Sometimes I’m thoroughly surprised, if not stupefied, by problematic circumstances that seem to be repetitive. Everyone complains about the state of affairs, the screen door that squeaks annoyingly and causes the dog to bark, the wasps nest above the front door that’s always disturbed by normal motion of the door and results in not infrequent attacks by irate flying insects. One might question why the obvious solutions are not implemented, why the squeaky door isn’t oiled, why the insect hive isn’t eliminated.
Why indeed do we allow repetitve problems to … repeat? Perhaps in some cases we don’t have a solution. We don’t know that a WD40 is sold even at the pharmacy, that a good bug spray will deter nesting wasps. That may explain how we manage to accept the normalization of generally unacceptable circumstances, but only in some cases.
I find myself wondering why it is that we accept the intolerable as simply normal, as “that’s just the way it is”. That might be acceptable in the case of a squeaky screen door, but not in the case of things like people of a certain racial identity meeting the same fate, over and over again, in similar circumstances. When traffic stops involving Black men result in their deaths, at the hands of law enforcement officers. When those deaths seem like overkill in so many cases, when those deaths seem to involve what amounts to torture. When it seems obvious there could have been another solution to the problem that brought the victim and the officer together. When the stakes are that high, this repeated scenario would seem to be unacceptable.
But accept, we do. From times of lynching, from times of genocide before printed news, we have accepted. We have not liked it, we have cried, we have grieved, and in more recent times we have protested. But we accepted. That’s just the way it is. Even when many of us declare the unacceptability of these repeated outcomes, we still accept. What else are we to do?
When the insurrection occurred at the nation’s capitol on January 6th, many of those involved said they were fed up, they couldn’t take what they believe to be misdirection of the country any longer. They wanted their country back. They felt justified to do whatever was necessary to achieve that goal, including disrupting the democratic process, including property damage, including violence, and for some of them, including murder. Fortunately, none of the insurrectionists were able to commit actual murder, but I have no doubt some of them were more than ready to do so.
Most, not all, but most of the insurrectionists were European descended Americans. White people. There are still elected officials claiming they were peaceful, smiling and laughing with police officers, no problem. Nothing to see here. But there was most definitely something to see there. There was a bona fide effort to destroy our democracy, to disrupt the very structure of our government. Events on January 6th were just one step short of being a coup d’etat, a takeover of the sitting government. Had they perhaps been a bit more skilled, a bit less passionate, they may have succeeded.
This is significant, not only in terms of the the near cessation of our democracy, but also in terms of the manner in which government responded to them. Despite somewhat tepid warnings from agencies that monitor subversive websites and media about the propensity for a big event on that day, there was no militarized response. There was no mass of law enforcement personnel from all quarters. The officers present were not armed with large-capacity assault weapons or armored vehicles. The swelling crowd handily overpowered the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police who provided assistance, and quickly breached the building. They put the Vice-President and members of Congress in fear for their lives. This was not, and still isn’t, a laughing matter.
Contrast this with protests after the death of George Floyd last year, all over the country. Contrast this with protests in Ferguson MO after the death of Mike Brown. There were armored vehicles, tanks, assault weapons, flash-bang grenades. There was a literal army of National Guard and law enforcement officers from surrounding areas, ready to provide assistance to the Ferguson Police as necessary. Protesters reported having laser sights dance across their chests while the police officers stood on top of tanks and transport vehicles.
Most of the protests over the death of unarmed Black men ended in violence. Even as late as this afternoon, many people continue to assert that such protests, summarily defined as “Black Lives Matter and antifa” riots, were violent because the initiators resorted to violence. Most people who yell the loudest about “antifa” have no idea what “antifa” is. Everybody knows what “Black Lives Matter” is, even if their understanding is slightly incorrect.
There is evidence that some of the violence in Ferguson and other protests was havily infiltrated by far-right militias, who sought to instigate violence with the intent of implicating protesters sympathetic to the BLM movement. In a protest in Kenosha, two people were killed, not by BLM protesters, or “antifa” sympathizers. They were victims of a young white man, Kyle Rittenhouse, whose mommy drove him there to answer the call to protect property in the area. Rittenhouse, ever loyal to the status quo of the police force and militia rhetoric, brought his assault rifle and began to “patrol”. He shot two people, who fought with him because he was carrying a gun and behaving in a confrontational manner. He ran, directly into the path of oncoming police officers, with his hands raised and his rifle clearly visible. They passed him by.
If Kyle Rittenhouse had been a Black man, he would more than likely be dead now. The absurdity of the police bypassing an obvious suspect that other bystanders were pointing out as a killer is unfathomable. It was reported that some of the officers threw him a bottle of water. He was apparently known to them as a volunteer, a wanna-be junior officer, a “good guy”. Pay no attention to the gun, pay no attention to the other people pointing him out as a killer. He’s one of us, he’s a good guy.
This disparity in response is what makes reasonable people a bit nuts. Philando Castille was killed, in his car, on a traffic stop. He explained to officers there was a gun present in the car, because he had a legal carry permit. Through some kind of bizarre failure to communicate, the officer (who of course had his gun drawn from the onset of the stop) shot the man. He meant to kill him. A man who was sitting in his car, in the driver’s seat, was not handling a weapon, had alerted the officer to the presence of the weapon. A man who had two small children in the backseat of his car, and his partner in the passenger seat. Apparently, he was not a good guy.
What the HELL are we supposed to do with that? This keeps happening over, and over, and over again. I repeat: what the HELL are we supposed to do with that? Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot. Just comply. Teach your children to comply, and follow the law, and they will be ok. If people would have just followed the law and complied with the officers, they would be alive right now. It’s their fault. You can’t blame the officers. That’s what the Elizaebth City NC D.A. said, when he declared the killing of Andrew Brown, Jr. a justified shooting. Nothing to see here. He should have just complied, and not tried to flee in his car so that multiple officers had no choice but to empty their magazines on him. In his car. In the driver’s seat. If he had just complied, none of it would have happened.
I wonder if none of it would have happened to Jacob Blake, who fortunately live but is now a paraplegic. He was running away from the officer. He was unarmed, and running AWAY. And he was shot seven times. In the back. Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old girl. Shot four times from behind, because she was advancing with a knife on another teenager who had been threatening her. No threat to the officer in any way, and there was no attempt to de-escalate the situation. Andrew Brown, Jr. was driving away. Daunte’ Wright was unarmed, and trying to drive away. There may be others, but this is probably as much as we can all handle right now.
We’ve been talking about racial equity, in some of the circles I frequent. That’s just dandy. I am thinking I’d rather be talking about how to prevent murder. But how, everyone asks? How can we do that? We don’t know how, everyone screams. But, I think we DO know. Maybe we are just unwilling to do what is necessary.
I happened to find an article about how all of this racial polarization was predicted a while back, during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency. There was a commission, that studied what was going on in the country around race, and they predicted all of this. More importantly, they offered solutions. Nobody really listened. President Johnson was angry that he was affirmed for the great job he was doing around racial affairs. So, the recommendations remained muted, and things continued as they had been, White supremacy largely remained unchallenged. Blacks made gains, but there was so much more to be done.
I think right now, we have to be honest about how far we’re willing to go, how much we’re willing to do. There are some things we’re going to have to acknowledge that we’re just not willing to do. We don’t seem to be willing to share power, we don’t seem to be willing to believe that a worldview of abundance is more productive than one of scarcity, that power and profit are not zero-sum equations. We have to be willing to admit that we don’t know how to do this thing, that we don’t have all the answers, that we maybe possibly just might be wrong. Do we have the courage? Maybe.