I railed…I gritted my teeth…I cussed!
“Confederate flag-bearing pickup trucks crash party of a black child.”
That was the headline. Someone posted it and the article on Facebook. I forget who. It had over 150,000 Facebook hits. And the long list of comments was laced with shock, anger and a few choice expletives, understandable expletives.
With anger building up inside, I continued reading the article while wondering where on Earth did this happen. Mississippi? Louisiana? Alabama? Texas? Oklahoma? Florida? Or Virginia, my home state? A knee-jerk reaction, a rush to judgement, evidence of anti-South bias? Okay, I plead guilty. Bring on the handcuffs.
No, it happened in Douglasville, Georgia!
Huh? Excuse me! Douglasville, Georgia! Surely you jest. No way, I muttered to myself. You see I live in Douglasville, Georgia, and the July incident, as I was soon to learn, happened almost in my own backyard, exactly 4.5 miles from my house. Thus, there went my comfort zone, the place where I could safely write, ruffle, rant, quietly cuss and throw written darts at a sometime nasty world out there. Ugliness, an uninvited guest, had found its way into my backyard.
But first, let’s fast forward three months to October.
“15 indicted on charges in Confederate flag incident.”
Now that’s the headline on the front page of a local newspaper on October 14th. I stared – strike that, glared – at the grimacing faces of those indicted below the headlines of those men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 44, while all kinds of thoughts raced through my mind, many of them admittedly unprintable in this space.
I gritted my teeth.
As my eyes skimmed each face, I couldn’t help but wonder about each one of them, their backgrounds, upbringings, IQ levels, experiences in life and, critically important, what on Earth would motivate them to hop onto the back of a pickup truck, hoist a flag they had to know would not be well received in diverse communities and crash the birthday party of a 10-year-old black boy. What did they hope to accomplish? What were they afraid of? What clock did they desire to turn back?
And yes, shivers ran down my spine as I envisioned the faces of the children and their parents who came out on a hot Georgia afternoon with armloads of birthday cards and gifts. My anger rose alongside the thoughts of the long-term damaging effects of the experience on those innocent kids in particular. They deserved better.
Let’s turn back to what happened after the incident in July, to the faces of members of the Douglasville community during a jam-packed Douglasville City Council meeting when the incident was on the agenda of the July Council meeting. One could feel the crescendo of tension building up as the mayor called the meeting to order and dispensed with other agenda items via “all in favor, all opposed” parliamentary procedure.
From my vantage point on the second row in the left of the room, I could see the faces of those who marched one-by-one the microphone to articulate their strong feelings – and rage – about that incident to the mayor and members of the City Council who sat stoically on stage in front of the auditorium.
“We were all in fear of our lives because we didn’t know what was going on at that time,” said Melissa Alford who claimed that an envoy of pickup truck interrupted her son’s birthday party that Saturday with death threats and racial slurs. “They had no right to do what they did and now there’s no way I can sleep at night.”
The woman on my left dabbed away the tears on her cheeks. The fellow on right, a newspaper reporter maybe, punched notes into his tablet. The couple behind me clutched each other tightly.
“This is unbelievable,” orated a gray haired retired Philadelphia police detective during his turn at the microphone. “Heck, I moved here because we fell in love with Douglasville. Now I’m wondering if we should just pack up and move back to Pennsylvania just to be away from this stuff!”
Amen after amen riveted across the auditorium prompting the mayor to tap his gavel lightly reminding folks to maintain order.
What followed was a litany of other speakers to the open mike – lawyers, a state representative, other citizens (and, strangely, a gentleman declaring that he intends to run for president of the United States in 2016).
“C’mon folks we all know the deal. Had this been a truck full of young black boys, they would have been immediately arrested, if not shot, and hauled off to jail, so why didn’t these thugs get arrested?” shouted out a black woman from the back of the room. A chorus of more “amens” swathed the room.
At this the mayor slammed down his gavel, this time while threatening to cancel the meeting if order was not restored and people couldn’t control their emotions.
“Mr. Mayor, Mr. Mayor, understand that this is an emotional matter,” pushed back a slender, soft spoken 25 year Douglasville resident and during his time at the mike. “Yes, I’m white and I’m Jewish and I know full well the pain of hate having lost family members to the Nazis. I hate the irreparable harm this incident has had on my city.”
“We in no way condone what happened at that party, but all of you need to understand that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism; it has everything to do with southern pride,” explained a young white woman who identified herself as a member of a local Confederate flag-bearing brigade that proudly displays that flag on trucks and license plates throughout the county.
At that, relieved mayor closed out that part of the meeting with a rap with his gavel and thanked everyone for sharing their concerns. I headed to the exit.
In closing, as you envision the faces of those in this narrative and, hopefully, pass along and discuss it with others who matter to you, the hope here is that you’ll first take a look at the face in the mirror and ask the person you see this question: all the emotions aside, what opportunities does this narrative provide to me so that I can personally make a positive change?
“I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror…I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways. And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer…If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place…Take A Look At Yourself, And….Then Make A Change….(Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na, Na Nah)!”
– Man In the Mirror, “ Michael Jackson
© Terry Howard is writer, storyteller, trainer, senior member at DiversityWealth, member of the Cross Cultural Academy and Contributing Writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle. He can be reached at email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org