Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The War Of Attrition On Black Men Is Uniquely American

Two days, two more police killings of black men who should not have been killed.  Inevitably, the outrage, anger and hurt of some Americans is met with the defensiveness of other Americans.  Both men had guns on them, neither men was brandishing those guns or pointing them at officers.  Compare this to the treatment the Bundy Gang demonstrated or the way police treated Dylan Roof, and the rage of African Americans and the anger and bewilderment of many white Americans is completely understandable.

Inevitably, though, you find those people who will say that Alton Sterling was a sex offender (he had sex with a 17 year old as a 21 year old).  That he was carrying a gun.  That he was breaking the law by selling those CDs.  The idea that this would carry a death sentence never seems to occur to them.  And the evidence is overwhelming that that death sentence was leveled because of the color of his skin.  Philando Castile had a licensed firearm on him, was not reaching for it and was shot four times.

In TRYING to be objective, it occurs to me that these shootings are uniquely American for several reasons.

First, there are too many goddamned guns.  Both Castile and Sterling had legal weapons on them.  If you're a police officer, every single encounter you have in the course of a day's work could become a shoot out.  They almost never do, but they could.  And that's because we are awash in weaponry.  That makes every encounter potentially lethal and ups the stakes, ups the tension of a police officer's job. Fear makes you stupid.

Second, you're goddamned right it's about race.  White people see threats in black people that simply don't exist.  They see young kids as adults and adults as predatory giants.  They imbue African Americans with a lethality that doesn't exist.  When a police officer interacts with an African American it is simply different than how they interact with white Americans.  And it you are white and can't see that, then you are blind to the country we a live in.

Finally, we have created a permanent underclass in this country.  That underclass - black or white - is like the impoverished anywhere in the world: they will do what they have to do to get by.  If that means selling a little weed or loose cigarettes or CDs, then they will do that.  And we have created a system that would rather jail them - especially if they are black, but also simply if they are poor - than create a livable world for them.

We don't see these sort of events in Europe because there aren't as many guns and there isn't the same legacy of racial violence in the service of a white power structure.  In fact, the countries with the highest murder rates in the world almost ALL have legacies of race based chattel slavery.  As Europe begins to contend with racial minorities, it is beginning to see some of these same trends, but the absence of widespread weaponry means that the dynamic is different.  The historical legacy is different, too.

We have a problem with police executing African Americans for the crime of being threatening while black.  And that crime can extend to any African American make, even if he's a teenage kid walking through his neighborhood with Skittles and iced tea.

I don't know what it will take to change this.  I don't hear the NRA being outraged over the deaths of men and boys who were killed in open carry states. Funny, that.  I do hear people saying "thug" or "brute."  Because in the eyes of many white people, that's what they see.  Alton Sterling had a grill on his teeth.  That's why he deserved to die, I guess.  His dental work and the color of his skin.

We can change laws - we must change laws - but until we can make large swaths of the American public at least somewhat aware of their racial biases, and until we can get police to see African American men as deserving of the same protections and assumptions as white men, we will continue to see the slow war of attrition on African Americans.

It's sickening.

God bless America.

She needs it.

UPDATE: I wrote all this before the brutal attacks in Dallas.  If anything it's a grotesque data point that proves this thesis.  The gunman sounds deranged, but he latched on to the free floating anger and allowed it to give him license.  I'll address the idea later that we are losing, every damned day, the idea that we are a nation.

1 comment:

Colin Farrar said...

To your point, Trump on the Dallas shootings: he calls for law and order, says we have a problem with "racial tensions," and suggests crime is on the rise. Straight out of Nixon's playbook. He refers to the "tragic deaths" in LA and MN without mentioning police, race, racism....

To Nixon's credit, at least crime was actually on the rise 1968.