For a bright shining moment, it was on everyone’s radar. A nation watched in horror as young black men lay dead on the street. And then it was gone, hijacked by shrieking children who were not only still alive, but amongst the most privileged in America. I try not to express emotional appeals, but this one was hard to take. No, your hurt feelings about not being made to feel sufficiently loved are not comparable to a guy with a bullet in his heart.
Then there were three more dead black men in a week, and everyone refocused.
And it’s about to slide back into the cesspool of vagaries.
Another set of black men killed by the police — one in Tulsa, Okla., another in Charlotte, N.C.
Curious that Tyre King’s killing failed to make the cut, but this 13-year-old is dead too.
Another set of protests, and even some rioting.
Another television cycle in which the pornography of black death, pain and anguish are exploited for visual sensation and ratings gold.
Would it be better if it was ignored?
And yes, another moment of mistakenly focusing on individual cases and individual motives and individual protests instead of recognizing that what we are witnessing in a wave of actions rippling across the country is an exhaling — a primal scream, I would venture — of cumulative cultural injury and a frantic attempt to stanch the bleeding from multiplying wounds.
And boom, Charles Blow takes the dive into “cumulative cultural injury.” He’s right that focus on each individual killing allows us to ignore that there is an overarching problem with police rationalizing the existence of a legitimate fear of black males such that the cops can justify their “shoot first” because the First Rule of Policing. But it’s still about killing. These men are dead, and not even Blow gets to hijack their deaths for some grander scheme.
It is an age in which the language of resistance has been set and accepted, in which the mode of expression and resistance has been demonstrated and proved effective. It is an age of enlightenment and anger, of fear and frustration, of activism and alertness. Black America is beyond the breaking point, a point of no return.
And in this era, the discussion around these issues must be broad and deep because the actions required to address the problems must be broad and deep.
Why “must” these issues be “broad and deep.” What does that mean? Blow offers no reason, no connection, beyond his artful phrases and rhetorical devices to shift from the killing of black men, provably unnecessary by video, to something else, something “broad and deep.”
This moment in our nation’s history is not about how individual fears are articulated — in an emergency call, in an officer’s response, in weapons drawn and fired, in black people’s desire to flee for their lives, in black parents’ anxiety about the safety of their children. This moment is about the enormous, almost invisible structure that informs those fears — the way media and cultural presentations disproportionately display black people, and black men in particular, as dangerous and menacing and criminal. It’s about the way historical policies created our modern American ghettos and their concentrated poverty; the ways in which such concentrated poverty and its blight and hopelessness can be a prime breeding ground for criminal behavior; the way these areas make poverty sticky and opportunity scarce; the way resources, from education to health care to nutrition, are limited in these areas.
Are we talking about cops assuming black men to be so dangerous as to need to kill them quickly or school lunches? Are these really the same? Must we discuss microaggressions rather than death?
Granted, I am a white male cishet Jewish lawyer, as privileged as it gets. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe having not experienced the life of a black man, I can’t grasp Blow’s words. But then, I’ve spent decades holding black and Hispanic hands, wiping tears off black and Hispanic faces. I don’t have black friends, but friends. I’m close enough to tell them when they’re being assholes, and to have them tell me the same, and still be friends. I’m not entirely clueless.
I don’t question the existence of systemic discrimination against blacks, but not every hurt feeling is the end of the world. A well-aimed bullet, on the other hand, is the end of a life. At the moment, cops are killing black men at a disproportionate rate. Prisons are filled with black men at a disproportionate rate because cops are arresting them at a disproportionate rate. These are directly related to a unified problem of law enforcement believing that black men are more likely criminals, more likely violent, more likely to kill than others.
This is the problem that gives rise to these three dead black men. The killing must stop.
And yet, we can’t focus on this problem without the call to wrap it up with every other gripe as if the pain of seeing a shield at Harvard Law School is the equivalent to a dead person.
The police are simply instruments of the state, and the state is the people who comprise it. The police are articulating a campaign of control and containment of populations and that campaign has the implicit approval of every citizen within their jurisdictions. This is not a rogue officer problem; this is a rogue society problem.
No, no, no. Law enforcement is an entity, a culture, onto itself. It doesn’t love white people and hate black people. It hates everybody who isn’t a cop, and it fears black people more than white people. But nobody who isn’t a cop gets a free pass. There is a very real problem here, but you’ve got it very wrong when you try to align police with a rogue society. Whether or not society is perpetuating discrimination against blacks, cops present a very different issue.
We need to stop the killing. Let go of the vagaries of generic discrimination and focus on what the police are doing to black people rather than whether schools in poor neighborhoods are failing. Stop the real bleeding before blurring the problem with the metaphorical bleeding.
For crying out loud, Blow, there are people dying. Deal with that. We can worry about your hurt feelz after we stop the killing. Why must it be left to the privileged white guy to speak for the dead black guys? Why can’t you focus long enough on the fact that people are dying to deal with it before hijacking their deaths for your own purposes. Dead men can’t speak for themselves, but if they could, they would tell you to stop the killing first, then worry about your own issues.