Disturbing video had been released of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He had been shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Most of the shots were fired when McDonald was no longer standing. Some entered through his back.
There was no column 400 days earlier, when the murder occurred, though McDonald was every bit as dead the night it happened as he was when Blow reached his epiphany as to why it happened.
The only reason that these killings keep happening is because most of American society tacitly approves or willfully tolerates it. There is no other explanation. If America wanted this to end, it would end.
The exceeding sad and dreadfully profound truth is that America — the majority of America, and that generally means much of white America — has turned away, averted its gaze and refused to take a strong moral stance in opposition. That’s the same as granting silent approval.
Omitted from his “profound truth” is that cops kill whites too. Not at the same rate as blacks, but still. Of course, Blow’s beat is race, so that’s the nail to his hammer.
People try to pitch this as some sort of ideological argument, as an issue of blacks against the police or vice versa, but that is simply an evasion, a way of refusing societal blame for a societal defect: We view crime and punishment with an ethnocentric sensibility that has a distinct and endemic anti-black bias.
So much right and wrong in the same paragraph, as if the two issues are mutually exclusive. There is the police problem, manifesting in the “us v. them” issue, and the race problem, that of the “them,” blacks are worse “them” than whites. Overlaid is the problem that people don’t care about a problem until it touches their world.
We’re all self-serving to some extent, regardless of race, and put our energy and focus toward the problems that directly affect us and our loved ones. Others will have to fend for themselves. It’s not that we don’t care, but that we don’t care enough to take to the streets over it.
And still, there’s more to the problem. Enlightened self-interest gives rise to a conflicted sense of purpose. While many acknowledge that the police problem exists, we also recognize that we want the cops to be there, to do their job, to protect us, because the incipient fear of crime remains intact, and we crave safety. It’s a balancing act between wanting cops on the beat to keep our families safe, and wanting cops to stop needlessly killing people.
This can be overcome, and occasionally has been, but it requires a transcending of self-interested racial tribalism, an ability to see the issue as an intolerable human cruelty rather than as an acceptable and even warranted condition of another, and that can be a high hurdle to clear in this country.
The confluence of recent events, the murder of blacks and occasional whites for no reason, caught on video so even the intellectually challenged can see it, was moving us closer to the point where broader society was prepared to put aside its craving for safety and demand change, because it was being seen as “intolerable human cruelty.”
And then, selfishness sucked the life out of the room.
Critics have dismissed the nation’s student protesters as mere coddled young people in a rage over some nonsense having to do with costumes or fraternity parties or whatever else the headlines say is the matter. I can tell you that none of these really is at the root. Rather, these and similar events are the catalyst for a revelation – that the rage and sadness these students inherited have been there for years, waiting to make themselves known. The inheritance of disaffection can only really come into its own with the maturity of social consciousness.
No clear-thinking person growing up in a society like ours could reach adulthood with an entirely and genuinely hopeful demeanor. Black citizens these past years have found themselves bearing public witness to a morbid series of disincentives to hope. Just this last week the American public was once again forced to confront senseless tragedy when the city of Chicago released video, a full year after the fact, showing Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by Jason Van Dyke, a police officer we now know had amassed more than a dozen civilian complaints.
Hear that whooshing sound? That’s what comes of comparing the murder of Laquan McDonald with the “disaffection” of black students at the most privileged universities in the world, searching for racism in the library. That’s what comes of black girls given the same opportunity to enjoy the fabulous life of the elite screaming at their housemaster to shut up. That’s what comes of making demands that every course of study require a mandatory class in diversity and inclusion.
And poof, you lost the budding concern of white America for the travails of black kids being murdered by cops. Sure, you held on to a few SJWs, who enjoy life in the same cocoon, but their whining about their personal pebbles in their shoes fails to persuade anyone to give a damn. They’re just as off-putting, silly, trivial whiners as the Amherst student who screamed, “fuck your white tears.”
As long as people who look like McDonald are disproportionately affected, and those who don’t look like him are not, it is likely and even predictable, based on historical precedent, that the terrible silence of enough people will continue to sanction this carnage.
Until someone as smart as, and with as big a soapbox as, Charles Blow broadens his vision and takes on the unpleasant task of telling the students at Yale, where his son goes to school, to stop whining about their feelings of disaffection and focus instead on what it feels like to be gunned down in the streets, there will be no change.
We were edging ever closer to a tipping point, where society at large was growing sufficiently outraged at needless murders of black kids, and the occasional white, by police that they were ready to put aside their self-interest in safety to demand an end to violence, when the list of demands expanded to the trivial, to the exaggerated whines of feelings over the trauma of historical names on buildings and Pocahontas Halloween costumes. We were so close. But you lost us when you went looking under rocks at Yale for things that hurt your feelings.