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Dr. Vernon Johns: ‘It’s safe to murder Negroes.’ The NYPD and Eric Garner

'It's safe to murder Negroes'

‘It’s safe to murder Negroes’

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.


  1. sugarbutterbean on July 29, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    yeh i saw that movie i didnt even know who he was , that move had me in tears , but 60 years ago ? and we still got white men , affraid of black men , enough to gunn anyone down he feels he can get away with it .. they are givin that badge, and feel they have the right tio be as crooked as the kkk. when your giving a young white cop a badge , who come from afganistan, holding a fun 24 hours , freshly off the turnip trucks and cornfields and lilly white suburbs of kansas . some has never even said hello to a black man. when you give them a gun . and a oath to kill someone as they see appropriate , you are saying kill who you want dont worry about the unjust of it , just kill and we will PAY THE FINE .. OR BAIL YOU , OUT OR HOLD YOUR JOB . or pay out the law suite , and put you back to work!! you are telling a white cop with no training or knowlege of the black communitiy and culture some never even went to church with a black , its like giving a baby a cup of hot coffee and saying drink it , but cool it first …

    until our country .. START STOP TREATING THE POLICE FORCES LIKE THEY ARE A BUNCH OF NAZI SUICIDE TERRIST , sent on a mission to destroy blacks ..

    this is about as communist as we get . and we try to talk about saudi arabia , or russia .

    american cops some didnt finish high school but went to the military , got out and was givin a high rank and a badge ?? they end up with a low pay, attitude, and penchant for violence, out of jealousy and hate for black men .

    expecially rich black men .. they cant get to them so they pick on the poorest black man they can , trying to set an example of their power of their badge ..

    just like 1955 BLACK MEN STILL HAVE A REASON TO FEAR WHITE COPS . NOT REGULAR WHITE CITIZENS ITS THE COPS … the average working class white is angry over these types of murders and unjust such as MR GARNERS MURDER !!

    there dont have to be a race war , we have right to be protected under the so called constitution of america. THEY DONT EVEN HARRASS ILLEGALS THIS BAD COMING OVER THE BOARDER IN GROVES …. yet they want to kill a black man over a box of cigarettes and a can of tea and some skittles ??>?


  2. Rodney C Jones on December 22, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you Mo Barnes for writing this piece, in fact, this is my second cousin and I am proud that he stood for what he believed and I am even now more proud that others are finally understanding what he was saying.