I'm not sure that any rational Black person can conclude differently at this point. I understand why Jordan Davis' own mother and father feel so compelled to quash any idea that their son's murder was a hate crime or about race (for reasons not too hard to imagine since, of course, in America the minute Black people start complaining about racism being a big problem the majority of white people of all political stripes start tuning out. Makes sense when you know that around 81% of whites the last time someone checked don't believe that racism's a big problem at all even though none of them actually have to live with racism's potentially-deadly consequences for their children). But their denial doesn't change the reality of the situation, when another innocent young Black boy is shot dead for no rational reason at all yet its not even something that is all that surprising:
He doesn’t make it. He doesn’t take another breath. He doesn’t get to finish high school. He doesn’t get to go to his prom. He doesn’t get to experience his first day on a college campus. He doesn’t get to marry the love of his life. He doesn’t get to have children. He doesn’t get to grow old. He doesn’t get to die in peace. Stereotypes of a black male, truly understood. Sorry Biggie, this time it ain’t all good. Jordan Davis died when he got to the hospital. He was just 17. Shot by a man who didn’t like his loud music and who said that someone in Jordan’s SUV pointed a gun at him, so he felt “threatened.” No gun was ever found, except for the one that took Jordan’s life.I'm not so sanguine as Jordan Davis' parents. I know that a person doesn't have to consciously think or shout Klansman epithets to hate, fear and distrust Black people, deep down. Indeed, when it comes to young Black men, most people don't have any conscious thought of hating or fearing them. Yet they do. And I know why, as does anyone morally honest.
. . .
Truth be told, when Trayvon Martin died, we knew it would happen again. We rallied. We marched. We protested. We signed petitions. We put our hoodies up. But in the back of our minds we knew that it would happen again. There is no comparison between the deaths of any seventeen year old, as every life is sacred and the families deserve to have their own periods of mourning. So don’t confuse this with thinking that I am comparing the two, but something is happening in this country that has to come to an end. We don’t want the fear that some have of young black men to be a disease our country cannot cure.
The black male. A demographic. A sociological construct. A media caricature. A crime statistic. Aside from rage or lust, he is seldom seen as an emotionally embodied person.
If folks want to talk about reckless disregard for human life you can't get more on point than a white man's offense with too-loud music (and what my gut says was not just "backtalk" something that every parent of every teenager knows that teens do – but Lord Have Mercy Black backtalk, which is not necessarily polite to rude white people, but so what?) leading to eight shots being fired into a vehicle with four children in it, none of whom had any weapon of any kind in their possession.
You would think that reasonable people wouldn't have anything left to talk about, other than the possible sentence Mr. Dunn will receive, given that.
As long as that is the case, where even the well-intentioned get distracted and deflected from the only facts that truly matter, America will keep killing our children.
It is not that hard to find their stories, the stories of the male, Black, young, unarmed and dead. Really, it's not. Especially the dead Black man children.
Our culture has taught us not to see them, Black men in general and young Black men in particular, as people equally deserving of life.
I want you to look at their youth, their sometimes baby faces. I want you to feel, not just detachedly think, about how old they were when they were ripped from this earth not because they were deserving of death, but instead because someone not like them whether by race or class assumed differently in the heat of a moment—which, considering how few apologies the Black community has received over any of their deaths, this culture clearly says is most important.
So, look at them. See them.
We have been psychologically viewing them as animals, Black men but especially young Black men, for decades. The myth of the scary angry black beast predates not only the 21st century, but the 20th; it certainly has existed ever since Reconstruction. That myth for at least the last 100+ years has taught us that Black men are violent, sexually rapacious, out of control predators. Especially where "vulnerable white people" (even those with guns and law enforcement authority) are concerned. Even when they are children, like Emmett Till was when he was murdered at the age of 13, this has been the cultural narrative.
But if you think about it, why should they when the culture itself embraces the way that those who falsely judged thought, at the time? The dehumanization evinced in connection with the lynching of Emmett Till and the later treatment of the Central Park Jogger case defendants when it comes to assumptions about the deviant propensities of young Black (and in the Central Park case, one Latino) men continues to this very day. With the same old same old results, almost always. If anyone gets punished at all, it's a slap on the wrist. And to replace their dead sons? OUR dead sons? Just money. If that. Maybe.
