Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Grateful for Dr. Joseph Lowery

Dr. Joseph Lowery is truly an amazing man. His leadership in the human and civil rights movement in the South began in the early 1950s in Mobile, Alabama when he helped lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks' arrest. He was great close friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and together they founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. At a quite respectable 86, he still spends his days struggling for justice and today's unpopular issues.

I just returned from a press conference that we put on with Dr. Lowery and the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda about the indigent defense crisis and death penalty in Georgia. Dr. Lowery was joined by civil and human rights leaders in calling for the Fulton District Attorney to accept a plea to Life without the Possibility of Parole in the Brian Nichols case.

No one else has had the courage to step up and say these things until now in this notorious Atlanta case of the man who is to be tried for escaping from police custody and killing four people, including a judge on March 11, 2005. This case has become a nightmare in Georgia, with legislators threatening to defund the whole indigent defense system because they think Nichols’ defense is costing too much.

Dr. Lowery was fantastic. I shouldn’t expect any less; he could read my grocery list out loud and make it sound like justice. He spoke about how the civil rights movement has been consistent for decades in its response to the horrible murders that have traumatized their communities including include the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the murder of Dr. King’s mother, the serial killings of the Atlanta Children, and the Olympic Bombing. He declared that a sentence of Life without the Possibility of Parole was acceptable for Dr. King’s killer, Wayne Williams and Eric Rudolph and it is also appropriate for Brian Nichols.

While he did not call Paul Howard out by name, he did say it was time for the prosecution to end the “tenure, turmoil and trauma” and accept defense’s offer of a plea to Life without the Possibility of Parole.

It was clear from the beginning that this would not be one of the most popular or supported press conferences held by Dr. Lowery. Despite the fact that the meeting room held about 60 people and was standing room only, when we started assembling for the press conference Dr. Lowery had to practically drag people up there to stand with him while he made his statement. He kept asking the people gathered “Y’all are gonna let me take this heat alone?”

People in the audience were palpably hesitant to move to the front. There were a handful of solid, brave folks who joined him from the start including Rainbow/PUSH, SCLC, NAACP State Conference and a couple legislators. I also stood with them. By then end of the conference we had at least 15 more people (which is about all that could fit in the small space we were in) and heads were nodding throughout the audience. A small miracle, but in this hostile, hopeless climate, a miracle nonetheless.

A funny thing that happened was as I was walking to join the group Dr. Lowery made a joke about how it was no longer a panel of esteemed black men but that they were adding “a woman of color, a Latina woman…” then trailed off stumbling a bit because he was unable to identify my ethnicity. He looked at me and said, “What is your ethnic background dear?” to which I replied, “I’m an Arab, sir.” He then exclaimed “Well we have esteemed black men and the PLO up here today!” And I knew he meant it in the most positive and Palestine solidarity way – that was a first!

At the end of the event as I was saying my thank you’s to the panel and I came to Dr. Lowery. He leaned in close to me and asked

“Are you Palestinian, dear?”
“No sir, my father is Iraqi.”

He shook his head and took my hands in his hands and said

“I am so, so sorry for what we have done to your loved ones and your beautiful country. My heart is broken for the Iraqi people.”
“Thank you so much, sir. My heart is broken too.”
“I am so, so sorry for what we have done. My heart is broken.”
"Thank you."

I’m so grateful for this amazing man.


Reem Tara said...

beautiful. xxoo.

Beck said...

Wow, I just started crying at work. I'm thanking the gods and goddesses, and the purity for human kindness, right now for beautiful, loving moments like that.

Anonymous said...

what a wonderful brush with greatness!