Several facilities regularly failed to provide sufficient food and clean clothing to detained immigrants.
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They also failed to provide basic sanitation. Detained immigrants reported that facility staff failed to respond to grievances and, in some cases, retaliated against those who filed complaints. At one facility, a detained immigrant reported being placed into solitary confinement for three days after helping another person complete a grievance form. These findings are especially concerning given the number of migrants who spend the duration of their case in these facilities. This is far higher than the national average of It's also worth noting that the average length of detention is longer for immigrants who eventually win their cases 68 days than for those who are removed 32 days.
Average detention length is also much higher in privately operated facilities. The backlog in the immigration courts and the complexity of immigration cases means many migrants are now detained for far longer. For example, in the first seven months of FY , the Atlanta Immigration Court took an average of days to complete removal proceedings for detained noncitizens. In the Stewart Detention Center, the average time to complete proceedings is 58 days, but the period is far longer depending on nationality , such as Sri Lankans days , Jordanians days , Somalis days and Bangladeshis days.
Appealing a case means even longer detention times. When one considers a detained person may be facing the prospect of more than a year in an immigration prison where he or she may endure inadequate medical care, violence and deplorable conditions, it should be no surprise that many may choose to give up on their cases, even when they're likely to win.
Further complicating matters for detained immigrants is the difficulty accessing counsel while confined to these prisons, particularly facilities in remote, rural areas far from law firms and pro bono legal service providers. Detained immigrants may face conditions of confinement similar to those encountered by a person charged with or convicted of crimes, but their right to counsel under the law is not the same.
Detained immigrants are not guaranteed an attorney at government expense. They are facing charges that are civil in nature, which means they are allowed an attorney — but at their own expense. These obstacles, detailed later in this report, leave immigrants facing the prospect of navigating a highly complicated field of law on their own, greatly reducing their chances of success. Many detained asylum seekers endure prolonged detention only to discover the outcome of their case is dramatically tipped in one direction even before the judge hears it.
Nationwide, the judge assigned to the asylum seeker changed the odds of receiving asylum by over 56 percentage points, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse TRAC at Syracuse University, which analyzed 48 courts from FY through FY As TRAC data from FY demonstrates, an individual had little chance of receiving asylum at the Stewart Immigration Court in Georgia, where every judge had a denial rate greater than 95 percent.
If the same asylum seeker appeared before the Miami Immigration Court, however, his or her case may have been heard by a judge with a denial rate as low as And as one story in this report demonstrates, even brothers harmed by the same perpetrators in the same place can have starkly different case outcomes.
Such disparities have been on the rise in the recent past, according to a comparison of decisions in the 16 courts responsible for three of every four asylum decisions in the country. It climbed to It is worth noting, however, that statistics showing a decline in such disparities are not necessarily a sign of improvement. It could indicate that a judge who was previously more likely to grant asylum is closing the gap with his or her colleagues by denying more claims. In the Atlanta Immigration Court, for example, the latest data available FY shows the disparity closing to A new directive from Attorney General Sessions may encourage denials for more migrants seeking relief.
The directive, designed to clear a backlog of , cases in the immigration courts, proposes restricting the availability of asylum, and setting a case-closing quota for judges of at least cases a year. Far from ensuring the rule of law, mandatory quotas will compromise the due process rights of migrants, generating more deportations than fair decisions. Sessions also has ordered immigration authorities to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence in their home countries — a decision that strikes at the heart of longstanding protections guaranteed to asylum seekers.
Ultimately, thousands of people will be blocked from obtaining much-needed refuge in the U. He was dedicated to education and its ability to empower the next generation of Somalis. The group opposes Western-style education and is willing to kill teachers and students alike to stop its spread in the region. His relatives had dared to stand up to the group years earlier — defiance that resulted in the family seeking shelter at a safe house on a police compound.
The safe house was bombed by the group, killing his sister and daughter. And in , the group abducted and savagely tortured Yuusuf. It was a risky journey, but one he was willing to undertake because he saw the U. But after he entered the country, he was sent to an immigration prison where he endured more than two years in inhumane conditions and a long, grueling legal process that broke his will to keep fighting for asylum — even if it meant returning to a region where he may be targeted for death.