The best evidence of that? That our innocent children still are getting killed, over and over again, for doing nothing more than being. It's 2012 and Black boys when they are in each other's company doing absolutely nothing are still being reduced to "Black youth mobs" that we all need to run inside and lock our doors against in order to save ourselves from their murderous ways.
Either that, or shoot them dead.
You'd be wrong.
Leaving 79.5% of Black male youth in that same group not arrested for anything at all. 4 out of 5.
[The statistics for Black folk over the age of 18 are similar except even more of them are innocent of anything, so I am not going to list them here. That's why I linked to the table, above; so folks can check for themselves that I'm telling the truth.]
One day, someone will explain to me why it continues to be perfectly OK in liberal and conservative circles alike to prejudge 80% of a population on what is, at best, the conduct of 20%. (No explanation has yet been offered, although it is a question I've raised even in friendly territory like here at Daily Kos many times before.) Then, perhaps that same person can also explain to me why, when the vast majority of the crimes that 20.5% cohort (again, assuming only 1 unique crime charged per unique kid arrested) are accused of involve property, not harm to people, so many young Black men should just accept they must live with the constant threat of a summary death sentence.)
An accident, that discussions of Black criminality are reflexive-defense number one when an innocent Black young person is killed? I think not.
It's not an accident because the culture itself trains the majority how it should respond, and what it should feel. Most Americans, especially the white ones, have been trained like Pavlov's dogs at this point: all you have to do is push the right buttons, visually and rhetorically, and suddenly a lost young promising life is reduced to actual or potential yard waste: thug, hoodlum, gangbanger. Trash, to be thrown out. It may have been by the likes of law enforcement or it may have been by trigger-happy racists, but its still NBD.
Even when (thankfully) increasing numbers of people are becoming educated about the myth of Black criminality being just that, the cultural imperative demands that we not rest until we find some reason other than race to explain when an innocent dies. (As if any superficial explanation can excuse away the reality that when an innocent young Black man's life has been taken unnecessarily by a knee-jerk reaction on the part of a white person to objectively reasonable behavior, almost always at least some racial thinking was in the mix somewhere.) Maybe this is why when the "Blacks shouldn't commit so much crime" argument gets no play or is unsuccessful in quelling the legitimate outrage, the very next thing that the most obvious racists do when confronted with what would otherwise be an obvious slaughter of a human being for reasons due to behavior that is innocuous or which suggests that the slaughteree was actually himself afraid and trying to flee is to start harping on "why it is being ignored" that Black young men are killing other Black men.
Forget for a moment the obvious question (Dear racist white person who raises this stupid-ass argument: if Black-on-Black crime is being ignored, how come you know all about it although you probably haven't actually talked to a Black person for more than 30 seconds or been in a neighborhood where Black-on-Black crime happens for more than 10 minutes EVER?) The important question is this: how on earth is this relevant to the discussion of a Black man dying at the hands of someone who isn't Black too often and why this is a serious problem??? The fact that some stupid Black people kill other Black people within their own neighborhoods over real or perceived grievances with each other says absolutely nothing about whether strangers, usually white but not always, have good reason to conclude that they don't have to judiciously exercise deadly force as a last, not first, resort when it comes to their interactions with unarmed young Black man, too often Black children. Two wrongs simply do not make a right.
The cultural normativity of the drive towards excuse making whenever a Jordan or a Trayvon or another is killed can make you gag, I swear 'fore God. If it doesn't collapse you in tears first.
It should surprise no one that in a majority culture that seems driven as the first, not the last, order of business to assume there must have been SOME fault in a dead Black boy to justify his murder, his execution, his death, these stories of innocent dead Black youth are becoming more—not less—common. Why wouldn't it be so, when the first order of business is to find a flaw, a defect, a deviance no matter how irrelevant to the circumstances of the child's death to render him less "deserving" of grief, of mourning, of life itself? Thus, we routinely see the systematic and automatic (whether or not conscious) and obvious to anyone who isn't trying to excuse things away defiling of the memory of the dead, everyone not wanting to believe that people not obviously racist nonetheless are more than happy to shoot Black youth in the street trying as hard as humanly possible after the fact to find something, anything, to justify the otherwise unjustifiable. Over and over again we see a damned-near-immediate investigation of the decedent and the decedent's family and friends instead of the otherwise-normal priority on investigating the perpetrator of the homicide. And, if less than choir boy status is found in the victim or suspected in anyone connected to the dead Black child, you can guarantee that it will get leaked or disclosed to the media so that the public (yes, including so called liberals like those here at Daily Kos) to demonize the victim and thus render his loss in the minds of the viewing public less than catastrophic. Time and time again, this posthumous character assassination quickly reduces the victims to mere suspects as usual in the court of public opinion:
- Trayvon Martin (17 years old): "He'd been suspended from school! For graffiti! AND weed!"
