Kentucky Kernal, Sept 27, 2007
By: Kayla Charleston
America still has a long way to go in its efforts to dissolve racial turmoil, said a Harvard criminal-justice professor who spoke at UK last night.
“Our history has taught us in order for us to understand where we are and where we’re going, we are going to have to understand where we’ve been,” said J. Soffiyah Elijah, deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School.
Elijah spoke last night at Worsham Theater about the San Francisco 8 and their relevance to contemporary issues in the black community.
The San Francisco 8, most of whom were members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, are awaiting trial regarding the charges of the 1971 murder of a San Francisco police officer.
In 1973, several of the men were arrested and tortured into confessing numerous crimes, including the police killing. After the confessions, charges were brought against the men but were eventually dropped because of coercion.
More than 30 years later, in 2003, the case was reopened, and the men were subpoenaed to appear back in court. In 2005, the men were held in contempt and jailed, despite the absence of new evidence against them, Elijah said.
The racial injustices that took place in the ’60s – police brutality, inadequate healthcare, inadequate schooling and an illegal and immoral war – are still going on now, Elijah said. “Legacy of Torture,” a brief documentary that was shown last night, was an attempt by the affected men to pass the torch so that others could do their part to combat the unfortunate reality.
“We need to learn how to stand up and take action to things that are going on around us,” said Veleashia Smith, director of the Martin Luther King Cultural Center.
While not everyone can take the stance of a militant Black Panther, Elijah said, people must use what they have to build onto others’ efforts. Activists do not have to be aggressive but should stand up for those who are, she said.
For fighting for social justice, Elijah said she agrees with the late Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” approach. She relates the standpoint to the Boston Tea Party, stating that the people involved did what they saw fit to keep from paying unfair taxes and are now known in the history books as heroes.
Elijah also warned the audience not to let fear impede action.
“There is something bigger than fear, and that is knowing you’re doing the right thing,” she said.
People do not study history to be afraid, she said. Societies study history to make sure it doesn’t happen again. People cannot let fear stop them, she said.
About 30 people turned out for the event and responded by wanting to know more about what can be done and how to become better educated on current issues.
“It helped us all learn and see things that we really don’t see as students,” said Lamair Seargent, a business management senior.
When a student in the audience asked Elijah how she would feel were her name to go down in history, she responded by giving homage to her ancestors. She said she was fully aware of the multitude of people who came before her and gave her the opportunities she has.
Elijah said she wants to see the liberation of black people and feels it’s her duty, as well as others’, to push for it.
“We’re not a people of quitters – we’re survivors,” she said.