How could they? How could we?
I was raised by a racist jerk.
My dad is such a stereotype that people didn’t always believe me when I described him. To this day he regularly throws around the n-word, refers to the latino men who work on his crews as “wetbacks” and “spicks,” refers to any eastern asian-looking person as a “gook” or a “chink,” and so on. He will go on and on about all of the bad qualities he believes each of those groups share, if you let him. It is simply toxic to talk to him. The fact that he also speaks with a pronounced Oklahoma drawl, and that his conversation is peppered with words and phrases people associate with the south is just icing on the redneck cake.
My dad is the kind of racist that is almost too easy to spot. Guys like him make it very easy for the rest of us to pat ourselves on the backs and congratulate ourselves on being more enlightened. Because compared to him we clearly are.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t racist…
I catch myself, sometimes, reacting to someone (because of the color of their skin, certain facial features, or certain accents) that I encounter at random, and I immediately feel guilty. Why can’t I root out these notions that people who look different than me are a threat?
We live in a racist society. We’ve been conditioned to believe all sorts of things about each other based on the color of their skin. We’ve been conditioned so that if we look at a young black man, we don’t see a kid, but a thug. We’re pre-disposed to believe that a young black man is not only capable, but likely to hurt someone. And we’re scared to death of the notion that a police officer would ever shoot someone without a good reason.
No matter how enlightened we may believe we are, no matter how we may convince ourselves we could be open-minded and examine the evidence that is presented in a trial in a detached, reasonable, logical manner, all of that subconscious programming and fear could lead any of us, if we were seated on the jury, to believe the completely implausible story that a black man ran 148 feet after being shot once and then killed himself by jumping in front of a hail of bullets.
I knew how this indictment was going to go. I’ve watched too many cases where, even when we had video showing the young man with his empty hands in the air and he was pumped full of some incomprehensible number of bullets in the back, that the jury couldn’t bring themselves to find the cops guilty.
You don’t even have to be a cop to get away with these murders. Look at the case of the man who shot and killed someone just for pulling into his driveway who got off with a $500 fine. And the fine wasn’t for killing an unarmed young brown-skinned man, it was for discharging a gun inside the city limits!
What’s more infuriating is when people tell me that I don’t have the right to disagree with this verdict. “You weren’t sitting in that jury box.”
But as a responsible citizen, I am obligated to take responsibility for the jury’s verdict. I am allowed to look at the facts that are available. More importantly, I’m allowed to look at the hundreds and thousands of statistics that show a pattern of inequity, that show a pattern of excused deaths, that show a pattern of giving armed white guys a pass for far worse, far more threatening activities. I’m allowed to draw the conclusions from those statistics that the jury was manipulated into letting a cop get away with murder, manipulated into letting an entire police department get away with obstruction of justice (seriously, look at the timeline of how the cop called a couple of his fellow officers, how they let him go home, shower, change his clothes, et cetera, while they made misleading and vague reports about how they “found a body” but failed to mention it was an officer-involved shooting or that they had violated department policy and the law by letting said officer leave the scene with his weapon; look at the logs at the county 9-1-1 center that was trying to contact the Ferguson police about all these phone calls about a shooting, and then compare them to the radio calls out to the officers who were standing over the bloody body and shooing people away from it, telling the dispatcher that they had no idea what the calls could be talking about).
The police did this thing in my name—in our name. The local authorities have overreacted to protests, threatened reporters, tear-gassed innocent people, and pointed machine guns at peaceful protesters in our name. This grand jury has let them get away with another murder in our name. If that doesn’t upset you, if you think it’s reasonable to tell me that I don’t know what really happened, that I can’t substitute my judgement for the cops’, well, that makes you both an idiot, and an accessory to murder.
Just because we’re all at least a little racist, doesn’t mean that we have to sit by and ignore racially-tinged injustice.