- Patrick Dorismond (26 years old): "He used to beat people up!" (Even though he was more law abiding than the cop trying to entrap him into buying marijuana when he was killed)
- Oscar Grant (23 years old): "I bet you didn't know that a few years ago he ran from us! He wouldn't stop! With a loaded gun he wasn't actually pointing it at us!"
- Sean Bell: (20 years old):"He was drunk!" "And he shot a drug dealer!" (Well, maybe not......)
- Kendrec McDade (19 years old): "But his friend stole a laptop some other day – he admitted it!" (Even though juvenile court proceedings are supposed to be sealed from public dissemination.)
- Wendell Allen (20 years old): "Drug dealer! And he didn't pay his fines-more than once!
- Ramarley Graham (18 years old): "Look at his brothers; they're criminals!!"
- Chavis Carter (21 years old): "He's a known dope dealer! We SWEAR!"
- Darius Simmons (13 years old): "OK maybe we shouldn't have left his dead body on the street while we interrogated his mother for 2 hours locked in a squad car, but his brother is a truant!" (Shot while taking out the trash in front of his mother by an elderly "gun enthusiast" neighbor—including in the back as the child tried to get away.)
It took them a few days longer in the case of Jordan Davis, but it has already started there, too:
Clifford Glover (10 years old): He screamed "Fuck you - you're not taking me!" And "He had a gun!" (While walking down the street with his father, who the cop says managed to take the never-recovered gun and hide it while his son was being killed right in front of him.)
Devin Brown (13 years old): He was driving a stolen car—backwards "right at" the policeman (who shot into the car from the side)
Kendrec McDade (19 years old): He had a gun – cause that other guy said so! (Shot while running away; bonus points to the Latino who did his part to set the death wheels in motion by lying his ass off, lies for which he will face no legal consequence.)
Stephon Watts (15 years old): He had a (butter) knife! He was out of control! (Even though 10 times before, cops somehow managed to control him when called to respond to tantrums triggered by his Asperger's)
Kenneth Banks (36 years old, not like that makes it any better) "He must have swallowed the crack he was selling!" (Killed on his bicycle while fleeing a cop who ended the interaction with a well-placed walkie-talkie toss to the back of Kenneth's head.)
Timothy Stansbury: (19 years old): "He had a gun!" (Shot as soon as he emerged onto the roof of his brownstone from inside while the cops were looking for someone else)
Darius Simmons : (13 years old) "You must have stolen my guns from me!"(Shot in front of his mother in his own front yard)
Dante Price (22 years old): "He tried to run us over although his car was going the other way and he was slumped over the wheel from being shot first!" (shot 17 times by rent-a-cops while he was going to do what all the pundits and politicians lamenting the "absent Black father" say young Black men never do—take care of his own kids.)
Chavis Carter: "He told this random guy that nobody knows from the neighborhood but we were able to find that he'd kill himself before going to jail again--even though he was expecting his first child."
And, as these stories make clear, when all else fails there is one usually bold-ass lie that is almost guaranteed to shift the majority's scrutiny away from the curious fact that these stories just keep coming up over and over again: "I thought he had a gun!" Curiously, folks never manage to actually find a gun 99 times out of 100, even though you can't walk out your front door in America without tripping over one and, to hear it told, young Black men are killing each other in the ghetto by the billions with them every day so clearly they all have one. (In those extremely rare cases they do find a gun, it turns out to have had absolutely no relationship to the decedent, or was not readily accessible or usable by the victim.)
They do it, the lying, because the know they are likely to be believed.
If they weren't all stone cold dead.
