In the 1990s, four young Black and Latino men on their way to a basketball game in the state of New Jersey suddenly became the victims of a police shooting that nearly ended their lives. I was among those in the civil rights leadership that raised the country’s awareness on the outrageous policing practice of racial profiling, which systematically singled out minority drivers and disproportionately pulled them over on America’s roadways.
Through my organization, National Action Network, and the work of folks like the late Johnnie Cochran, we were able to show that motorists of color were overwhelmingly harassed, asked to produce their papers, and prove that they in fact owned their vehicles as opposed to them being stolen.
While pushing for reforms, we popularized the phrases “racial profiling” and “driving while Black.” Well, today, we have our first Black president in office and much like minorities behind the wheel, he is being asked to produce his papers. We somehow went from driving while Black to presiding while Black.
On Monday on my program “Politics Nation,” my MSNBC colleague Chris Matthews and I engaged in a substantive conversation that brought home the fact that this President has been routinely disrespected, humiliated, and treated like some sort of second-class citizen when he in fact is our Commander-in-Chief.
As Chris and I highlighted, Romney and other leaders among the Republican Party have used catch phrases designed to “other-ize” President Obama and incite age-old racial tensions. Asking for his birth certificate, calling him a socialist, stating that he doesn’t understand the dignity of work, referring to him as a food stamp President or a welfare President, and more — these politicians and pundits know exactly how their racially charged words will stir fear among their base.
It’s politics at its worst, but we must remember that words have severe consequences.