”N—–, what are you doing out of your neighborhood?,” the cop taunted

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Dec 31, 2009 ”N—–, what are you doing out of your neighborhood?,” the cop taunted

Today, too many people still echo the quote listed in the title to this blog entry at least in their minds. Longer ago, many more people — police included — would openly verbalize such thoughts.

Born in 1920 to a former slave, at the age of thirteen Percy Sutton was handing out NAACP leaflets in an all-white neighborhood, apparently in his home state of Texas.  The cop taunted Mr. Sutton: ”N—–, what are you doing out of your neighborhood?” The cop then beat him up. 

Flash forward to 1977 — when I was close to the age that Mr. Sutton had reached when he was beaten by the cop — during the heated New York Democratic primary race for mayor, when I was in the New York television viewing area, and when I had not yet gotten as cynical about politicians as I am today, having viewed Nixon more as an aberration than as the possibly logical conclusion about much of what goes wrong with politics and politicians. During that mayoral race, I heard the mellifluous tones (see and hear his tones) of Percy Sutton, one of the contenders for that race that was ultimately won by Ed Koch.

Sutton’s was a voice to enthrall and captivate jurors. I did not pay much more mind to Mr. Sutton — other than recalling his interesting-sounding name and captivating voice from time to time — until I learned this past weekend that he had passed away. I still do not know much more about him, except for the contents of his obituaries, including:

– Mr. Sutton had already been a lawyer for a long time when I heard him on television in 1977. His clients included Malcolm X and other members of his family.

– His father, an educator, was a strong influence on his civil rights path.

– After his military service during World War II, he attended Columbia law school, but switched to and graduated from Brooklyn law school to work around his two jobs "at a post office from 4 p.m. until midnight, then as a subway conductor until 8:30 in the morning."

– He re-enlisted in the military after mistakenly thinking he had failed the bar exam, and served in the Korean War.

– As the New York Times reports, he was "arrested as a Freedom Rider in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s, yet once described himself as ‘an evolutionist rather than a revolutionist’ in matters of race. ‘You ought always to keep the lines of communication open with those with whom you disagree,’ he said."

– Mr. Sutton’s law firm represented 200 civil rights marchers arrested in the South in 1963-64.

– Around 1965, he was elected to New York’s state legislature. In 1966, he filled the interim vacancy of Manhattan borough president.

– He supported Charles Rangel to beat incumbent Adam Clayton Powell for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970.

– During the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary, he stood strongly against crime. I wish to know more about those stands and the extent to which I agree or disagree with them.  

– The New York Times reports that "Mr. Sutton blamed the news media as much as his opponents for his [1977 mayoral] defeat. ‘It’s racism pure and simple,’ he declared."

– He served as president of the New York NAACP.

– He purchased historic Apollo theater when it was threatened with oblivion.

– Mr. Sutton located in and devoted himself to the advancement of the Harlem section of Manhattan. My last visit to Harlem a few years ago, particularly around the 125th Street area, revealed an economically vibrant place that has kept some of its defining hallmarks — including the Apollo Theater — along with the many chainstores. 

– He branched lucratively into broadcasting.

– Mr. Sutton’s father told him: “Suffer the hurts, but don’t show the anger, because if you do, it will block you from being able to effectively do anything to remove the hurts.”

I wish I had met Mr. Sutton face-to-face. I send him good karma and pray Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo.

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