Several years ago, actor James Earl Jones portrayed civil rights hero Dr. Vernon Johns. Johns was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1947-1952 and preceded Dr. Martin Luther King as pastor. Johns did not shy away from controversy and the plight of blacks in his city. After a series of abusive events by the Montgomery Police Department, Johns used his pulpit to speak out and try to organize the community.
But, it was one particular sermon he gave which led to his arrest. A black man running down the street was killed by a white man with a shotgun. The white man claimed that, “If he was running, he must have done something.” It was the second week of May in 1949. He put up on the church sign the title for the Sunday’s upcoming service, “It’s safe to murder Negroes.”
His quotes from that sermon over 64 years ago seem to echo today for the black and brown citizens of Staten Island, New York, under the proven abuse of the NYPD. Johns said during that sermon:
“I just want to remind you what the clearest and simplest of these great Ten Commandments is: Thou shalt not kill. The Birmingham paper says that you have a better chance in 1948 of being murdered in Alabama than anywhere in the U.S. A lot of the people doing the killing are the police officers who should know the law as well as anybody.
But you know there is no justifiable homicide. God never spoke about justifiable homicide. He said Thou shalt not kill. He didn’t say thou shalt not kill, unless you’ve got an excuse. He didn’t say thou shalt not kill, unless you are a police officer. And he most assuredly did not say thou shalt not kill, unless you’re white.”
I’ll tell you why it’s safe to murder Negroes. Because Negroes stand by and let it happen. Do you know what occurred to me as I watched that cross burning in front of the church? When the Klan burns a cross it’s a message. The next step is lynching.”
The years have flown by and now the scene has shifted to New York and the death of Eric Garner by the NYPD. It seemed for years that in the NYPD it was safe to murder Negroes, but this time Negroes are not going to “stand by and let it happen.” In the last two weeks, three different videos have emerged of the NYPD using excessive force against people of color. The community is outraged and the nation is now watching to see if in New York,in fact, it is safe for the NYPD to murder Negroes.