NEW YORK — Under the glare of a painting of a blue-eyed black Jesus inside the sanctuary of the historic Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, issued a grave warning Tuesday to black Americans who shun activism against injustice.
“Only we can do this together. We cannot continue to be bamboozled thinking about self. We must abandon the motto that you can pull yourself by your individual bootstraps because it does not work,” Shabazz said to the applauding audience gathered at the church not far from the mosque where her father once preached.
The crowd gathered to mark the fifth anniversary of the controversial death of Eric Garner, a New York father of six who died in the summer of 2014 after he was placed in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Pantaleo was not criminally indicted.
In making her point about the need for unity and awareness in the fight against racial injustice, Shabazz alluded to comments A$AP Rocky made about his involvement in speaking out against racial injustice and police brutality.
In an 2015 Time Out interview, A$AP Rocky made controversial comments regarding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
“Why would I feel compelled to rap about Ferguson? I’m not about to say that I was down there throwing rocks at (expletive), getting pepper-sprayed. I’d be lying. Is it because I’m black? What the f***, am I Al Sharpton now?” He said.
“I’m A$AP Rocky. I did not sign up to be no political activist. I wanna talk about my (expletive) lean, my best friend dying, girls, my jiggy fashion and my inspirations in drugs. I live in f***ing Soho and Beverly Hills. I can’t relate. I go back to Harlem, it’s not the same. It’s a sad story. I gotta tell you the truth. I’m in the studio, I’m in fashion houses, I’m in these b******’ drawers. I’m not doing anything outside of that. That’s my life. These people need to leave me the f*** alone.”
The 30-year-old rapper whose real name is Rakim Mayers, has been leaning on the connections he has with activists after he was detained in Stockholm, Sweden, on June 30 for his involvement in an assault in which he and two others in his entourage beat a man, breaking two of his ribs. Known for his song "Praise the Lord," he pleaded not guilty to the assault charge in a Swedish court on Tuesday. If convicted, he could face up to two years in prison.
“Look at ASAP Rocky’s statement about this life of injustice not being his reality and now he needs our help because it is his reality,” Shabazz continued to applause Tuesday.
“We must subscribe to the African proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child and raise our children together. If we are to survive these continued atrocious acts we must take heed of the work to come together,” she said.
Shabazz, whose speech got a standing ovation at the church, pointed to the story of how her father was propelled to the national stage by standing up for Hinton Johnson, a member of his brotherhood who had been brutalized by NYPD officers in April 1957.
“We are a reflection of one another. If I hate me, I hate you. If I hate me, I can’t help you. I won’t help you. I won’t even unite with you, and so self-love is real,” she said to applause.
“We cannot afford to battle with one another, I have to emphasize. We must be steadfast and focused for the sake of ourselves and for the sake of our children’s children,” she said.
Shabazz added that even though her father’s activism never ended police brutality, he made sure he always spoke out.
“He saw his people targeted. He saw his people exploited. And he saw his people injured, both physically and psychologically. Malcolm was compassionate and he was outraged by the inhumane treatment of any human being and especially his own people. He was a man of impeccable integrity. And he was therefore committed to seeking solutions to the human condition that sought to annihilate his own brother and sister,” she said.
“In every instance of police brutality, my father wrote article after article, gave speech after speech, and organized protest after protest to ensure no one forgot the crimes of police … and it is now our turn,” Shabazz said.
“We must take the baton. It is important that we never leave injustices but it’s also important that we learn from history and do all that we can to eliminate the injustices of the present and future. … Our goals must be shared, our plans must be strategic, and our people must be disciplined and selfless. Eric Garner and his family have given us an example of how to live in such a way. They are doing the work with gatherings like this.
“We must join them in declaring our right on this Earth to be a human being; to be respected as human beings; to be given the right of human beings. And this society on this Earth, in this day and age, this is our way forward together, by any means necessary,” she said, invoking the words of her father.
Eric Garner’s daughter, Emerald Garner, said even though her family did not willingly choose activism, they have now joined forces with others to speak out.
“We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t ask to be activists. You know, we were rushed into this by tragedy. We didn’t ask for all this rush after my father died. It was just a rush. ... And then boom, my sister [Erica] dies. Everyone passing away,” she said.
Last month, the Department of Justice sided with federal prosecutors in New York in declining to charge officer Pantaleo with violating Eric Garner’s civil rights. He remains employed with the NYPD.
Activist Shaun King argued that at least seven different levels of government failed in not getting justice for the Garner family. And outside of the DOJ's decision, every other level involved Democrats, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who is a presidential candidate.
“Gov. Cuomo, over and over again, pledged to this family that there would be justice. Mayor de Blasio, people showed up at funerals, events and rallies, pledged to this family that this officer would be held accountable. And Erica (Garner’s daughter) literally died fighting for justice for her father,” King said.
“It literally violates polices and rules inside the NYPD,” he said of the chokehold. “We knew that. … And then the officer is still employed because multiple police commissioners … failed to do their job.”
He added that De Blasio has the power to fire anyone in the NYPD and he still hasn’t taken any action.
“At so many levels, the people that we expect to be there for us, they aren’t there,” said King.
He then urged the audience to ensure that the people they elect keep their promises.
“We have to elect people that have a history of actually keeping their promises,” he said.