. The whole world is now claiming to feel our pain. They have come to realize, at least on the surface, the pain, abuse, humiliation, and degradation that we have been victims of for over 400 years. 

Jamal Johnson in Minneapolis during Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd.

As a result, those who don’t look like us and are the majority in this country are leading protests, tearing down statues, and are getting in direct physical confrontations with police. And that’s all well and good, except for one thing. Where are we?

Our numbers in most of these marches don’t compare to the 14% of the population that we comprise in this country. I’ve participated in marches across this country and stand alongside people that don’t look like me. These same people are occupying and burning buildings, setting up street communities, and setting the narrative of our struggle against police brutality and systemic racism. 

Meanwhile, what are we seen doing across television screens every night? Looting the stores that our parents and grandparents patronize and continuing our self-genocide in our communities by decimating our own communities with continued murder and mayhem.

Our so called self appointed leaders, kings, and protectors of the black race are nowhere to be seen or encouraging the looting which will only hurt those who use the stores and now can’t. The computer cowards and armchair activists are telling others what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what to do about it, but they are not on the streets leading anything. 

But they don’t hesitate to share their conspiracies from their self-imposed thrones. They talked revolution and now when the atmosphere is ripe for it, they are nowhere to be seen. As a result, those who have become woke by their knowledge are sleeping on the job of changing things.

We need to lead this, whenever possible, because when it’s over, it’s over. Stop Killing Us (SKU) has been presenting standards of police reform for the past four years, in person and after walking over 140 miles, to the Department of Justice and the Congressional Black Caucus, and has gotten nothing but a deaf ear. 

Jamal Johnson in the California desert, September 2019, during a water drop with Border Angels. Photo © Michelle Gabel.

If these standards had been attended to and put into law since 2017, those like Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and George Floyd may never have been murdered. But if we let others lead our fight and don’t participate in changing things and holding others accountable, then we are no better than the officer that kneed George Floyd to death.

It is time to take the reins of this moment and make it a movement, and continue this fight until laws are passed preventing the death of us at the hands of others. We must also take charge of our communities and stop our hypocritical cry of police brutality while we continue our silence of the murders of each other, by each other. 

People are watching how we address this moment in time and if we don’t capitalize on their assumed empathy and concern, not only will we be disrespected further, but our sincerity of our complaints will be questioned, which is why it has taken so long for this to happen in the first place.

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