When you are being massacred in the streets by the authorities with impunity, you don’t stop to ask for a permit to express your outrage, you break things. A basic human response is not quiet reflection but defiant fury.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, September 9, 2020
We are now in the throes of a great public reckoning over the constant, normalized, cruel, wanton, and institutionalized murder of Black men at the hands of armed overseers on the streets of America. Every few weeks, we are presented with a new case, a new dash cam video, a new eyewitness account complete with handheld video of the encounter and the ultimate execution of the suspect, only to later find they were stopped for a minor offense, or none at all. These are extrajudicial killings, sanctioned by the State and Americans are dismayed by those who would react in anger by destroying physical property on a minute scale.
Like Susan Collins of Maine, white Americans express our concern of these police shootings. We shake our heads and cluck our tongues in disapproval over what we are told is clearly a lack of proper training and the failure of our institutions to weed out a few bad apples. This is, of course, the lie we have been telling ourselves for centuries.
For one thing, it’s entirely unfair to police departments across the country to blame these incidents on poor training or the work of miscreant outliers. The truth is, they are all operating exactly how they were trained to perform in these situations. These are textbook takedowns. The suspects never get the drop on the officers. They work as a unit, controlling the situation and ultimately dispatching the individual with extreme prejudice. We are forced to understand and possibly even empathize with their consternation at being accused of wrongdoing. They have been sent in to neighborhoods they don’t understand, told they are entering a war zone, ordered to find criminals at all cost, and to treat everyone as guilty until presumed innocent. If you believe you are in a war with armed combatants, you are going to do everything in your power to maintain the upper hand and if need be, always shoot first. They did what they were told.
From the point of view of Black Americans, who are themselves exposed daily to everything from the micro-aggressions of white society to obvious intimidation and threat of violence from the authorities, they’re in a fight for their lives. It doesn’t help that every so-called white ally is constantly sending them videos of white officers killing Black men on an endless loop. If you think you’re stressed by being cooped up with your four-year-old for six months, imagine not being confident they will come home from school alive.
There is only one reasonable, rational, human response to such appalling atrocities, and that is pure, unadulterated rage. It’s astounding that so many Americans cannot make that mental or emotional leap to imagine what their own response might be if this were happening to them and everyone they knew and loved. Even committed pacifists would have to reconsider the value of arming themselves. People who usually don’t like to get involved, would be forced to get out of their Lazy-Boys and fill the streets. America would grind to a halt until we fixed this outrageous tyranny.
Objecting to the methods being used by those expressing outrage in response to being murdered in cold blood by authorities, is a bit like complaining that the Declaration of Independence, which in essence predicated a bloody revolution, largely over taxes, could have been worded nicer. It’s a preposterous response in its attempt to underemphasize the horror we are witnessing, let alone enduring.
At the very least, we should stop questioning the methods being used to protest such obscenity and question the barbarism that would drive a famous, elite athlete to sacrifice his career by kneeling quietly during a song.
Think about the incongruity of that for a minute. Colin Kaepernick had the audacity to kneel during the national anthem and White America lost its collective mind. Such disrespect for the military, they shuddered. Entirely inappropriate, they worried. A disgrace, they fretted.
If this had been you, if you had been dealt this hand, you wouldn’t have even considered kneeling, you’d have burned something down and you would have cheered as it burned. You’d riot in the streets till there was nothing standing. You might start with your own neighborhood, because it’s a convenient target, but eventually, you’d want to take your anger out on corporate America and the wealthy. You might not have murder in your heart, but burning out the Starbucks that refused to hire you might be a start. You might break the window of the Nike store and take a pair of shoes, as a paltry compensation for centuries of profiting off the sweat of your people. You didn’t burn down the city, after all, just a Dunkin Donuts (later we’ll learn the fire was started by rich kids from the suburbs angry about some perceived slight concerning the latest Star Wars movie).
A truly rational, human response to centuries of violence and oppression isn’t polite discourse. It’s madness, defiant anger and abject destruction. It’s cataclysmic ruin. It’s the sort of righteous anger we expect from God. It’s the great flood. It’s Sodom and Gommorah.
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, which seems to have been a sort of tipping point in our discussion of racism in America, we went from asking ourselves if Derek Chauvin, white police officer who killed Floyd, did it because he was racist, to why this same scenario seemed to keep happening over and over. We left the personal behind and began questioning the system.
“If you want to understand how racism operates on a daily level, you have to go beyond simply peering into someone’s heart and saying, ‘Do you or do you not like black people?'” says Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Talking With Strangers. “Racism gets enshrined into zoning ordinances and tax rules and who and when and how people vote. There are all kinds of systematic ways racism is enshrined in this country.”
He gives as an example Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who died in police custody in 2016 after being detained during a failure to signal a lane change.
“This specific situation is an outgrowth of a theory and strategy of law enforcement which has been enacted at the highest level in many areas of the United States over the last generation,” Gladwell says. “In other words, you cannot understand these kinds of encounters if all you’re doing is talking about the character of the individuals involved. You need to look at the larger system.”
The South might have lost the civil war militarily, but reconstruction and Jim Crow laws allowed segregationists to turn the conversation from questions about the institutional racism that allowed slavery into questions about individual racism, which allowed systematic racism to continue unabated. We stopped asking if laws or government policies were racist and instead confined ourselves to worrying about whether or not Ernie was racist. If you weren’t wearing a white hood and parading around the Walmart parking lot, you couldn’t be accused of supporting systematic racism in America. In effect, the South lost the battles but ultimately won the war.
Asking whether a single officer, police chief, mayor or Senator is racist entirely misses the big picture and ensures we will continue to allow the defense of a few bad apples to direct the conversation about race in America. There are bad apples of course, but because of our methods of storing them, they’re all rotten.
We must deal with the basic issue institutional racism, which is at the very core of American political ideology, decades of public policy, and centuries of socialization. The police are merely the tip of the sword. Until we rectify decades of evil, things will not get better for any of us, and you should have no reason to expect to live in peace and harmony with a growing percentage of the population that has had enough of cruelty, oppression and death.
Empathy can be a difficult pill to swallow. When you put yourself in the shoes of another and truly understand their pain, you are forced to reckon with your own complicity in causing it. It’s why we have gone to such great lengths to avoid coming to grips with America’s original sin of slavery. It’s why we are so quick to blame others and not accept responsibility ourselves.
A honest, rational and human response to this inequity is anger. An anger that builds with raw empathy, with each added piece of knowledge, with greater and greater understanding, to become a furious inferno that must burn itself out from lack of fuel, not due to any artificial retardant.
The rational, human, reasonable response therefore, can only be rage. Nothing short of cosmic rage. So it should really cause you to take a moment to respect the restraint, courage and fortitude being displayed on any given day in America.
It should bring you to your knees.