I came to twitter last night about 20 minutes after the verdict was read. The response, as you might expect, was fast and furious. There was anger, sadness, and resignation-because most people, especially black people, who had been following the trial, were expecting acquittal. This was in large part to the high burden of proof that a guilty verdict would have required. It is important to remember that the only reason that there was a trial is because of serious protests. As Andrew Cohen writes there are real limitations to the court system-regardless of the case or racial overtones. Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that as unpleasant as the reality is, the jurors did not have much of a choice.
But I feel safe in saying that even for those who predicted it, is still comes as harsh, cruel reminder that for all the allure of idea that we live in a “post-racial” world, where we are treated equally we do not. As many in my twitter feed stated, the (criminal) system did “work”. That the “system” itself is, by design, an instrument of power. People of color are not, and have never been, part of that power. When we talk of “institutional racism” this is an easy example. It is simply the idea that the institutions that make up our civil society were wholly conceived and implemented by white people, usually white people with money. It has only been in the last 50 years or so that PoC (people of color) have been allowed in. Specifically, they had to protest, boycott, put their lives on the line (many did not get those lives back) and raise hell to get those doors to open. Even when those doors were open it has been a relentless fight to stay there, to “prove” they should be there.
It is interesting to note that while many (white) people easily comprehend the idea that we have an economic system that favors the few, that is not “fair”, this does not translate as obviously to the criminal justice system. Broadly speaking it is a certain group of white people who really, really, wanted a guilty verdict, to be able to say the “system worked”. The narrative of “justice for all” is powerful, it is ingrained in the Western psyche-it goes back to the foundations of the West. It is like breathing. It is hard for those of us to who have the privilege of not being targeted for the color of our skin to leave it behind. It has served us well.
But, if we really say we care about humanity, we need to recognize it is killing our brothers and sisters, literally and figuratively. You can pick any criminal statistic you want, any amount of similar cases you like, the evidence is clear. Blackness is a crime. People fighting for prison abolition, reforms of the criminal justice system, wonder why so few white people are not there. It’s very simple, white people live in an alternative universe where the same things that happen to black people don’t happen to white people.
I don’t pretend to know what to do right now. I feel new to this particular fight, I feel right now I need to listen to those who have been on the front lines, those who have had to fight every day just to survive. The 40+ years of indoctrination I have been subjected to are of no help right now. There are many people out there who have been working on these issues; they will not be on CNN or on any television set. They will be where the people without power always are, in the cracks and margins. You can find them if you try. It is my suggestion, to other (white) people, that you try to find these voices, listen to what they have to say. Consider what is going on in your own sphere of influence, and try to imagine something different than your whiteness.