As soon as I crossed, I was put in handcuffs. Yuusuf was sent to Stewart Detention Center, a former prison in Stewart County, Georgia, that holds about 1, people. Since , more than 55, people have been held for immigration court proceedings at Stewart. Yuusuf defended himself in immigration court. Instead, they may only request release from their jailer — ICE — through a process called parole. Yuusuf got to work meeting all the requirements for parole. He submitted evidence from a family friend with a green card who was willing to host him and ensure his court appearances.
ICE found that he did not pose a risk to public safety or flight. Yet the agency denied his release — twice. There was no hearing, only a checklist with scant marks. The reason for the denial? Yuusuf did not have an original copy of his identification, which had been confiscated on his treacherous journey from Somalia. But if the leader of the world acts like this, I do not believe there are human rights anywhere.
After about a year at Stewart, Yuusuf, who had taught himself immigration law, was undeterred. He filed a habeas petition for his release with a federal court, hoping it — rather than the immigration court — could release him. In the meantime, Yuusuf faced one of the toughest immigration courts in the country without counsel. The immigration judge denied his asylum request, as this judge had done in more than 95 percent of cases before the court. Yuusuf represented himself in an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which was denied.
As this report shows, the difference between receiving asylum and being removed from the United States frequently hinges on whether the asylum seeker has an attorney. TRAC examined nearly 1, immigration court cases of Somali asylum seekers from fiscal years to and found the asylum seekers with lawyers lost less than half of the time By contrast, those without lawyers lost Yuusuf and 91 other Somalis were shackled and put on a flight bound for Mogadishu in December The aircraft stayed on the tarmac for 23 hours to allow the crew to rest.
But rather than fly the remaining 4, miles, the plane returned to the United States. I was having difficulty sitting and I asked if I could have a towel or something to sit on and I did not get that. We want you to at least remove the shackles or loosen them and let us get up and walk around.
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There were two doctors but they were no help. I cannot sit like this for eight hours. I was in pain. A federal lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Florida over the botched deportation. Detainee complaints were met with violence. A judge temporarily halted the deportation of the people who were on the flight, including Yuusuf. After more than days in detention, however, Yuusuf decided he could no longer take being locked up.
His mother passed away during his detention. He feared his father would die before he could see him again. By giving up on his habeas case in federal court, Yuusuf hoped to reunite with his family, even as he appeals the asylum case — a battle where the odds of winning are not on his side. The process is problematic because parole decisions are often made arbitrarily without regard to due process protections. Officers make parole decisions — that result in months or years of additional incarceration — by checking a box on a form that contains no specific explanation and reflects no deliberation.
There is no hearing, no record, and no appeal. The availability of parole, though varied by region of the U. In , ICE granted parole to 80 percent of arriving asylum seekers who passed their credible fear interview. The Trump administration has promoted a policy shift to virtually eliminate parole in several regions across the country. This new policy flouts an existing directive favoring the release of asylum seekers who pass a credible fear interview and pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
When they fled violence in Central America for asylum in the United States, however, the nation they saw as a safe haven fractured the family and scattered them. Despite family members sharing the same plight, their experiences once detained — and the outcome of their cases — were remarkably different.
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After a few months, he fled from the traffickers, disappearing for years. Terrified, their mother reported the incident to police. The siblings also had a niece and nephew in tow. They were taken to an immigration prison and placed in holding cells so frigid that the Spanish-speaking immigrants called them hieleras , or iceboxes. They had no bedding, no jackets — no means to stay warm. We were always cold there. The women were released as they awaited their asylum hearings, while the brothers were sent to Port Isabel, Texas, and jailed for 21 days.
Initially, they were held in the same housing area at Stewart, but after a few months, they were separated. At first, Julio and Santiago represented themselves. Julio asked the judge for bond, but he never received notice that a hearing had been scheduled. Get up because you have to leave. When you have a lawyer you know this stuff.
