On Racism Again

Sorry to do this topic again, but I think events since last week call for it. The Eric Garner case in NYC has disturbing similarities, and some telling dissimilarities from Brown in Ferguson. Also, some comments deserve more thorough response than I think they get via simple reply.

The major way in which Garner resembles Brown is the fact that, in both cases a grand jury held that neither warranted a trial–and, of course, that the potential defendant was white and the victim of the violence was black. In both cases, too, the treatment of the defendant was notably different than would have been given the dead black man if he were alive. Of course, the treatment of the cops may be more due to the fact they were cops than that they were the white ones in the physical encounters. But that this is mathematically the expectation is also a big part of the problem.

The main differences, in my mind, are the manner in which the grand juries were used–one in secrecy and the other in open bias. Neither serves the public well. The Ferguson case fails us at least partly because of the prosecution’s likely bias, and the NYC case because the public was denied any evidence beyond a viral video which seems contradictory to the jury’s decision. Garner is apparently getting more traction amongst whites than did Brown. In the black community they are largely conflated.

At the same time, I got a question via comment as to what my list containing Brown, Till, and Martin was a list of. I especially appreciate this question, as my criteria for the list was a bit unclear in my own mind. This especially became obvious when I instinctively wanted to include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in that same list.

I have decided that my list was really meant to be vague. Part of the vagueness stems from its attempt to see the situation from the perspective of the black community, of which I am not part. The wider part of my pen was meant to include those blacks killed by whites either without legitimate justification, or with impunity–as ,for example, the numerous lynchings that took pace after the Civil War until the early 1970’s, at least. Today, more often than not, this involves police, but it is sometimes a broader net, as in the cases of Martin, Till, and King,  And it is often controversial who belongs on it.

Perhaps no single variable is more reliable as an indicator of latent racist tendencies than the ease with which we resolve in our own minds those controversies, both for and against, for racism is not the exclusive purview of whites. Nor, for that matter, is hyper-sensitivity to one’s own possible culpability in the issue beyond suspicion in the ease with which one makes these judgments. Part of the difficulty in this whole discussion is the difficulty distinguishing attitudes from real situational dangers.

Take, for instance, the Trayvon Martin case. Who had better claim on the “stand your ground” laws? Was it Martin, who was being pursued by an armed man, or Zimmerman, who thought Martin looked suspicious and therefor should be pursued? A jury eventually decided Zimmerman was not guilty of murder. I don’t think the dead Martin’s claim on “stand your ground” laws was ever made. He was, after all, dead.

That Zimmerman was “whiter” than Martin, nor the long-standing animosity between the two minorities their true backgrounds represent, were apparently never brought up. But that “Stand your ground” laws are intended to protect the fearful from those they fear is only reinforcing fear in our society. That’s neither right nor helpful. And it’s probably racist in origin.

The fear that prevails in police forces is, perhaps, the hardest thing to evaluate in this situation. This boils down, I think, to the question of “whose side are you on?”
when a policeman judges you to be in opposition to his authority, you are assumed to be on the other side–whatever that means.

On a sojourn in Maryland once I found myself looking down a policeman’s quickly drawn  gun barrel. I was looking for something in my van that I needed for a visit to the University of Maryland I was intending to make by bicycle as soon as I found the item. I rose from under the bed and saw a policeman approaching the van from about ten yards behind. “Hello,” I said through the open window, and instantly found myself a misfire from execution.

“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.” I shouted, showing my empty hands in the classic submissive gesture that some think Brown demonstrated. Luckily for me the gun, a Glock–famous for shooting cops in the leg when too rapidly drawn–did not fire, I was apparently parked near a bike trail known in the local, mostly white, neighborhood as a drug exchange.

Thank god the cop was not a little edgier, nor I a little less hospitable to cops. Unfortunately, neither is apt to be the case when a white officer confronts a black man in a black neighborhood. I was fortunate, too, in being in a white suburban neighborhood, in bright sunlight, confronting a black cop. When a white cop is already racist, the prognosis is not so good, and we ought not pretend that is okay or unusual.

That Till and King deserve to be on my list, to me, is clear. But we have moved, at least a little, beyond the place where the phrase “uppity nigger” is politically correct. There are some today, even, who would not agree. Some even in our police, The task now is to move the attitude behind that phrase out of the police forces we field for the purpose of protecting the general black public from crime. To do that, I think we have to move far beyond the assumption that the police are always right. They are not.

The purpose of the list remains pretty much the same, however: how long does the list have to get before there is an uprising? How long before riots earn that moniker?” When might uprising become revolution?

How much longer must the list be than the corresponding list of whites killed by blacks unjustifiably and with impunity before we whites recognize the evils of racism in it?

That part of the requirement of good parenting which includes training in subservience when dealing with authority is a good indicator of how racist our society is. That every black family in America feels an obligation to have this talk with their children, especially boys, and that white families are most inclined to regard the definition of “authority” to include the possibility of the assailant being armed or irrational, is a direct indicator of a racist society biased against blacks. And there is no limit on the application of this criterion. The same can be said about any minority (in terms of control) in any country the world over.

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3 Responses to On Racism Again

  1. Dallas Smith says:

    Well said George. It’s also worth mentioning that the deep-seated racism in our society is based on economic disparities just as much as skin color. It will be difficult to dissolve the tensions associated with the color barrier without addressing the economic barriers at the same time.

  2. Hank Raymond says:

    Two proposals that would help… 1. All police officers must wear body video cameras that start recording at the beginning of their shift and remain on until their shift is over. 2. Police should not be allowed to investigate themselves. (We investigated ourselves and found we did nothing wrong.) I heard on the radio yesterday that when police start using body cameras, complaints by the general public are dramatically reduced.

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