As we all now know, on August 15th, three youths--two of them identified with the African American community--stalked and then gunned down a 23 year old athlete who jogged past them in small-town, Duncan, Oklahoma. The story is international news and is reported over and over by many people, and yet the tone of the media coverage of this event has remained completely unreflective. Some of the stories border on sensationalism. The media repeat that the boys killed “for fun” because they were “bored.” I have a son. I don’t believe that. Those statements are teenage despair and bravado through and through. One of the boys danced and laughed? I guarantee that he was the most sensitive one of the three—and the most broken.
Over and over all of the stories use the word “senseless.” As if to say, these were not normal boys, these were senseless boys. As in, we need not examine this further because there can be made no sense of this. As in, we can write this up to plain old random, excessive (black) violence and dust our hands of it. Wrong. This crime was not random, it was a hate crime born of self hatred and the events forming the machinery of this murder began long, long before August 16.
It is true that normal boys are not regarded with suspicion by every adult they encounter. And normal boys do not typically have friends and family members moving in and out of the criminal justice system for drug crimes that different groups of people commit freely. Normal boys are not in danger of being roughly accosted by police every time they walk outside in our common space. Normal boys are not given up as hopeless by their community. Normal boys are not exposed to lead in substandard housing. Normal boys do not live on the edge of financial disaster, homelessness and ruin, while being forced to watch the spectacle of one percenters auctioning off our common good to themselves. You are right, these are not normal boys, but they are not senseless. This is what a normal boy—mine or yours in different circumstances—can become in this America. I think these boys looked ahead to the future and saw…nothing.
I think that when these boys saw Christopher Lane run by—healthy, confident, affluent, loved and looking forward to a future filled to the brim with every good thing—they snapped. As a mother, I know how wretched the loss of Christopher Lane is to his family and his community. But I also want to leave flowers somewhere to mourn the loss of those three boys and what they could have become in a heart centered culture that loved and supported them. The local D.A. stated that “this is not Duncan.” But it is! It is Duncan! It is Duncan’s pernicious racism, Duncan’s authoritarian gun culture, Duncan’s heartlessness that began the terrible machinery of this crime. And if this Duncan and all the other Duncans across America do not heal this culture, there will be more and more “senseless” crimes committed by black and white youth alike.
It is amazing to me that none of the news coverage mentions race, though the internet commentary after the articles are shot through with it. Many of the commenters mention Trayvon Martin. Many of the comments are ugly. None of the commenters seem to notice that Chris Lane’s killers will inexorably be punished, but Trayvon’s murderer walked free. After the Trayvon Martin verdict, there has been a lot of discussion about too many African American men in morgues, and warning shots, and white male privilege and who gets the right to be afraid. The Florida statehouse has had some overnight guests this month and North Carolina is having itself a weekly conversation. Much of this has been productive. However, there has been an ugly undercurrent of flat out racism that should be astonishing to anyone born after 1950. Many of us have—after reading some of this garbage—become enraged. Many of us have had one moment when, in the privacy of our own minds, we said something like: One of those racist bastards should lose their son, their beautiful young man out running around minding his own business—one of theirs should be randomly and “senselessly” killed. See how they like it.
We are not proud of that thought. But is it such a surprise, is it really “senseless” that someone else had that thought—whether conscious or not—and then acted on it? These boys--with their yet unformed brains with oversized amygdalas bursting with impulses against which their dismal prospects offer no brake—merely continued a deadly dialogue we are having with ourselves about race, male violence, and the role of the state.
Nevermind that, as so often happens with this sort of thing, Christopher Lane’s parents are not American racists who cheered the Zimmerman murder trial verdict or made nasty online comments about Trayvon. As any Jew or Rwandan can tell you, hate is not surgical. It cuts a wide and jagged wound. This crime was a tragedy for everyone involved, but it does make it’s very own, twisted sense.