They help you prepare. In fact, Julio no longer had any family ties in Central America. His immediate family had fled the region with him. His extended family already lived in the U. The SPLC agreed to represent him pro bono in another bond request. Usually, for an immigration judge to reconsider a bond determination, the detainee must show a material change in circumstances. The second argument noted that Julio now had an attorney. Obtaining counsel, according to research, meant he was seven times more likely to win his release on bond, and and-a-half times more likely to succeed in his case.
Julio was jailed until the day of his asylum hearing.
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On the day of his hearing, attorneys for the Department of Homeland Security failed to appear. He was granted asylum. During his bond hearing, Santiago represented himself. The judge, attempting to determine family ties in the United States, asked only whether he had a spouse, parents, children or siblings who were U. Santiago told the judge he had immediate family seeking asylum and extended family in the United States. The judge denied bond, saying that those people cannot petition for him to stay in the country.
Santiago, who continued to represent himself, ultimately lost his case. He had the right to appeal the denial, but he would have remained locked up. He decided against an appeal. Santiago was deported and fled to safety in a third country. They also separated my entire family, though we were arrested all together. I know very well what can happen to him [in Central America]. They married in after dating for more than three years.
One day, Mateo found himself speeding away on a motorcycle as the ex-husband shot at him. Mateo crashed, suffering injuries that left him in a coma. When he awoke, he had a scar that roped around his head. A long road of recovery was ahead of him. He was learning how to talk again when the ex-husband made another attempt on his life. In late , they set out for the United States. Once they reached the border, they surrendered to U. Mateo was left in an immigration prison as his injuries and ailments were ignored along with his pleas for information about the status of his case, a case he would ultimately give up.
Sylvia was sent to a facility in Texas. For months, Mateo was confined without notice of the charges against him and without an opportunity to see a judge about his release. He was also waiting for a medical evaluation. He suffered from almost constant pain and vertigo as well as memory loss. He knew he needed treatment, but all he got was ibuprofen.
For example, I did not join the church of which my father was a member and in which he preached. One Saturday afternoon, he took me to his church. There were no services that day, and the church was empty, except for some women cleaning and some other women praying. My friend took me into the back room to meet his pastor—a woman. There she sat, in her robes, smiling, an extremely proud and handsome woman, with Africa, Europe, and the America of the American Indian blended in her face. She was perhaps forty-five or fifty at this time, and in our world she was a very celebrated woman.
It was my good luck—perhaps—that I found myself in the church racket instead of some other, and surrendered to a spiritual seduction long before I came to any carnal knowledge. The summer wore on, and things got worse. I became more guilty and more frightened, and kept all this bottled up inside me, and naturally, inescapably, one night, when this woman had finished preaching, everything came roaring, screaming, crying out, and I fell to the ground before the altar.
It was the strangest sensation I have ever had in my life—up to that time, or since. I had not known that it was going to happen, or that it could happen. One moment I was on my feet, singing and clapping and, at the same time, working out in my head the plot of a play I was working on then; the next moment, with no transition, no sensation of falling, I was on my back, with the lights beating down into my face and all the vertical saints above me. I did not know what I was doing down so low, or how I had got there.
And the anguish that filled me cannot be described. It moved in me like one of those floods that devastate counties, tearing everything down, tearing children from their parents and lovers from each other, and making everything an unrecognizable waste. All I really remember is the pain, the unspeakable pain; it was as though I were yelling up to Heaven and Heaven would not hear me.
And if Heaven would not hear me, if love could not descend from Heaven—to wash me, to make me clean—then utter disaster was my portion. Yes, it does indeed mean something—something unspeakable—to be born, in a white country, an Anglo-Teutonic, antisexual country, black. You very soon, without knowing it, give up all hope of communion. Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away. And the universe is simply a sounding drum; there is no way, no way whatever, so it seemed then and has sometimes seemed since, to get through a life, to love your wife and children, or your friends, or your mother and father, or to be loved.
The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass, and trees, but other people , has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs—as who has not? But God—and I felt this even then, so long ago, on that tremendous floor, unwillingly—is white. And if His love was so great, and if He loved all His children, why were we, the blacks, cast down so far?