Adding insult to already treacherous injury, these days with the proliferation of public sources of private image those who might otherwise just fall back on excuses and lies like those discussed above now have another option to bolster their insistence that when young unarmed Black youth are killed, its really not that big of a deal because the victim hastened his own demise. These days, these excuse hounds can (and routinely do) scour the internet for photographs that are then used as visual "evidence" that the dead young man wasn't really that good a person—so is it really that much of a loss that they are dead now? Many of these photographic selections rather curious consistency: they all seem to fit racist stereotypes of what a 'thug' or 'criminal' or 'animal' or 'gangsta' must look like. Ergo, the dead young person "must have been" one of those terrible things. (As folks claimed in Trayvon's case and in Mark Duggan's case, for example, although looking at the actual images someone not already predisposed to find a criminal Black man wouldn't actually assume one existed.) And once images of the decedent that 'fit' the racist stereotype are found anywhere any other equally legitimate image of the dead young man is rejected out hand. Accompanied with full-throated whining about "slanting things" when their preferred images aren't the ones actually used all the time when discussing the possible injustice of their death instead of images chosen by those who actually could see the human being that was once inside that now-dead young man. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, in response to those kvetching about the world focusing on the images of Trayvon Martin as something other than a grille-wearing (not), bird-throwing Negro Thug:
One meme which we've encountered in the comments section here and other places, is this notion that the media is using old pictures to deceptively paint Trayvon Martin as a child. I can't date every picture that's out there. But we do have pictures of Trayvon Martin nine days before he was killed, out celebrating his mother's birthday. Mother's Day.
The one above is one you might select to reflect your message that Martin was, indeed, a child. This message is actually true. I guess you could accuse Martin's parents of sinisterly selecting a photo which reflects well on their son. But what you can't really accuse them of is intentionally trying to deceive you by lowering the kids age.
. . .
In this business, it is always best to speak to the purveyors of such arguments, in their native tongue. To wit:
I'm sorry that Trayvon Martin's actual appearance obstructs your inalienable right to scandalize children. That you are forced into cartwheels, and rendered ridiculous, all in the laudable quest to justify bias is the true tragedy, one which pales when compared to an actual death. If I have in any way, contributed to your travails, I hope that some day you will be wise enough, or simply human enough, to forgive.
This constant desperate exercise by those in the majority (and those not in the majority who think too much like them) to excuse away the inexcusable when another Trayvon or Jordan or Sean or Stephon dies would be laughable.
Except that it works.
Indeed, it works so well that whites who are guilty as hell of something they know is wrong or criminal too often just make shit up about innocent Black men, knowing deep down in their hearts that our culture believes so firmly in the dangerousness, the criminality and the worthlessness of young Black men that they will be believed almost unquestioningly. It was evident in the Rosewood massacre which ended the lives of a Black community and many of its residents, because of a white woman's willingness to blame a non-existent Black male beast rather than just admit she was skanking on her husband with a (white) lout who had just beat the bejesus out of her. Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, the white women who falsely accused the Scottsboro Boys knew it; and had it not been for herculean efforts, all of those young men would have been strung up by the lynch mobs before trial long before facing the executioner that most were condemned to before ultimately being freed by the Supreme Court. Charles Stuart knew it and almost got to celebrate it working, having murdered his wife and then blaming it on a Black man, when after Boston police first hounded every Black man in the city under the age of 80 a completely innocent Black man was arrested. Susan Smith knew it, when she drowned her own children so she could take up again with a man she was obsessed with and blamed a strange Black man who carjacked her. Ashley Todd, the "B" Girl, certainly knew it, when she and the local communications director for the McCain campaign deliberately exploited the already difficult racial tensions in that part of Pennsylvania in an effort to incide racial anger against Barack Obama and his supporters.
Over and over again. Yet it continues.
Given all this, is it now any real surprise than instead of the cops justifying murder by stereotype when it comes to young Black men, we now have random citizens like Michael Dunn, George Zimmerman and John Henry Spooner (the killers of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin and Darius Simmons respectively) behaving in the same shoot-first-and-worry-about-the-consequences-of-innocent-life-later way and making the same kind of excuses after the fact–all within the past year?)
