Michael Coard is a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney, community activist, founding member of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition and self-described angriest black man in America. He also teaches at Temple and writes for the Philly Post about race, politics and the American justice system.
The cowardly murderous attack on innocent and defenseless men, women and children at the Boston Marathon on April 15th was terrorism. Accordingly, if preliminary reports prove correct, then Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his dead brother Tamerlan, who killed three people and wounded about 170, are terrorists, and the survivor should be tried and, if found guilty, punished harshly—like all terrorists.
But punishment of the most egregious terrorists hasn’t happened in America, and it’s still not happening anywhere in this country—including in Philadelphia.
Robert Huber, a writer-at-large at Philadelphia magazine, wrote a cover story this month titled "Being White in Philly." Although both he and the story were well-intentioned, that’s not good enough because the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
On December 31, 1862, at around 7 p.m., enslaved black men, women and children unknowingly created something that cultural historians would later refer to as Watch Night/Freedom's Eve. It was a direct result of Abraham Lincoln’s anticipated January 1, 1863 so-called Emancipation Proclamation.
Let me confess—or brag—that I am a Pan-African socialist, which means I support a unified and culturally conscious Africa that has an economic system that constitutionally guarantees food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, jobs and human rights. And I support the applicability of this type of socialism for black people throughout the Diaspora, including in the U.S., and for white progressives as well as all revolutionaries here too.
Imagine, if you will, that the man who murdered your entire family, raped your daughter, sister, and mother before killing them, tortured your son, brother, and father before killing them, and then robbed you of your home before moving in is celebrated with a party each year by his friends whom he had later brought in to take over your neighborhood. Well, that’s exactly the outlandishly evil shit that Columbus did and the outlandishly racist shit that his friends in Philly and America are doing.
At 301 West Queen Lane, which intersects with Pulaski Avenue, a “Burial place for all … Negroes … and Mulattoes as they Die in any part of Germantown forever” was created. Matthias Zimmerman purchased the land in 1755 specifically for such use. Although there were many burials between 1755 and 1766 (and for 161 years until 1916), the first known documented burial, from the March 24, 1766 records of the Upper Burial Ground of Germantown, was that of Christian Warmer’s “dead negroe … child.” Powerful cultural stuff. Powerful American history. You’d think that such a local site—arguably the oldest black public cemetery in America—is a public memorial for black, white, brown, yellow and red residents and international tourists alike. You’d think that Philadelphia officials would respect it as the century-and-a-half-old hallowed ground where free and enslaved black men, women and children were buried. But you’d think wrong. Instead of honoring these historic ancestors, those city bureaucrats—specifically, representatives of the Philadelphia Housing Authority—are perturbing them.
At a mere 13 years old, Terrance Williams started getting raped by 51-year-old Amos Norwood. Repeatedly. For five years, until he had just barely turned 18. And it wasn’t only Norwood abusing this kid. He was first raped at age six by a neighbor. And later, there was another man, namely 49-year-old Herbert Hamilton, who began raping him at 17. In addition to this hellish long-term sexual abuse by these three, and then two other adults, there was hellish long-term physical abuse from his mother and alcoholic step-father.
As you take your lunch break today in Center City, stroll over to Front and Market where the historic London Coffee House once stood, and celebrate the institution that made America one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the institution born exactly 393 years ago on August 20, 1619: the institution of slavery. In fact, it was at that site in downtown Philly, where black men, women and children were bought and sold like cattle and like tools.
To paraphrase the First Amendment of the federal constitution, “The Mayor of Philadelphia shall make no law abridging firefighters’ freedom of speech … or their right … to petition his office via social media outlets and electronic transmissions for a redress of grievances, even when those firefighters are off duty.”