In spite of all I said thereafter, I found no answer on the floor—not that answer, anyway—and I was on the floor all night. Well, indeed I was, in a way, for I was utterly drained and exhausted, and released, for the first time, from all my guilty torment. I was aware then only of my relief. For many years, I could not ask myself why human relief had to be achieved in a fashion at once so pagan and so desperate—in a fashion at once so unspeakably old and so unutterably new.
And by the time I was able to ask myself this question, I was also able to see that the principles governing the rites and customs of the churches in which I grew up did not differ from the principles governing the rites and customs of other churches, white. The principles were Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principle necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others. I would love to believe that the principles were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world.
I was saved. But at the same time, out of a deep, adolescent cunning I do not pretend to understand, I realized immediately that I could not remain in the church merely as another worshipper. I would have to give myself something to do, in order not to be too bored and find myself among all the wretched unsaved of the Avenue. Anyway, very shortly after I joined the church, I became a preacher—a Young Minister—and I remained in the pulpit for more than three years. My youth quickly made me a much bigger drawing card than my father. I pushed this advantage ruthlessly, for it was the most effective means I had found of breaking his hold over me.
That was the most frightening time of my life, and quite the most dishonest, and the resulting hysteria lent great passion to my sermons—for a while. I relished the attention and the relative immunity from punishment that my new status gave me, and I relished, above all, the sudden right to privacy. It had to be recognized, after all, that I was still a schoolboy, with my schoolwork to do, and I was also expected to prepare at least one sermon a week.
During what we may call my heyday, I preached much more often than that. This meant that there were hours and even whole days when I could not be interrupted—not even by my father. I had immobilized him. It took rather more time for me to realize that I had also immobilized myself, and had escaped from nothing whatever.
The church was very exciting. It took a long time for me to disengage myself from this excitement, and on the blindest, most visceral level, I never really have, and never will. There is no music like that music, no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing, and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the Lord.
There is still, for me, no pathos quite like the pathos of those multicolored, worn, somehow triumphant and transfigured faces, speaking from the depths of a visible, tangible, continuing despair of the goodness of the Lord. I have never seen anything to equal the fire and excitement that sometimes, without warning, fill a church, causing the church, as Leadbelly and so many others have testified, to rock.
It was, for a long time, in spite of—or, not inconceivably because of—the shabbiness of my motives, my only sustenance, my meat and drink. I rushed home from school, to the church, to the altar, to be alone there, to commune with Jesus, my dearest Friend, who would never fail me, who knew all the secrets of my heart. He failed his bargain. He was a much better Man than I took Him for. It happened, as things do, imperceptibly, in many ways at once. I date it—the slow crumbling of my faith, the pulverization of my fortress—from the time, about a year after I had begun to preach, when I began to read again.
I justified this desire by the fact that I was still in school, and I began, fatally, with Dostoevski. By this time, I was in a high school that was predominantly Jewish. This meant that I was surrounded by people who were, by definition, beyond any hope of salvation, who laughed at the tracts and leaflets I brought to school, and who pointed out that the Gospels had been written long after the death of Christ. This might not have been so distressing if it had not forced me to read the tracts and leaflets myself, for they were indeed, unless one believed their message already, impossible to believe.
I remember feeling dimly that there was a kind of blackmail in it. People, I felt, ought to love the Lord because they loved Him, and not because they were afraid of going to Hell. I was forced, reluctantly, to realize that the Bible itself had been written by men, and translated by men out of languages I could not read, and I was already, without quite admitting it to myself, terribly involved with the effort of putting words on paper. Of course, I had the rebuttal ready: These men had all been operating under divine inspiration.
Had they? All of them? And I also knew by now, alas, far more about divine inspiration than I dared admit, for I knew how I worked myself up into my own visions, and how frequently—indeed, incessantly—the visions God granted to me differed from the visions He granted to my father. I did not understand the dreams I had at night, but I knew that they were not holy.
For that matter, I knew that my waking hours were far from holy. I spent most of my time in a state of repentance for things I had vividly desired to do but had not done. The fact that I was dealing with Jews brought the whole question of color, which I had been desperately avoiding, into the terrified center of my mind. I realized that the Bible had been written by white men. I knew that, according to many Christians, I was a descendant of Ham, who had been cursed, and that I was therefore predestined to be a slave.
