Monday, July 18, 2016

Former ‘Invader’ says Black Lives Matter is doing a better job than his group

As Dr. Coby Smith was watching Min. DeVantae Hill on TV and other leaders of the local Black Lives Matter movement shepherd roughly 1,000 protestors to the off-ramp of the Memphis I-40 bridge on July 10, the scene, the movement, reminded him of the 60s-era group that demanded redress for some of the same problems affecting African Americans.
“These youngsters are doing a better job than we were able to do. Their movement is the most consistent movement this country has ever seen,” said Smith, a founding member of The Invaders, a local black militant group of college students espousing black power during the civil rights movement.
Dr. Coby Smith
“I’m proud as the dickens of what these young people are able to do and say. They’ve done some things that we were not able to do,” said Smith, 70. “But it would be nice occasionally [for the leaders] to reach back to get some advice.”
Smith said he wouldn’t have advised the leadership to host the forum on July 11 at Greater Imani Church with Mayor Jim Strickland. “They didn’t have a chance to sit down amongst themselves and discuss what they wanted to say to establish their own agenda,” he said.
Hill, whose mission is "One Memphis, One Vision," demanded redress for the problems affecting today’s African-American community. And he wanted swift justice for the misconduct of others in the seat of power.
He presented the mayor with four demands:
1)     Hire interim police director Michael Rallings as the permanent top cop
2)     Cultural and sensitivity training for police officers
3)     More funding for African-American businesses to reflect the city’s demographics
4)     Increase spending for youth empowerment initiatives
Hill, however, wasn’t the only visible leader at Greater Imani making demands. Others exerted their authority and angry participants wanted their say as well. The forum spun out of control and images of discord were broadcast over the airwaves.
“They were trying to show as many faces and mindsets as they could,” Smith said. “In other words, the media wanted to get a story out of anybody and tried to get a rise out of anybody they could. That’s the same thing they did to us in the sixties.”
The Invaders emerged in 1967. Inspired by the Black Panther Party, the formidable group rose to prominence and drew suspicion, government surveillance, and the ire of the police. They met with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while he was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers.
Dr. King was the face and moral authority of the civil rights movement. Hill, by default, has become the face of the local Black Lives Matter movement, a potpourri of local groups.
“I don’t know if one leader is the answer,” said Smith. “We had that problem in 1968 after the King assassination. We were not interested in a person singled out as a leader, because we thought they could be assassinated or, in many ways, marginalized.”
Smith suspects that Hill, 24, will be looked at with suspicious eyes, marginalized, and become a target. “You’ll see them doing the same thing to DeVantae [as they did to Dr. King and other leaders in movements past],” he said.
Hill reported receiving death threats. But he was taken into custody on July 14 for a felony allegation of filing a false offense report. The case involves a MacBook laptop that he’d reported stolen from a rooming house in 2013.
A warrant for driving on a suspended or revoked license was dismissed. Hill was released that night on a $7,500 bond. He was in court the next day (July 15), but the case was reset for July 22. He said he’ll press on with "One Memphis, One Vision" and will not be deterred.
Although The Invaders’ reign ended as quickly as it began, Smith believes Black Lives Matter is here to stay. 

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