We start this week’s racial news roundup with lessons of the past, as we edge closer to the May 31 centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Some of the massacre’s oldest survivors have just told a House subcommittee about all that was lost beyond lives and property — chances for education, generational wealth, and the sense that American justice could work in their favor. Read on to find out how the sickle cell trait is blamed for Black people’s deaths in police custody, and how a Black man’s devastating accident led to an app that helps people with disabilities find accessible businesses.
Survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre speak
Viola Fletcher, at 107 years old, is the oldest survivor of the massacre that destroyed Tulsa’s prosperous Greenwood district and killed as many as 300 people. It also destroyed what had been a comfortable childhood for Fletcher. On May 19, days before the massacre’s 100th anniversary, she and her 100-year-old brother told their story to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. “I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot,” she said. Fletcher had to leave school in the fourth grade and worked most of her life as a domestic worker for White families. She expressed frustration that others, including the city of Tulsa, used the massacre to raise money, while survivors like herself continue to live in poverty. You can view the full 15 minutes of testimony from her and her brother here, and it’s worth watching.
Of all the places to pee, did they have to do it there?
Gabriel Adkins, a Black councilperson in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, says security cameras captured a uniformed sheriff’s officer relieving himself on a property Adkins owns — an act he believes is retaliation for supporting and organizing protests against the fatal police shooting of Anthony Brown. The property allegedly being used as a urinal is — wait for it — a funeral home. That’s right, an officer of the law appears to have urinated several feet away from the building where people’s deceased loved ones are prepared for their final resting place.
Sickle cell trait as scapegoat
Is a gene more commonly found in Black people being used to excuse deaths in the custody of police? One in 13 Black Americans has sickle cell trait — meaning they have one of the genes that cause the painful, sometimes fatal sickle cell disease, without having the disease itself. Sickle cell trait only rarely causes serious health problems, but the New York Times reports that it has been listed as a cause or factor in the deaths of 15 people who died in police custody since 2015. The Times found that citing sickle cell trait in such deaths often created enough doubt for officers to avoid civil or criminal sanctions. The Times describes several cases where medical examiners attributed the death of someone with clear signs of a beating to the genetic trait.
Omission or erasure?
Swaths of Black Twitter and Science Twitter were united in ire after a 60 Minutes segment about the dangers posed by law enforcement’s use of flawed facial recognition technology left out one of the leading researchers on the subject, Joy Buolamwini. The MIT-educated computer scientist is known for groundbreaking research on how facial recognition systems can fail to correctly recognize or identify faces that are non-White or non-male. But Buolamwini says the show canceled its interview with her after she spent hours speaking to the producers and building a custom demonstration. The two technology experts that did end up featured were White. To Buolamwini and others familiar with her work, it seemed like the erasure of a Black woman scientist. 60 Minutes has issued an editor’s note saying that as reporting for the segment progressed, they no longer had the space to include Buolamwini on camera.
Foster care keeps failing Black children, and Ma’Khia Bryant is only one of them
Ma’Khia Bryant was in foster care when she was killed by the police whom she called for help. But why was she in foster care, and how is that intertwined with the circumstances of her death? The Root’s Felice León interviews Dorothy E. Roberts about the history of the child welfare system’s inequalities when it comes to Black children. From the pathologization of the Black family to the unresolved trauma that can trigger fights between foster kids (by the way, here’s a great essay on that by former foster kid and child advocate Stacey Patton), Roberts explains how institutional racism set the stage for Ma’Khia’s killing.
Some good news
Brandon Winfield was paralyzed from the waist down after a motocross accident as a teen. After the Black Atlanta resident recovered and started going out with friends to restaurants and bars in his wheelchair, he kept facing very literal obstacles: Crowded seating left no room for him to maneuver his chair, bathroom doorways were too narrow for him to enter, and parking lot layouts made it difficult or impossible to get his wheelchair out of his vehicle. He decided to develop an app, called iAccessLife, where people with disabilities and mobility issues can rate and review the accessibility of not only bars and restaurants, but also supermarkets, gyms and sporting venues. The app now includes businesses in 45 states and 30 countries.