By Hasan Salaam
Phillip Pannell was killed by Officer Gary Spath when I was 10 years old in Teaneck, New Jersey. Phillip's cousin and the daughter of the cop’s partner were both in my class. Phillips cousin and I were bussed to "The White Side" of town. Blockbusting real estate in this community in the 1960s led to a very segregated town; the busing of students was done to “desegregate” a community with growing racial tensions.
It all boiled over when sixteen year old Phillip was murdered. I remember seeing Phillip a few times in passing at the park where we would play ball. After his death, I remember that the white teachers and staff took special interest in making sure the cop’s daughter was ok and even took her to the guidance counselor. Nothing for Phillips cousin. Phillip was Black and Spath is White. Spath claimed Phillip was reaching in his pockets when he shot him in the back. An autopsy concluded Phillip was shot in the back with his hands raised in the air, proving the officer lied. The usual cast of characters showed up, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Riots ensued. Spath was charged and acquitted of manslaughter, no more Sharpton and Jesse. The Pannell family and the community were left to pick up the pieces of injustice. Spath is walking the streets free after killing a child and Ms. Pannell is left without a sun.
This story is not uncommon in Black neighborhoods all over the country. There is no difference today than when Phillip was murdered. There are walls all around us; some of them block our progress from the day we are born. Some of these walls cannot always be seen until you apply for a bank loan, drive while Black or stand before a judge. The walls are built as color and class lines.
I often hear Caucasian Americans in arguments about race; recently I heard on Fox News "I'm tired of talking about race". If they are tired of talking about it, imagine being stifled by these walls for generations. Our community has suffered at the hands of America from the written law of Jim Crow to the unwritten codes of racial profiling. These walls of racism, bigotry and oppression are beginning to crumble around us. What was once hidden behind the veil is now on blast for the entire world to see. Police brutality is being witnessed and shared via social media showing the world the unjust ways we are treated. Racism, Classism and every other ism are used to create the walls that separate humanity. It is up to each and every one of us to use our skills, talents and strengths to break down the walls brick by brick.