Growing up in Kentucky, I was naturally exposed to racism for the entirety of the 43 years I lived there. My nanny as a child was black. Her name was Juanita, I loved her. My dad’s nanny was this wonderful woman named Addie Cawell. She was Al Capone’s personal chef until he went to Alcatraz. My grandfather would fix up old bicycles to give to the poorest black kids who wouldn’t have much of a Christmas. He also let the Harlem Globetrotters stay in his house one night when they broke down and they couldn’t find a hotel that would rent rooms to black people.
I don’t remember a time when people of my skin color did not use the N word. I honestly did not know until was 12 or 13 who Martin Luther King Jr. was because I thought his name was Martin Luther Nword Jr. My grandfather Clay was particularly racist. He was also a Jazz fan in the extreme with a photographic-memory like expertise of every Jazz artist there was. He had thousands of Jazz records and he could name every single song on those records, who was playing what instrument and what date it was recorded. After Addie retired from working for him, he paid her until she died.
That still messes with my mind to this day. He was a famous lawyer and he had three sons who were/are famous lawyers in Kentucky. They too were products of “southern heritage” despite being descendants/relatives of Henry and Cassius Marcellus Clay. Henry authoring the Missouri Compromise and Cassius Marcellus who set all of his inherited slaves free and gave them parcels of land and money to build their homes on his estate. He also founded Berea College and specifically wrote in its charter that black people could attend for free. The people he set free took his surname in honor of Cassius. They had a grandson and named him Cassius Marcellus Clay. He was the greatest.
Henry had some inkling that we were headed towards civil war and tried to avoid it by authoring the Missouri Compromise. It just delayed it a few more years. I have dedicated a significant part of my life studying the history of the United States because I find it so fascinating how our country has changed since its inception. The more I have learned the more disappointed I have become in what we have become today because we as a nation refuse to cure what Lincoln called ‘the sickness of racism.’
I can’t tell you how many people of my pigmentation say that they are not racist in one breath and then in the next breath use the N word. The problem which experience has taught me many times is that wypipo think racism is a switch that exist in their brains and all they have to do is flick it and no more racism. The truth is that it’s a virus that sickens people in ways that are imperceptible. Let me give you a chilling example.
We went to a party once at my dad’s law partner’s home. There were a lot of people there. Kids were playing in the pool and the adults were having some strong drinks. One of the guest was his next-door neighbor who happened to be a circuit court judge who I’ll call Judge Imperial Wizard. After about the third old fashion, the men began telling jokes of a racist nature. Judge Wizard regaled the party with several. He was also one of those judges who thought nothing of soliciting ‘campaign donations’ from well-heeled defense attorneys. It was simply astounding how much better the campaign donations improved the outcome of cases for those attorneys who did ‘donate.’
Despite Wizard being as crooked as a dipstick, he was just a loathsome human being who everyone hated but as many of you know, the difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer is a good lawyer knows the law and a great lawyer knows the judge and being inside that good ole boys network can reap a lot of benefits, if you’re in it.
I met Cedric after I got out of Intensive Care ward and was sent to the hole for fighting. I didn’t fight, I just got knocked out by some cretin. Cedric was 6’3″ and 240 pounds of solid negritude. When I first saw him he was doing hand-stand pushups. He had been in prison for a while and he learned to play chess. He didn’t know it but he was a master. I told him later. He beat me several times.
So one day, other guys in the hole began calling out chess moves to mess up our game because the hole is not a pleasant place. So in frustration, I told this one philistine -and I still cannot believe I said this but the hole does this to you- ‘Fresh, I put more IQ points in the toilet every morning than you’ll ever have.’ So the tier erupts in laughter and they begin goading Fresh into giving me a beating. So they are hyping this beat down and I figure that I am going to the hospital, again.
The next day we were due to go to the gym and that’s where I was going to get my beating. So the guards come in just before and everyone is saying, ‘it’s on now wonder bread.’ So just before the doors pop, Cedric gets up and says, ‘if any of you Nwords lay a hand on Clay, you’re going to deal with me.’ Apparently, they didn’t want to ‘deal’ with Cedric.
