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The Civil Rights Train Never Stops, Never Brakes

Caricature of C. Fraser Smith
Tom Chaulkey
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Caricature of C. Fraser Smith
Caricature of C. Fraser Smith
Credit Tom Chaulkey
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Caricature of C. Fraser Smith

When you get on the civil rights train, you can never get off. That was the lateParrenMitchell’s urging. Contemporary events, if nothing else, prove him quite right. He and his famous civil rights family knew the landscape as well as any. You couldn’t get off the civil rights train because it had not – might not ever – reach its destination. The struggle would not end. You had to ride on and on. 

You had to ride -- even when Barack Obama was elected president, even when some declared the arrival of a post-racial society in the United States, even when many African-Americans suddenly found a measure of upward mobility. With all of that, we had the phenomenon of orange as the new black. Prison became a symbol of injustice; blacks were so much more likely to be charged and incarcerated. Or, as we cannot fail to see, apparently more likely to be shot or choked or abused in confrontations with police.

“Hands up, Don’t Shoot!" and  “I Can’t Breathe”  are chanted across the width and breadth of the land. As if we were back in the ‘60s, marchers are finally demanding action: better training for police officers; a new approach to combating crime committed by police, decommissioning of military style armaments in police departments; a new examination of sentencing practices.

We have forgotten Parren Mitchell’s warning. We climbed down from the barricades too quickly. We were misled by progress – dramatic as it was. Important steps were taken, but the mission was not accomplished. The wages of slavery and discrimination and American apartheid can never be repaid. But civil rights and equal justice can be demanded. As long as we stay on the train. 

Copyright 2014 WYPR - 88.1 FM Baltimore

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Fraser Smith has been in the news business for over 30 years. He began his reportorial career with the Jersey Journal, a daily New Jersey newspaper and then moved on to the Providence Journal in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1969 Fraser won a prestigious American Political Science Association Public Affairs Fellowship, which enabled him to devote a year to graduate study at Yale University. In 1977, Fraser was hired away by The Baltimore Sun where in 1981, he moved to the newspaper's Washington bureau to focus on policy problems and their everyday effect on Marylanders. In 1983, he became the Sun's chief political reporter.