Point of View Columns

A Matter of Life and Death

It should come as no surprise that there is not much new in this New Year. After all stubbornness is as much a part of the human condition as occasional genius, and neither feature is observant of the calendar.

Which brings us to the societal conflagration in America, most recently occasioned by the tragedies in Cleveland, Ferguson and Staten Island, but the embers of this particular inferno have been smoldering for centuries. The absolute need and desire for enforcement of the law in communities of all color has been in regular conflict with the underlying history of government sanctioned brutality against people of color in this country.

A thorough understanding reveals serious stains and scars on the glorious image that has misinformed and misguided us for centuries. From the Black Codes of the 1600’s to the March of Tears and the Dred Scott decision and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1800’s to genocide in Tulsa and Rosewood and lynching sanctioned by legal inaction in the first half of the 20th century, there are real reasons why people of color are wary of law enforcement even as its necessity is recognized.

That is why it is logical, reasonable and rational for Americans of all colors to be outraged over the legal whitewashing of the lethal encounters with the police that occurred after the police homicides in Ferguson and Staten Island. There is no reason but racism that makes it plausible for every person of color to fear that any encounter with the police, no matter how innocuous, can have fatal results.

Nevertheless, there is a one ton gorilla standing in the crowds that protest racially tinged homicides that are accompanied by a badge. The outrage and disgust and demands for institutional and cultural changes in this country arise when there is a lethal outcome from an encounter between white police officers and victims of color.

The one ton gorilla stands by quietly as the marches and rallies and “die-ins” proliferate. The one ton gorilla can afford to be quiet because as long as it stays quiet it is seemingly invisible to the protestors who vociferously call for an end to the violation of human rights. The one ton gorilla is quiet because this simian giant represents the ongoing death of black Americans by guns in the hands of black Americans.

The one ton gorilla is ignored for reasons that defy logic or reality. More black people die at the hands of black people than by reason of racist law enforcement. If police were killing black people at the rate that black people kill black people there would be justifiable cries of “genocide”. Yet, a black person killing black people does not evoke a similar response.

In the sad aftermath of another sad murder, some candles are lit, there might be a march or two, but the outrage and disgust are strikingly absent. We are told that unemployment, absence of fathers, poor education somehow justifies the extinguishing of the life of another human being.

We also find that there is a glorification of a culture of violence and killing that is found in too many videos, songs and movies. And the promoters of that culture are idolized and imitated, leading to…………more violence and killing. And as the cycle spins the one ton gorilla sits silently and invisible.

There is no sense in arguing which death is worse….death by badge or death by thug. The victim is dead, the family is bereft and we are all lessened by the needless loss of life.

There is also no sense in ignoring the one ton gorilla.


3 thoughts on “A Matter of Life and Death

  1. Jerry Hathaway says:

    I am glad someone is raising this issue. I grew up in Philadelphia in the 60’s and early 70’s. At that time, gang violence was atrocious, and there were about 40+ gang murders each year, almost all black gang members of one gang, killing a black gang member of another gang. In the early 1970’s, I was then a teenager, and I was involved with a human relations workshop, called The Fellowship Farm, with a related project called Woodrock, located in Pottstown, PA, a bit outside of Philadelphia.

    The Black Panthers assembled leaders of the various warring gangs at The Fellowship Farm (I was the white lifeguard at the pool), and there was talking of some sense. Separately, an organization called the House of Umoja regularly brought within Philadelphia leaders of gangs together, culminating in a conference in early 1974 attended by 500 members of different gangs which was called “No Gang War in ’74.” Gang deaths plummeted after those events.

    These efforts were grassroots, and not at all instigated by any elected official.

  2. Clifton D. Berry says:

    Excellent article. I appreciate the historic context you bring which is all important. As I think about the subject I wonder if any research has been done of other “people groups” and the extent to which this phenomenon exists in other cultures. Blacks in America are unique in that we are a people forged to be a people by hardship and by a process designed to degrade us individually and as a group. Could it be that the “normal” constraints against self destruction within a culture formed by ethnicity or nationality or religion are missing from those formed by hardship? This is not my conclusion but your article begs the question.
    Clifton D. Berry

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