When we got down to the gym, Cedric and I played chess and I asked him how long he’s got?
‘Seventy years man.’
I immediately thought he was in for murder. I didn’t find out until later that it was armed robbery.
‘Damn man, that’s harsh. Who was the judge?’
It was the Wizard.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Cedric didn’t know me from Adam. He saved my ass for no other reason than the goodness in his heart. I owed him a debt and a Clay always pays their debts. He had a public defender because he was a poor black man. I could do something about that, so I afforded him the best attorney in Kentucky, my old man.
The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed Cedric’s conviction because of Wizard’s judicial errors. Believe me when I tell you, this RARELY happens. It’s also humiliating for a circuit judge to be reversed and this happened more than once to the Wizard. So pro forma the DA refiles on Cedric and wants to put him back in prison for 70 years, until Mr. Clay shows up to represent him in front of Judge Wizard.
Cedric had been in jail/prison for almost six years at this point. Dad made a plea deal and Cedric walked out of the Kentucky State Reformatory a month later.
I am telling you all this because I want to illuminate several points to you good citizens. The first point that I want to make is that the Civil War never ended. The descendants of the confederate traitors still prosecute that war with their virulent racism. If you aren’t sure that sickness still afflicts this entire nation, go to any jail in the country and you will see half of the people in jail are people of color. It’s even worse in the former confederate states.
The second and more important point I want to make is that this sickness festers because of our complacency and tolerance of racism. There’s tens of thousands of Cedrics languishing in prison today because of racist 3 strike laws that even some of you voted for. Those laws were written by racists and implemented to punish people of color because it’s more difficult to be understanding and compassionate. It’s easier to be passive about racism because it’s marrow-deep in every corner of this country.
Yesterday two very significant things happened that really got the attention of the world. A woman named Amy Cooper was walking in Central Park in NYC and a black man politely asked her to leash her dog and pointed to the signs saying that dogs must be leashed. She approached the man and told him to stop recording her. It was a good thing he didn’t because she called the police and told the police that an African American man was threatening her life and her dog that she was choking.
Social media has dragged Amy from sea to shining sea and rightly so. Amy is one of those people of my pigmentation who doesn’t think she’s a racist, just ask her. She lied about a black man to the police and she has not been arrested for making a false police report. The man she assailed was lucky not to be shot because the way she sounded on the phone was as if he was in the process of murdering her and many a black man have gotten long prison sentences based on the testimony of people like Amy Cooper.
Besides Judge Wizard, I have also heard many police officers vent their racism after a few drinks than I can even remember. The worst of them were narcotics detectives who often framed black suspects to make their cases stick because they got off on ‘technicalities’ in other cases they brought.
Nothing illuminates this terrifying two-tiered justice system than a Minneapolis police officer murdering George Floyd yesterday. A caucasian officer puts his knee on his neck for over 7 minutes as he gasps for air saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ When Floyd goes unconscious, the officer still blithely keeps his full weight on his neck until he is rolled onto a stretcher. George Floyd died at the hospital. He was murdered. Three other police officers stood by and did nothing to assist George Floyd as he was murdered in front of their eyes. All four have been fired.
The last points I want to make are that racism hurts all of us. People of color cannot cure us of this sickness. They can’t stop the complacency that also afflicts us by letting racism fester not only in our collective consciences but in our police departments and court houses. Judge Wizard retired in good standing despite handing out draconian sentences to people of color. That’s what you do when you do not vote or don’t know who you are voting for. This is what happens when you do not elect a mayor who doesn’t want to put in a civilian review board with the power to fire racist cops. This is what happens when you bite your lip when your uncle Ted says something racist. You are carrying the virus of racism when you remain silent at home or in a jury room.
Police in the United States kill nearly 2000 people a year on average and we could end that overnight if we wanted to and put an end to all these Rambo cops with bad attitudes. All we have to do is inspire the good cops to do something about the bad cops by paying civil judgments out of their pension fund. That might get them interested in protecting and serving right quick and stop them from acting like a gang of thugs who brazenly murder unarmed citizens on camera no less.
As Jim Wright is so apt at saying, ‘if you want a better country, start being better citizens.’
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