I cannot speak in the voice of young Black men, because although I am the mother of a young Black man, and the grandmother of a young Black man (and the daughter of what was once a young Black man). Since I've never even been a young Black man, it resonates for me when they speak in their own voice, especially the new hip-hop voice that old farts like me really struggle with sometimes but want desperately to understand. With the rise of the internet, the deaths of their contemporaries like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and others now come more easily to their attention. As does the usual response from the white majority, which I've chronicled in detail above. So they know what people think of them, know what they are saying about them collectively, with no regard for who they are as individuals any greater than the regard shown for those like them who are dead for no good reason.
They notice that it's too often sympathy or empathy for the murderer, or his family and what they must be going through if the murderer is arrested. They definitely notice almost ever goes to prison, and that many aren't even arrested (especially not if it's a cop.) until public shaming or public rage initiated by the Black family or the Black community that loved and lost the child leaves America no choice (perhaps because of fear of riots, especially at this point.) They notice that even when the perpetrator does get arrested, all sorts of folks are out rallying support for them. They definitely notice when in their virulence, folks who need to believe that "putting down thugs" is a necessary, good thing are willing to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to someone who has killed one of them when you have to bust your ass to raise a dime from those same folks to send one of them to college). They notice that when one of them dies except at the hands of another person like them, the killer usually is not convicted or if he is, it's of a slap-on-the-wrist charge that makes clear how little punishment America feels is due for killing them.
Well, Black youth have always talked back. And they are talking back more and more over stories like this; telling their stories and their feelings. In the same online way that those who hate them so much have polluted the 'Net with each time another one of their stories is posted. I'm not sure America, the nation full of cowards when it comes to race that it is, really wants to know what some of them have to say:
Folks model what they see, and what most Americans have seen (and therefore been taught, even if never taught in those precise words) since Reconstruction is that the lives of Black people, especially Black male children have no value to this society. That message is broadcast loud and clear, to everyone. However covert and unconscious that message is sent.
If you think the targets of that societal message, don't hear it loud and clear each and every time one of their own dies without serious punishment, and with a plethora of excuses and minimalizations, you are wrong.
And that is why I feel that our Black male children are being murdered by degrees every time another Jordan Davis, or Trayvon Martin, or Ramarly Graham happens. Murdered on the inside, at the spirit level, even as their bodies live on and pray that they are not the next one to literally die. For more than 100 years, psychologists have discussed that for Black people in America, living with and living through stereotyping, racist thoughts and discriminatory behavior, day in and day out is traumatic and damages our mental health. Now, if that is the finding with adults, you know that it also exists with the children. Our children have repeatedly shown self-hatred long before they are grown, absorbing readily this culture's messages about their inferiority. The results of Kenneth and Mamie Clark's "doll study" have been replicated less than 5 years ago, proving that our children still like sponges get the message: they are not worthy. They are bad. They are lesser. As Franz Fanon wrote long ago when talking about the deleterious impact of colonialism on the mental health of Black people, in The Wretched of the Earth "The opppressed will always believe the worst about themselves."
Deaths like that of Jordan or Trayvon therefore are not seen as just an isolated horrible event, when it comes to their impact on the psyche of young Black men. Those deaths instead reinforce the message that Black boys have learned at the knee, whether covertly through institutionally racist cultural messages or overtly, as terrified mothers and fathers give them "The Talk" in a desperate effort to save their lives, merely being good and following all the rules isn't enough to accomplish the end of keeping you alive. You will always be at risk, no matter what you do.
And if you think that young Black boys don't know that, and that it does not take a horrific depressive toll upon them, you are wrong:
“[T]he color of a Negro’s skin makes him easily recognizable, makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target.”When you take away a child's hope, eventually you take away the spark that keeps a child looking to the future and striving for it. No matter what you tell a child, if their circumstances show that there is no hope even when they've done everything right, it should surprise no one if they too begin to live for today because there is no safety they can personally control today. Every time another one of their peers die for no reason at all and they get to read and hear either all the overtly racist things justifying it or the unconsciously racist things trying to excuse it away, they are being soul murdered on the inside. Because they know, not being stupid, that each and every single day that this society doesn't do whatever it takes to scrub itself once and for all of the poisonous rule of false anti-Black stereotypes that lead to the never-ending parade of innocent dead black male bodies is another day that might be their last.