This had nothing to do with anything I was, or contained, or could become; my fate had been sealed forever, from the beginning of time. And it seemed, indeed, when one looked out over Christendom, that this was what Christendom effectively believed. It was certainly the way it behaved. I remembered the Italian priests and bishops blessing Italian boys who were on their way to Ethiopia. Again, the Jewish boys in high school were troubling because I could find no point of connection between them and the Jewish pawnbrokers and landlords and grocery-store owners in Harlem.
I knew that these people were Jews—God knows I was told it often enough—but I thought of them only as white.
It was bewildering to find them so many miles and centuries out of Egypt, and so far from the fiery furnace. My best friend in high school was a Jew. I wondered if I was expected to be glad that a friend of mine, or anyone, was to be tormented forever in Hell, and I also thought, suddenly, of the Jews in another Christian nation, Germany. They were not so far from the fiery furnace after all, and my best friend might have been one of them. The battle between us was in the open, but that was all right; it was almost a relief. A more deadly struggle had begun.
Being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked. I knew the other ministers and knew the quality of their lives. I knew, though I did not wish to know it, that I had no respect for the people with whom I worked. I could not have said it then, but I also knew that if I continued I would soon have no respect for myself. They still saw the little boy they intended to take over. They were waiting for me to come to my senses and realize that I was in a very lucrative business.
They knew that I did not yet realize this, and also that I had not yet begun to suspect where my own needs, coming up they were very patient , could drive me. They themselves did know the score, and they knew that the odds were in their favor. And, really, I knew it, too. I was even lonelier and more vulnerable than I had been before. And the blood of the Lamb had not cleansed me in any way whatever. I was just as black as I had been the day that I was born.
Therefore, when I faced a congregation, it began to take all the strength I had not to stammer, not to curse, not to tell them to throw away their Bibles and get off their knees and go home and organize, for example, a rent strike. When I watched all the children, their copper, brown, and beige faces staring up at me as I taught Sunday school, I felt that I was committing a crime in talking about the gentle Jesus, in telling them to reconcile themselves to their misery on earth in order to gain the crown of eternal life.
Were only Negroes to gain this crown? Was Heaven, then, to be merely another ghetto? Perhaps I might have been able to reconcile myself even to this if I had been able to believe that there was any loving-kindness to be found in the haven I represented. But I had been in the pulpit too long and I had seen too many monstrous things. I really mean that there was no love in the church. It was a mask for hatred and self-hatred and despair. The transfiguring power of the Holy Ghost ended when the service ended, and salvation stopped at the church door.
When we were told to love everybody, I had thought that that meant every body. But no. It applied only to those who believed as we did, and it did not apply to white people at all. I was told by a minister, for example, that I should never, on any public conveyance, under any circumstances, rise and give my seat to a white woman. White men never rose for Negro women. Well, that was true enough, in the main—I saw his point. But what was the point, the purpose, of my salvation if it did not permit me to behave with love toward others, no matter how they behaved toward me?
What others did was their responsibility, for which they would answer when the judgment trumpet sounded. But what I did was my responsibility, and I would have to answer, too—unless, of course, there was also in Heaven a special dispensation for the benighted black, who was not to be judged in the same way as other human beings, or angels. It probably occurred to me around this time that the vision people hold of the world to come is but a reflection, with predictable wishful distortions, of the world in which they live.
In the same way that we, for white people, were the descendants of Ham, and were cursed forever, white people were, for us, the descendants of Cain. And the passion with which we loved the Lord was a measure of how deeply we feared and distrusted and, in the end, hated almost all strangers, always, and avoided and despised ourselves. But I cannot leave it at that; there is more to it than that. In spite of everything, there was in the life I fled a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster that are very moving and very rare.
