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Perspective for A New Vision

Forgotten Faces: Persons of African Ancestry & 9-11


 

Pilot Leroy Homer, Wife Melodie & His Daughter Laurel

I am an invisible man….I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
Ralph Ellison: The Invisible Man 

The events that took place on September 11, 2010 to commemorate the 9th year since the 9-11 attacks in 2001, all communicated the belief that it was only or predominantly white people who were affected by the tragedy. 

The somber day reflected the socio-economic fault lines upon which United States was founded and currently adheres to with consistent deadly precision. This includes America’s denial of its slavery past as well as the subsequent period of defacto apartheid with Jim Crow and segregation. 

The modus operandi of America is to value the lives of whites over the lives of persons of African ancestry. The 3/5ths mentality is prevalent and is rarely disturbed by dissenting voices rejecting to conform to America’s expectation for persons of African ancestry that they accept the imposed status of invisibility. This cloak of invisibility extends to all facets of American life  including the historical contributions made by persons of African ancestry. 

One face not known by the majority of people who claim to “honor all who died in the 9-11 attacks” is that of      LeRoy W. Homer, Jr. the first officer and co-pilot of United Airlines Flight 93 plane that crashed in a field in  Pennsylvania. The crash killed all on board including the four hijackers. The hijackers intended for the plane to crash into the United States Capitol building. Of the four attacks that took place on 9-11, Flight 93 was the only one that did not hit its intended target. The following article by the Post Gazette offers a glimpse of Major Leroy Homer: 

The first time he met his wife, Melodie, United Airlines pilot LeRoy Homer Jr. flew out to see her.  

It was 1995, and Homer, who earned his first pilot’s license at age 16, had just left active duty as a captain in the Air Force. 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 LeRoy Homer Jr.
dot.gifFirst Officer, United Airlines, 36, Marlton, N.J. (Family photo atop sympathy card)
Wife, Melodie; daughter, Laurel, 1
He was on duty in his sixth year at United

They lived on opposite coasts – he in New Jersey, she in California – and had been carrying on a brief telephone relationship after being introduced by friends. Homer had seen her picture, but she hadn’t seen his. How, the former Melodie Thorpe wondered, would she recognize him on their 3,000-mile blind date? Easy, he told her: He’d be the one in the United uniform. Eight months later, she moved to New Jersey. They became engaged on Valentine’s Day in 1997 and married in 1998. One of nine children, seven of them girls, Homer grew up on Long Island. If there was a baby shower at home, or any other event where men weren’t invited, Homer’s father would take him to McArthur Airport near their house, where they marveled at takeoffs and landings. He attended the Air Force Academy, graduated in 1987 and specialized in flying C-141B Starlifters, mammoth heavy transport planes. During the Persian Gulf War, Homer flew them to the Middle East from bases in Europe. Non-judgmental, easygoing and polite, Homer immediately put the men at ease in the 18th Military Airlift Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. He had always planned to leave the military and join a commercial airline. Homer was hired by United in 1995, following several of his old cronies from McGuire. After a brief stint as a flight engineer, he became a first officer on Boeing 757s. From time to time, he and his fellow globe-hopping pilots would catch up with each other, meeting in Argentina one month, London the next. Homer exulted in discovering good restaurants and then leaving business cards from the establishments in his colleagues’ mailboxes at home.”  

It is rare that you are able to grasp the full picture of the impact of 9-11 on all people affected by its occurrence through the mainstream media. Every face or grieving family shown is white, which projected a monopoly of suffering, pain and death by Europeans. 

There were 2,996 victims of  9-11, of which some were persons of African ancestry who were citizens in the United States as well as people of African ancestry from countries other than America. The total death count not including those classified as foreigners amounts to 2, 760 Americans who died in the 9-11 attacks.  The 236 non-Americans came from places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica to name a few. 

In all the activities to honor those who lost their lives in 9-11 no one spoke for these souls and their families. Their faces and stories rendered invisible by the media apparatus of white supremacy. The absence of  an authentic representation of persons of African ancestry during the 9th anniversary of 9-11 reflects the blatant disregard for the lives, concerns and issues of persons of African ancestry before and after 9-11 -2001.

