In the wake of the Eric Garner case, or lack thereof, I’m left with a feeling that there’s virtually no hope for the prospects of black men in America; especially young black men.
I’m certainly not alone in this feeling. All one need do is turn on their television to see tens of thousands of African-Americans (and other races) marching and protesting, because they don’t know what else to do in order to relieve their pain.
I was watching MSNBC’s ‘The Cycle’ when the decision to not indict was announced. One of their correspondents asked an African-American protestor in Staten Island, who was there with his daughter, about his feelings on the matter. His remarks closely echoed my own sentiments.
He said that after Ferguson, there is no hope. And that after this case, there’s even less hope.
To be perfectly honest though, I hit the point of ‘no hope’ with the Trayvon Martin verdict, which I wrote about in this piece to my nephew. But if I hadn’t done so after that case, I’m certain that the Michael Brown killing would have pushed me over the edge. (The Tamir Rice killing is merely a coda to the above.)
In each instance, a black victim was killed under the thinnest pretense, then blamed for causing their own death. Let’s start with Trayvon.
George Zimmerman, a self-appointed Neighborhood Watch member who was friendly with the local police, felt that he was in eminent danger from a menacing Trayvon, even though he had initiated the altercation with the 19 year-old who was on his way home from the store with Skittles and tea.
Officer Darren Wilson, felt that Michael Brown was an eminent threat who meant to kill him, never mind the fact that the initial stop was to harass Brown and his friend due to ‘walking in the street’, and that he pursued a fleeing Brown in order to fire the fatal shots.
Tamir Rice, a 12 year-old boy, was described as looking closer to 20 years by the policeman that shot him; a policeman we’ve now come to discover was declared “unfit for duty” by the smaller town of Independence prior to his hire by Cleveland. He was shot about 2 seconds after the police arrived on the scene.
Not only was each victim assessed blame for their demise, investigations after the fact became post mortem trials of their character. At least that was the case for Trayvon and Michael. But I’m sure Tamir will end up having his 12 year-old life dissected and also deemed ‘guilty’.
It’s increasingly become the reality that when you’re a black man in an altercation with the police (or a police-friendly vigilante), you’re presumed guilty on sight, killed when you don’t perfectly comply with your accuser’s wishes (regardless of merit), and then assessed blame by the media after the fact.
Death with impunity, followed by character assassination and media scorn. Under these circumstances, how could I or any African-American male continue to have hope knowing that my life doesn’t matter.
The toughest pill to swallow comes from inferences by those, well-intentioned or otherwise, who think that these outcomes would be different if these individuals (Trayvon, Michael and Tamir) were more like me.
While it’s hypothetically possible to appreciate their attempt at being supportive, it’s more likely that I’ll uncover the unspoken bias that got us here in the first place.
In an overt nod to perceptions of race, class, and social strata, there’s a false perception that my background (parental influence, prep school education, general countenance, et al) makes me different – read ‘better’ – than the aforementioned victims; or, if not better, more likely to have lead me down a different path that didn’t lead to my death in a similar encounter.
I wrote about this last year in ‘I’m Not Racist, But…‘ The underlying premise that sparked this piece is reflected in the question, “Why do they have to act like that?” By implication this means, “Why can’t they be a more acceptable example of a black man like you?”
So here’s the story of this accomplished and acceptable version of a black male:
Before I was a Northwestern graduate, an award-winning professional dancer, an accomplished web designer, or a rising tennis official, I was a typical adolescent from Cleveland. And like many adolescents, I experimented with drugs, taught myself how to drink and smoke, and also stole candy and other items from corner stores, much like the guys (both black and white) that I hung out with back in the day.
Clearly, I’m not different. It should also be clear that these acts from my youth didn’t go on to define who I was as a dancer, web designer, tennis official, son, uncle, friend, or partner. I suspect that this is the case for many, Elizabeth Lauten included.
By declaring Trayvon, Michael, Eric and Tamir different, the Zimmerman/Wilson/Pantaleo/Loehmann apologists deny these victims their basic humanity, and the right to have made past mistakes while not letting those past mistakes define who they were or, ultimately, becoming the justification for their death.
I have no doubt that if I were to die as a result of a traffic stop misunderstanding with a cop, all of the bad parts of my past would be dredged up to explain the reason why I was culpable in my own death. None of my other life accomplishments would matter.
Lest we all think this is solely a black-white issue, one need only look to the shooting of Michael Bell in Wisconsin to see that this dehumanization affects us all. In a scene similar to the Brown shooting, Bell, a 21 year-old white man, was shot in the head by an officer after a brief scuffle with police in front of his family home.
An officer struggling with Bell mistakenly thought the young man had his gun, which was caught on a broken mirror. The officer yelled “He has my gun”. Another responding officer put his weapon to Bell’s head and pulled the trigger. Within 48 hours, the police had cleared themselves of any wrongdoing.
So how does one continue to have hope when black (and white) men are killed without a seeming care for the greater good? It ain’t easy!
Thankfully, I have wonderful friends of all races who are as outraged as I am by the utter disregard for lives that have been deemed unworthy by police, prosecutors, and the courts. And when all races lift their voices in protest, it becomes more than just “a black thing”. It becomes a human thing! This is what gives me an iota of hope that change may come before another senseless death…
I’ll end with the pained words of Michael Bell’s father. The senior Bell has spent a large chunk of time and settlement money working to make police accountable for their actions.
“If a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy could be killed under a spotlight and there were five eyewitnesses, and his father is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country and I can’t get this done, and I can’t get a fair justice system on it, then how is the African-American family, the Hispanic family, the Asian family, how are they going to get this done?”
I don’t know the answer to that, but I guess I’ll continue to have hope that it will happen soon. There really is no other choice.