Perhaps we were, all of us—pimps, whores, racketeers, church members, and children—bound together by the nature of our oppression, the specific and peculiar complex of risks we had to run; if so, within these limits we sometimes achieved with each other a freedom that was close to love. This is the freedom that one hears in some gospel songs, for example, and in jazz. In all jazz, and especially in the blues, there is something tart and ironic, authoritative and double-edged. White Americans seem to feel that happy songs are happy and sad songs are sad, and that, God help us, is exactly the way most white Americans sing them—sounding, in both cases, so helplessly, defenselessly fatuous that one dare not speculate on the temperature of the deep freeze from which issue their brave and sexless little voices.
There is no guarantee that she will stay this time, either, as the singer clearly knows, and, in fact, she has not yet actually arrived. I am referring to something much simpler and much less fanciful. To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it And I am not being frivolous now, either.
Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum—that is, any reality—so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes.
And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it is unaware of so much! They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.
White Christians have also forgotten several elementary historical details. Verwoerd—came out of a rocky piece of ground in what is now known as the Middle East before color was invented, and that in order for the Christian church to be established, Christ had to be put to death, by Rome, and that the real architect of the Christian church was not the disreputable, sun-baked Hebrew who gave it his name but the mercilessly fanatical and self-righteous St.
The energy that was buried with the rise of the Christian nations must come back into the world; nothing can prevent it. Many of us, I think, both long to see this happen and are terrified of it, for though this transformation contains the hope of liberation, it also imposes a necessity for great change. The Africans put it another way: When the white man came to Africa, the white man had the Bible and the African had the land, but now it is the white man who is being, reluctantly and bloodily, separated from the land, and the African who is still attempting to digest or to vomit up the Bible.
The struggle, therefore, that now begins in the world is extremely complex, involving the historical role of Christianity in the realm of power—that is, politics—and in the realm of morals. In the realm of power, Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty—necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels. This particular true faith, moreover, is more deeply concerned about the soul than it is about the body, to which fact the flesh and the corpses of countless infidels bears witness.
It goes without saying, then, that whoever questions the authority of the true faith also contests the right of the nations that hold this faith to rule over him—contests, in short, their title to his land. The spreading of the Gospel, regardless of the motives or the integrity or the heroism of some of the missionaries, was an absolutely indispensable justification for the planting of the flag.
Priests and nuns and schoolteachers helped to protect and sanctify the power that was so ruthlessly being used by people who were indeed seeking a city, but not one in the heavens, and one to be made, very definitely, by captive hands. The Christian church itself—again, as distinguished from some of its ministers—sanctified and rejoiced in the conquests of the flag, and encouraged, if it did not formulate, the belief that conquest, with the resulting relative well-being of the Western populations, was proof of the favor of God.
God had come a long way from the desert—but then so had Allah, though in a very different direction. God, going north, and rising on the wings of power, had become white, and Allah, out of power, and on the dark side of Heaven, had become—for all practical purposes, anyway—black.
Thus, in the realm of morals the role of Christianity has been, at best, ambivalent. Even leaving out of account the remarkable arrogance that assumed that the ways and morals of others were inferior to those of Christians, and that they therefore had every right, and could use any means, to change them, the collision between cultures—and the schizophrenia in the mind of Christendom—had rendered the domain of morals as chartless as the sea once was, and as treacherous as the sea still is. It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church.
If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him. I had heard a great deal, long before I finally met him, of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and of the Nation of Islam movement, of which he is the leader. I paid very little attention to what I heard, because the burden of his message did not strike me as being very original; I had been hearing variations of it all my life.
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I sometimes found myself in Harlem on Saturday nights, and I stood in the crowds, at th Street and Seventh Avenue, and listened to the Muslim speakers. But I had heard hundreds of such speeches—or so it seemed to me at first. Anyway, I have long had a very definite tendency to tune out the moment I come anywhere near either a pulpit or a soapbox. What these men were saying about white people I had often heard before.
Then two things caused me to begin to listen to the speeches, and one was the behavior of the police. After all, I had seen men dragged from their platforms on this very corner for saying less virulent things, and I had seen many crowds dispersed by policemen, with clubs or on horseback. But the policemen were doing nothing now. Obviously, this was not because they had become more human but because they were under orders and because they were afraid. And indeed they were, and I was delighted to see it. There they stood, in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way with American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club or a fist or a gun.
