About ten years ago, I was taking a group of teenagers to get lunch while volunteering at a local church. There was about six of us packed inside of my sedan– I still don’t know how we got in there, but we did. And although they were teens, each of them were taller and bigger than me, which isn’t saying much since I’m only about “yea” high. Behind us pulled in a white man looking for lunch as well. Apparently, our order took too long and he proceeded to honk his horn and began to yell profanity out his window towards us. “Hurry the f@#% up,” is what I clearly remember being the trigger that set us off and, ultimately, led to a confrontation that almost got the six us of killed. When the teens in my car responded in kind, the white man jumped out of his car and approached us ready to fight: one of him against six of us.
I tell you this story in light of all of the killings we have been seeing of black Americans for this reason: no one ever talks about the events that led to the killings. The narrative always begins with the confrontation but never with who or what created the antagonistic environment which led to the confrontation and which then led to the killings of so many African Americans. The narrative of Trayvon Martin’s death began with the fist fight that led to George Zimmerman pulling out a weapon and shooting him. The narrative of Michael Brown’s death, ostensibly, begins with the physical “confrontation” with Darren Wilson. And now, even with the video of Walter Scott, no one is asking how this broken tail light violation led to his murder. The narrative starts where the video begins.
No one asks why George Zimmerman felt he had the right to harass, stalk, and then confront a teen who was guilty of no crime. No one ever mentions Dorian Johnson’s account of how the confrontation with Darren Wilson began with the officer yelling at them to get the f#@k out of the street. And is anyone even going to ask how one goes from getting pulled over for a broken tail light to being in a confrontation which ultimately gets you killed? Here’s the answer: The reason Trayvon, Michael, and Walter are dead is because they had the nerve to do the same thing me and the five teens almost got killed for that day. We had the nerve to assert our right to be respected and to get angry with someone with a gun who was either looking for a confrontation or was infuriated when we refused to bow down and be subservient.
The Killing Of Blacks In America
I refuse to burden this article with disclaimers about this behavior not being categorical for all of white America because so long as one white American behaves in this manner it is one too many. Trayvon is not only dead because he fought back; he is dead because he demanded to be respected as an equal. Zimmerman had no right to stalk and confront him and Trayvon had the right to stand his ground. Zimmerman created the situation, and when Trayvon did not acquiesce, he killed him. Michael Brown is dead today because he got angry with an infuriated Darren Wilson– mad because those boys didn’t bow down when he told them to “Get the f@#k out of the street.” And the only way I can fathom a police stop for a broken tail light leading to the murder of Walter Scott is if words were exchanged and Scott refused to cower before his murderer–which would have only infuriated the violent police officer more.
Our leaders ignore this. Our media ignores this. Our justice system doesn’t even consider this. All our system considers is, if at the moment of confrontation, whether the person who shot the gun feared for his or her life. And in this regard, black people are stripped of our right to be human. We are stripped of our right to get angry when we feel as though we have been mistreated and disrespected. No one cares if little people with Napoleon complexes come to assert their need for domination over a group of people whom they feel should be subservient to them. And when they find men and women who refuse to bow down, they kill them. And what does America say about this? It tells black people that we should have complied.
The most painful example of institutionalized racism is the fact that our legal system pays little, if any, regard to this truth–especially when the victim is black and dead. A dead black man can have any narrative necessary created about him. It certainly helps that America is so ready to believe that every black man is a potential thug. This helps them conclude in their minds, without any question, what happened.
True institutionalized racism is the fact that our judicial system allows the narrative to begin in the most convenient of place for the aggressor with no regard to what created the confrontation. True institutionalized racism is the fact that members of the “jury of our peers” suffer from–at best–a fundamental attribution error whenever they determine that a black person was “just violent” with no regard to the situation. True institutionalized racism is the fact that after all this, our system has the unmitigated gall to label the outcome “justice.”
We must stop minimizing these murders to simply being about black and white and we must unpack what that actually means. While there are some who are killed simply because their skin color is black, most of the cases we are seeing are deeper than that. We are being killed because we are black and because we refuse to be subservient to angry white men who feel they should have authority over us. We are being killed because we are not cowering to the demands of small people with guns who want to be free to speak to us in any manner they wish. We are being killed because we have the nerve to “declare our right on this earth to be [men], to be human beings, [and] to be respected as human beings.”
This is what no one is talking about. But now, maybe we can.