Persons of African ancestry were deeply affected by the aftermath of the  9-11 attacks. Prior to 9-11, there was a movement to address the unjust and illegal tactics of  police departments nation wide towards persons of African ancestry, due to high-profile cases police brutality case such as the Abner Louima in 1997, Amadou Diallo in 1999 and Bilal Colbert in May 2001.

Outrage over these brutal acts can not be underestimated as seen with the Abner Louima case where over “4,000 protesters marched on a police precinct station Saturday where a Haitian immigrant says he was tortured and sodomized with a toilet plunger a week ago by two police officers. “KKK must go!” the protesters chanted on a sweltering August afternoon. Demonstrators, many waving plungers, became increasingly hostile and shouted obscenities and insults at officers who stood impassively outside the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn.” 

The 9-11 attacks created in the American populace a knee-jerk reaction, where there was unwavering and uncritical support for all agencies and institutions related to the American military including, the local police. This atmosphere stifled any meaningful dialogue on police misconduct and violence towards persons of African ancestry. 

The backlash from the 9-11 attacks led to overwhelming support of actions that were seen as “anti-terrorist”, including the disproportionate “Stop and Frisk” initiative by the New York police department where the majority of people stopped under this measure were persons of African ancestry who did not commit any crimes and were not arrested. According to The New York Civil Liberties Union

  • The NYPD stopped, questioned and/or frisked over 508,540 people in 2006, an increase from just 97,296 in 2002.
  • Even using “the most liberal assumptions” about the national average when it comes to the rate of the public’s contact with police officers, the Rand Corporation’s study notes, New York should have had “roughly 250,000 to 330,000 stops rather than the 500,000 stops actually recorded.”
  • Only 10 percent of stops led to summonses or arrests. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers questioned and frisked by the NYPD were engaged in no criminal wrongdoing.
  • As compared to a 1999 study by then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, which reported that police stopped nine people for each arrest they made, twice as many people now are being stopped for each arrest.

The post 9-11 legal ramifications were not limited to the local level and the police department, but due to various legislative measures and presidential executive orders, the landscape for mobility to address systemic historical grievances has been altered dramatically. This environment has muted any strong vocal opposition to the institutions of power and their policies as evidenced with America’s war with Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush 43. 

The challenge is to view the date of 9-11 in its full historical context and not have our consciousness limited to the tragic events on September 11, 2001. We should not suspend our historical memory to just September 11, 2001, for there other events which have taken place on that day including but not limited to:

Charles Evers, brother of Medgar Evers, elected  Mayor of Fayette Miss. in 1969,was  born on September 11, 1923

“Willie” Christine King Farris eldest sibling and sister to Dr. King was born on September 11, 1927. 

 Lola Falana, dancer, born on September 11, 1943. 

“Duke” Ellington get’s the Spingarn Medal for his musical achievements on September 11 1959

September 11, 1974 Haile Selassie I is deposed from the Ethiopian throne 

September 11, 1977 Quincy Jones wins an Emmy for musical composition for the miniseries Roots. It is one of nine Emmys for the series, an unprecedented number. 

September 11, 1987  Reggae Great Peter Tosh was murdered in Jamaica. 

September 11th is also the Ethiopian New Year. According to aglobalworld.com: 

Enkutatash or Ithiopian (Ethiopian) New Year is celebrated on September 11th according to the Western or Gregorian calendar. Ethiopia still follows the Orthodox Julian calendar which consists of 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month, Pagume, of five or six days, depending on whether or not it is a leap year. The Ithiopian calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar, so September 2001 is Meskerem 1994 in Ethiopia.” 

The task ahead for people of African ancestry is to embrace a comprehensive understanding of “9-11”, where those who died on September 11, 2001 are remembered,  efforts are continued to advance a progressive platform to end abusive law enforcement practices as well as costly and senseless wars. To do this people of African ancestry must embody a historical perspective that goes beyond the politicized remembrance of September 11, 2001 and no longer accept being invisible when discussions or events on 9-11 take place, and give a face and a voice to their concerns for justice.

©VisionThought 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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One Response to “Forgotten Faces: Persons of African Ancestry & 9-11”

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