I might have pitied them if I had not found myself in their hands so often and discovered, through ugly experience, what they were like when they held the power and what they were like when you held the power. The behavior of the crowd, its silent intensity, was the other thing that forced me to reassess the speakers and their message. Still, the speakers had an air of utter dedication, and the people looked toward them with a kind of intelligence of hope on their faces—not as though they were being consoled or drugged but as though they were being jolted.
Power was the subject of the speeches I heard. We were offered, as Nation of Islam doctrine, historical and divine proof that all white people are cursed, and are devils, and are about to be brought down. The crowd seemed to swallow this theology with no effort—all crowds do swallow theology this way, I gather, in both sides of Jerusalem, in Istanbul, and in Rome—and, as theology goes, it was no more indigestible than the more familiar brand asserting that there is a curse on the sons of Ham. No more, and no less, and it had been designed for the same purpose; namely, the sanctification of power.
But very little time was spent on theology, for one did not need to prove to a Harlem audience that all white men were devils. They were merely glad to have, at last, divine corroboration of their experience, to hear—and it was a tremendous thing to hear—that they had been lied to for all these years and generations, and that their captivity was ending, for God was black. Why were they hearing it now, since this was not the first time it had been said?
I had heard it many times, from various prophets, during all the years that I was growing up. Elijah Muhammad himself has now been carrying the same message for more than thirty years; he is not an overnight sensation, and we owe his ministry, I am told, to the fact that when he was a child of six or so, his father was lynched before his eyes.
And now, suddenly, people who have never before been able to hear this message hear it, and believe it, and are changed. Elijah Muhammad has been able to do what generations of welfare workers and committees and resolutions and reports and housing projects and playgrounds have failed to do: to heal and redeem drunkards and junkies, to convert people who have come out of prison and to keep them out, to make men chaste and women virtuous, and to invest both the male and the female with a pride and a serenity that hang about them like an unfailing light.
He has done all these things, which our Christian church has spectacularly failed to do. How has Elijah managed it? Well, in a way—and I have no wish to minimize his peculiar role and his peculiar achievement—it is not he who has done it but time. Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue.
To entertain such a belief would have been to entertain madness. But time has passed, and in that time the Christian world has revealed itself as morally bankrupt and politically unstable. French ready for self-government? From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms. White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany.
They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded—at least, in the same way. I could not but feel, in those sorrowful years, that this human indifference, concerning which I knew so much already, would be my portion on the day that the United States decided to murder its Negroes systematically instead of little by little and catch-as-catch-can.
When a white man faces a black man, especially if the black man is helpless, terrible things are revealed. I know. I have been carried into precinct basements often enough, and I have seen and heard and endured the secrets of desperate white men and women, which they knew were safe with me, because even if I should speak, no one would believe me.
And they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true. To put it briefly, and somewhat too simply, a certain hope died, a certain respect for white Americans faded. One began to pity them, or to hate them. And who, at the same time, as a human being, is far freer in a strange land than he has ever been at home.
The very word begins to have a despairing and diabolical ring. The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless. Well, we were served, finally, of course, but by this time no amount of Scotch would have helped us. The bar was very crowded, and our altercation had been extremely noisy; not one customer in the bar had done anything to help us.
When it was over, and the three of us stood at the bar trembling with rage and frustration, and drinking—and trapped, now, in the airport, for we had deliberately come early in order to have a few drinks and to eat—a young white man standing near us asked if we were students. I suppose he thought that this was the only possible explanation for our putting up a fight. He identified the man in custody as Zephen Xaver, 21, a resident of Sebring. Xaver was being held at Highlands County Jail and was charged with five counts of first-degree premeditated murder. At a court hearing on Thursday morning, Judge Anthony Ritenour ordered him to be held without bail.
Judge Ritenour granted a public defender to represent Mr. On Wednesday, Chief Hoglund told reporters that investigators had not finished identifying the victims. Xaver had recently been training to work as a correctional officer at Avon Park Correctional Institution, a prison about 20 miles north of the bank where the shooting occurred, said Patrick Manderfield, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections.
He was hired as a trainee in November and resigned on Jan. Manderfield said. He had no disciplinary record with the department. DeSantis said.