Ernie McCray: Can we just create a civil society where black boys can feel free to just be?

Ernie McCray

Ernie McCray


EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for TucsonCitizen.com before the site ceased current-events operations earlier this year. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com about Arizona Wildcats athletics. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.

Michael Brown. Another black boy dead, unvalued and unloved by this society, unseen for what he is, a human being, dehumanized before he’s memorialized because we love to show a victim at his worse. They just had to show him strong arming a man for a pack of cigarillos.

So now we get away from his being shot (six times I just read) by someone paid by the citizenry to “serve and protect” and we start thinking, because of his criminal shenanigans, that maybe, just maybe, he isn’t deserving of continuing to live on earth with the rest of us.

Well, I’ve known many kids, a grandson of mine being one of them, who thought, at one time, they were slick and went off and committed some stupid crime and then went on to become outstanding human beings. Why? Because nobody killed them. My grandson spent some time in juvenile hall away from all who loved him and came out declaring “The criminal life is not for me” and went on to graduate from UCSD and learned to speak Chinese and is now embarking on a possible business venture with China. We have to give children a chance.

To borrow words from Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights hero of mine, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” of this American game where a black boy is killed and then painted in an ugly dismissive light as rationalization for the taking of his life.

I’ve seen it too many times, the first time as a teenager, in the 50’s, when a kid I knew was killed, supposedly, by a ricocheting “warning shot” for “disturbing the peace” (got to have an excuse) on a street in Tucson we called “The Strip” which was known for just about anything you could imagine other than “peace.” Hanging out with his buds, talking trash animatedly against a background of music blasting from more than one night club was all that he was guilty of. Mr. Do Right often doesn’t like the sight of black boys having a good time so he rolled up on them with a “What’s going on here?” attitude and got a “Go f__k yourself!” in return and an unarmed black boy didn’t make it home that night. The cop remained on the exact same beat. Justice was knocked flat off its feet. Chilled me to the bone to see such a travesty, a murder carried out with absolute impunity. My country as a reality became much clearer to me.


This latest tragedy is just too much deja vu. I’ll never forget, in August of ’55, right before my senior year in high school began, opening up a Jet Magazine, looking for the “Beauty of the Week” page, as any boy would do, and being absolutely startled and frozen in my seat as I looked at a picture of Emmitt Till who had been beaten and shot in the head and disposed of in the Tallahatchie River. His flirting with a white woman was given as the perpetrators’ defense of their brutality towards another human being.

I about lost my mind and it spooks me even today, as I write, to recall the anger I felt back then, fully realizing that people like me were terribly expendable in this country.

When the murderers were set free by a jury of their peers, I had to struggle to keep love in my heart for all of humanity. But hating just isn’t in my genes.

Michael Donald was next, lynched by some good old boys in the KKK looking for revenge when it looked as though a black man who was charged with killing a white policeman was going to beat the rap. Somebody had to pay. Word went around that Michael had been slain in a drug deal gone awry. That lie was debunked by the FBI and I couldn’t help wondering, in my 40’s back then, if such atrocities would ever end. At 76 I wonder the same thing.

(Flickr Creative Commons Photo)

(Flickr Creative Commons Photo)

I mean Trayvon Martin came upon a man who was scared of black boys in hoodies and ended up lying in a pool of his own blood and we couldn’t even mourn without being abused with news about how bad a thug he was supposed to have been. This lessening of a black boy’s humanity in our country is nothing short of a sin.

It’s so hard correcting such a horrible practice because we have no sense of history in the United States. Like now many of us are letting ourselves be distracted from what happened to Michael by going on and on about the rioters and looters in Ferguson. Now don’t get me wrong, what these folks are doing is wrong, criminally wrong, but I, at the same time, don’t look at it with wonderment. To me their actions are a natural result of how their history has played out over centuries.

Their ancestors arrived on these shores packed into slave ships like sardines and overtime their languages and customs were eradicated and their families were broken up. …

And then one day they were told they were free and they found themselves with very few money making opportunities, no matter what their abilities or potentialities happened to be. …

And the custom began of no one wanting an African American living next door to them as though they were naturally diseased. …

And generations of black people ended up living in ghettos of stifling poverty, too often sans basic amenities and their schools too often are substandard and the idea of going on to a JC or four year university too often is viewed as an impossibility and affirmative action programs for them too often are fought against ferociously. …

And profit making jails and prisons welcome them with open arms and women hold their purses tightly when they are near and their vote is slowly being taken away through various means. …

So, these hell raising black folks might just feel justified as they look at the social muck in which they’re mired and light a rag in a bottle on fire and throw it through a window and grab a beer or two and an iPad.

It’s a hell of an ugly sight but to me it pales in comparison to black boys being slaughtered on our streets. There is no justification whatsoever for these murders that should carry weight in a civil society.

Langston Hughes wrote a poem called “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The dream deferred in Ferguson, Missouri, has exploded and the taking of Michael Brown’s life should be a loud call for us, as a society, to end this madness or we can’t refer to ourselves as a civil society.



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