Now the is the summer of our discontent made dark by the slaying of another Son of Our City. And in the raging wheezes of reaction we glimpse the inhumanity of man in all its awful glory.
When they write the ballad of our nation, what will they say? Will it be said that we rose above our prejudices and the awful legacy of slavery? Or will it be said that the better angels of our nature were continually shouted down by our incessant desire not to feel uncomfortable with ourselves, with the dark truths lurking in the unlit corners of our minds?
Freddie Gray, Sam Dubose, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Jamar Clark, Jeremy McDole, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, William Chapman II. These were our sons, our children that we sent into the world with warnings that one wrong move could result in their death. No less than Former Attorney General Eric Holder had The Talk with his son about how to act around law enforcement to avoid death. This monumental failing is on us all. As a cis white guy, I know how my interactions with the police are going to go: they will be polite, professional, and the interaction will probably be short. That is privilege. I move throughout society easily, the color of my skin acting as a kind of lubrication for the social engine.
Discrimination is a simple matter of the experience of Blackness in the United States, and the police are often the instrument of that discrimination, both the blunt truncheon and wicked edge of the blade of the law. A community subjected to overzealous and often barbarous treatment will of course act outside it and with no respect for it. When officers of the state, before a grand jury, find themselves un-indicted over and over and over again, it is reasonable for a community to wonder if the rules can even reasonably be called rules. Prosecutors forced into an uncomfortable relationship with toxic police unions and departments, who should be able to convince a jury to indict the proverbial ham sandwich, fail over and over to convince a jury with the lowest evidentiary bars in our legal system.
A man was murdered by agents of the state at the corner of 38th and Chicago. Whatever crimes he may have committed, then or in the past, death was not his just dessert. Duty to George Floyd’s life as a citizen did not matter in this instance. The life was crushed out of a man while three other officers watched. Would they have done this if George Floyd was a white man? I don’t know, he wasn’t. He was black, he was part of, to them, the underclass. A grotesque re-enactment of the brutal caste system of Jim Crow played out at the corner of 38th and Chicago, and this time, it wasn’t the rope that was the instrument of terrible subjugation. This time, again, his life was shattered, trampled to death by the callous, black-clad knee of the police. “I can’t breathe.”
Implementation is not what has gone wrong here. The way the police act is the way we ask them to act. We give them the military gear. We give them Warrior Cop training. Their canisters of tear gas and rubber bullets weren’t stolen or misappropriated. Our president glorifies violence, and gives law enforcement implicit and explicit permission to act in the ways they do. We hire and protect police who act this way, and then act surprised when they do.
Will disbanding police departments fix the problem? I don’t know. But our black neighbors are under attack, and justice demands extreme action. As Ta-Nahisi Coates writes “the extent to which we are tolerant of the possibility of more Walter Scotts and Freddie Grays is the extent to which we are tolerant of the possibility of more Micah Xavier Johnsons.”
Exit, stage left.