Seventy-two years ago a grand jury in Little Rock, took just two days to reach its verdict regarding the shooting death of my uncle Sgt. Thomas P. Foster by Little Rock police officer Abner J. Hay. The Grand Jury stated that the matter had been "investigated, considered, and ignored" by a vote of 19 to 4. The parallels are too striking, the statements too familiar for me to sit silent.
Civil rights icon Daisy Bates witnessed the event and took action by reporting in her newspaper The State Press . She reported that my uncle was brutally murdered by a city police officer who clearly exceeded his authority and used unnecessary force when questioned by a black officer about civilian police handling of another black soldier under his authority. She interviewed numerous witnesses who stated that Hay was not under threat when he killed my uncle but "deliberately stood over Sgt. Foster while he lay helpless on the ground. ..and pumped five bullets into [him]" (Kirk, p.76). Dej vu?
Twenty-five witnesses testified before the grand jury including ten Blacks, the jury cited the conflicting and inconsistent testimony of the witnesses as the main reason for failing to indict officer Hay. Sound familiar?
The Black community in Little Rock and across the nation was outraged. The death of my uncle was, like the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the spark that" launched a crusade to highlight the mistreatment of both black soldiers and civilians by white city policemen and issued calls for the instatement of black police officers to patrol black areas" (Kirk, p.79).
My uncle's death was one of the galvanizing injustices utilized by the Black press across the nation to breathe life into the "Double V" campaign launched a month earlier by the Pittburgh Courier which advocated for victory over enemies to our country and enemies here at home opposed to equality, justice, and democracy.
His death led to the hiring of the first Black police officers in Little Rock. That did not end the struggle, the cries for equality, justice and democracy continued and five years later, in 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed a Committee on Civil Rights to investigate racial discrimination which produced a report entitled To Secure These Rights , which proposed a package of civil rights measures including legislation designed to stamp out lynching, to remove obstacles to black voting, and to end segregation. My heart breaks when I think about how little progress has been made to obtain, sustain and maintain these goals.
Civil rights icons Daisy and L.C. Bates and W.H. Flowers all played key roles in galvanizing and organizing the black community in Little Rock seeking justice for my uncle and went on to secure significant changes in our country. I see the emergence of a new generation who will ensure that it does not require another seventy-two years for Black Lives to matter and for "Liberty and Justice for all" to be more than a pledge.Works Cited
Kirk, John Andrew. "Black Activism in Arkansas 1940-1970." Univ.of Newcastle at Tyne, 1997.