I’m running out of words.
I feel like I’m strapped in a chair, gagged and bound, eyes propped open, as in “A Clockwork Orange“, condemned to watch the same horror movie over and over again in a theater full of gagged and bound black men. I can’t scream, I can’t turn away, and I can’t run. All I can do is…
Because we all know this will happen again. Just like we know there will be another mass shooting. And we know that we will cry, and moan, and we know that there will be more outrage and disbelief. If President Barack Obama is still in office when it happens, then we know he will (once again) appear on TV to talk about what a terrible thing this is that has happened, and he will try to figure out the best way to weave his words in and out of the political minefield. Because if he is too sympathetic to the families of murdered black people, then white police officers will rise up in anger that the (black) President of the United States doesn’t appreciate the sacrifice they make every day to keep (mostly white) communities safe. But if Obama is too sympathetic to the very real challenges and dangers endured by police officers, then black people will think he’s pandering to the cops at a time when we need him to be more of a ‘brother’ and less of a Head of State.
Obama is running out of words too. Because Obama, like all black men of a certain age, remembers. And no, Obama cannot save us.
Before Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, both of whom were killed by police officers within the brief span of 48 hours since Wednesday, there have been so many more whose names never made the news or who have been practically forgotten. Many point to the killing of Trayvon Martin, which essentially spawned the Black Lives Matter movement, as a starting point to trace the heightened awareness of racial injustice that lingers in America. But some of us remember Rodney King, and Abner Louima, and Mark Clark, and Fred Hampton, and Emmett Till, and (add your friend and/or family member here), and so many others whose trail of blood traces all the way back to the first slave ships.
So yes. This is a pattern. This country wasn’t just built on the backs of black slave labor, it’s corrupted heart and spirit was fueled by the hatred harbored by the majority white population for those slaves as well as others who were not sufficiently white. White men in power have been extinguishing black lives with impunity ever since the first black life was tossed ashore in what was eventually to become the most powerful nation on Earth. Just think, for a moment, how it got that way.
Because, in the end, it is all about power isn’t it? Who has it, and who does not.
Which, in a meandering sort of way, brings me to the sniper killing of five Dallas police officers which occurred Thursday evening around 9 p.m. At first there was scant information about the identity of the sniper, leading some friends of mine to speculate that the guy was probably a white man trying to stir up a race war. Because how often do we ever hear about a black sniper wearing body armor, right?
But then I heard the report come out on WDET as I was driving to work that not only was this guy a black sniper, but he was a black sniper who made plain his intention to kill white people, especially police officers, because he was so upset about the police killings. The murder of the police officers was painful enough all by itself, but then I heard that the Dallas police force had actually been making huge strides in community policing in recent years. The violent crime rate there has dropped precipitously, according to what I heard on the news, and so has the rate of police violence against citizens. As a matter of fact, prior to the sniper shooting, the Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas was reported to be largely peaceful, and there was even positive interaction between the protesters and the police.
Then the shots rang out and everything went twisted.
The obvious question is why did this happen in Dallas, where the police are actually making strong efforts to do policing the right way?
Because that’s the nature of pent-up rage, that’s why. Once the pot boils over, it’s very difficult to tell the contents exactly where to spill. Whatever is in its path gets hit. That sniper was as wrong as wrong can be, and what he did was a horrible thing. No one in their right mind would ever condone such an act, and their families are deserving of all sympathy. But it wasn’t all that long ago when President John F. Kennedy was also assassinated. Also in Dallas, albeit a very different Dallas. At the time, Malcolm X got himself in trouble with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad when his response to such a profound national tragedy was to say that the chickens have come home to roost.
And so, it appears, they have. All over again.