Thursday, April 22, 2021

It's Too Late For Justice

     We need to remember this: George Floyd wasn't a sacrificial lamb or a martyr or a symbol, He was made into one through sociopathic neglect and disregard for his life. He was transformed into these things by a whole world that had demanded justice. He was, first and foremost, a loving father. It was far too late for justice. Justice would've required that George Floyd returned to his family. But it's never too late for accountability. And on Tuesday, we got it. 

     But even accountability, with its stutter-step pace, is an erstwhile thing, a salve placed reluctantly on the bruised black skin of a nation which efficacy often, if not always, depends not so much upon a variety of factors having to do with justice or accountability as much as the ratings it generates or the real and virtual ink devoted to it. Human outrage spilling out on the streets. Human outrage, like justice and accountability, is a subjective, capricious, unpredictable thing.

     I have two biracial sons. The oldest turned 29 on the 16th and, when his younger brother had joined him on this planet two years later, I found I had two dogs in the fight. For going on 27 years, I've had two kids to worry about and it isn't just the garden variety worry with which all parents contend (which is draining enough) but my sons look black. Their mother was a very dark-skinned African American, so it only stood to reason that, even with an Irish father, they could pass for black.

     To judge by the experiences of the younger one, the one who'd gone to the Floyd protests in Boston last June, twice, that's how the world perceives him. That's the prism the world uses. White people don't look at people like my son as another person but through the prism of skin color. And the only colors that prism spits out are black and white.

     When the older one came into the world in 1992 and the younger in 1994, I could afford to look optimistically to the day when, to use Dr. King's phrases, they'd be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character, that the moral arc of the universe would be bent ever more toward justice.

     Well, that day is now. And weeks-long ordeals like the Derek Chauvin trial have become a grim necessity in the latter-day United States, one that is all too often denied grieving black families like George Floyd's. Perhaps using white privilege I never thought I had, I'd sunnily assumed in the early 90s that my people would do the right thing and that by the time they became grown men, my sons would never have to worry about becoming the next Rodney King.

     That day is today and now I, and all of us old enough to do so, need to compare what it was like for African Americans during the Civil Rights struggle in the early to mid 60s to what we're seeing now.

     And there really isn't any daylight or it's a sliver too small to see.

     Those of us old-timers don't need the archival photos and 16 mm file films to remind us of those dark days. We saw it in real time, on our parents' black and white TVs with the rabbit ears before which we'd eat our TV dinners on trays or coffee tables. Even if we were still too young to make much sense of what we were seeing, I'd like to think that many of us, including anyone reading this, got the queasy sense that whatever was happening shouldn't have been.

     We'd seen German Shepherds being sicced on black people, black people getting pummeled with fire hoses. Black churches blown up, little black girls dying in them or getting escorted to school by white US Marshals.

     And yet it seemed no ever went to trial for these atrocities. Where was the logical followup?

     We're not logical. We're the United States. We don't do logic. If we did, we never would've had an agrarian-based economy that was predicated for centuries on slave labor, a legal tender that was based until the early 70s on a precious metal which value fluctuates wildly from day to day. If we did logic, black people would've been allowed to vote instead of being valued as mere property hardly higher than beasts of burden and women would've also been given the right to vote long before 1920.

     If we did logic, the moral arc of the universe, as Dr. King promised us, would continue bending in the direction of justice without obstruction, without cease. But that's not the way it had worked out, had it?

     We white people were allowed to continue thinking in our safe little world that the Civil Rights struggle was still viable and still making important gains. But in reality, when Dr. King was shot in April 1968, that bullet also had taken out the heart of the Civil Rights movement. It was turning into an invisible shambles and we couldn't, or wouldn't, see it.

     And now here we are. A black man was murdered in broad daylight on Memorial Day last year in Minneapolis and the world burst into flames. But even a slam dunk case against his murderer wasn't looked at as a slam dunk case until the judge read the three guilty verdicts. And even now, with the memory of Derek Chauvin led away in handcuffs as he should have been still fresh in our minds, we still worry the convictions will be overturned on appeal.

     So, this is the world into which I'd brought my children, now far beyond an age at which white cops begin to see other black males as a threat to their lives and their way of life. Every time a black person is killed without clear and just cause, I feel as if I've led two innocent boys into a dark wood booby-trapped with bear traps.

     It's far too late for justice. And logic? Again, this is the United States. That ship never even docked much less done sailed. All we have is its grim cousin, Accountability, a palimpsest of justice, always arriving after the fact, after the wakes, after the memorial services, after the funerals.

     We've never had less of a reason to hope than we do now. Nor is there more of a need for it than now.


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