So wrote Richard Wright in “Black Boy,” a story that, although written in the context of growing up in the miasma of 1920s racism, isn’t all that different from the world today. Think about it. Despite everything we’ve gained, and all of the formal advances that our forefathers fought so hard to grasp, many arms of the blatant racism that choked our race and held us under the yoke of slavery still exist. The most important thing is that we simply cannot escape the irrational fear and suspicion that so much of this country (and indeed, the world) has for us. Despite the fact that it was our race that was hunted and bought and sold like animals by them; despite the fact that we had to remain vigilant of even whistling or spitting in the wrong place, lest we be lynched; despite the fact that for most of our race’s history in this country, and under the right flimsy legal excuses today, we could be killed with impunity like dogs; it has always been the other people here who clutch their purses and lock their doors when we pass. . .
But such is the life of the Black male in these here United States. Being a Black boy you are taught that the key to success is to live so inoffensively and so quietly that perhaps the world will forget and forgive the loudness of your skin color. Little Black boys are taught to white wash everything, because we know that we can never white wash our skin. The restrictions are enormous. We know we can’t run in some areas lest we look “suspicious”, but we know that we also can’t walk too slow or loiter. We can’t come off as too “threatening” around white women lest the police be called on us. While we watch other kids play in unfettered bliss, we know that we are drilled with military discipline. And it makes sense, given that we are born of a mother (this country) that does not want us (although she needs us) and besieges us every day from our birth. We are drilled like soldiers because that’s what life is for us — a war against the “other” that is Blackness and the skin that a good number of White folks fear and a smaller (but still significant) number openly hate. We are taught to live under a silly system of rules because that’s how we survive, and that’s how we’ve always survived. And we’re better at survival than anyone. . .
But what happens when you follow all the rules? When you are as inoffensive as possible and polite and do your best to not fit some stereotype? What happens when folks like me get on elevators in nice suits with nice jobs and white women STILL clutch their purses around us? How do we act when a good portion of this country still holds the President, one of the most innocuous and inoffensive people on this planet, in suspicion simply on account of his Blackness and otherness? What hope do the rest of us have to live without knowing we are always being watched and are always one loose cannon away from being blown off the face of this planet with not even a trial to show for it?
I wrote it, a 20 hour labor of research, out of love. These dead boys were some mother's son. Some father's son. They were loved. Loved like Ramarly Graham, his father shown above giving his son a final kiss in his coffin. Loved like Trayvon Martin, whose parents have steadfastly fought to have their son's murder seen as more than just "excusable." Loved like Sean Bell, just hours from marrying his love and the mother of his children.
All that is gone now.
Gone for no acceptable reason at all.
When he gets older I will live in fear every day for him, too.
But this one diary won't do the trick.
Unarmed Black young men under the age of 30 will stop dying from all these "unfortunate circumstances" only when this nation collectively embraces a far-less psychotic understanding of young Black men grounded in the truth, not the racist myths that have sustained white supremacy in America for hundreds of years. The truth that the overwhelming majority of young Black men (and the even larger majority of Black men in general) are law abiding, peaceful, wonderful men. When the message is clear and unsullied in a nation's collective voice that these children are valued and loved and can expect that the white majority will neither demonize them in death nor excuse away the perpetrators upon them, but will instead hold individual perpetrators and this society's institutional racism as a whole accountable without any excuses, it will likely stop.
And that's why (speaking for myself but I suspect I'm not alone), I don't really want to hear it any more, how sorry folks are about another Black child's death if this country can't make this happen and happen now. I don't want to hear how sad it is. How terrible it is. And although I am a lawyer and I believe in the law, I don't want to hear how "justice will be served" in the end, either. I really don't. Justice is nothing more than what we've been calling for for decades now, with no end in sight. What is justice when all a mother wants is to hold her dead child but cannot anymore, just because some trigger happy white person (or person of color just as infected with the same unconscious anti-Black racism; see above) could not control himself long enough to see a child instead of a fearsome animal? Long enough to make a rational decision that valued the life of that child as much it deserved to be valued and protected given the actual circumstances, not the fantasy circumstances that they fear so much?
All I want is true justice: our country ensuring that our manchildren can stop being murdered inside because of the never-ending parade of their cohorts being murdered for no reason that makes any bloody sense OTHER than the racism that doesn't let us see them as human beings whose deaths should not routinely be excused away.