Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.
“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”
This Thanksgiving, my country is telling me to be thankful that I’m white. Twenty-four hours ago, a white prosecutor took to a podium in a black city and made his message clear. A white prosecutor who is the son of a white police officer. A white prosecutor who, in his 24 years as the people of St. Louis County’s sworn enforcer of the law, has never recommended charges against a single police officer. So what does he have to tell us? The jury will not indict. In so many words, be thankful that you’re white.
On every channel and every newspaper above the fold, the headline is the same. Be thankful that you’re white. I’m supposed to sit down at the table across from my white grandparents and white parents, my white brothers and white sisters, my white friends and white neighbors, and breathe a collective sigh of relief, because the system is more fair to my race. “Justice was served” – now say it with a straight face.
When we look out the window and see kids playing with toy guns in the street, they all return when we call them in for dinner. When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in a park in Cleveland this past weekend, he was shot dead by cops from ten feet away. He was black.
When my brother walks down the stairs in his New York apartment building, imminent death never crosses his mind. When Akai Gurley, an unarmed city employee, father and musician, walked down the stairs of his apartment building in Brooklyn last week, he was killed when a rookie cop shot him in the chest. The two men never even exchanged a word. He died instantly while his girlfriend stood next to him in shock. He was black.
When my friends sold leftover Adderral to other classmates in college (a felony), we all considered it sharing. When Eric Garner sold untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island this past summer (a misdemeanor), he was tackled and put into a chokehold by the NYPD while his hands were raised. His yells of “I can’t breathe” were muffled by a scrum of tackling officers and he was murdered within seconds. He was black. Another child’s last memory of their father will be a shaky YouTube video of him being murdered by law enforcement.
When I was a teenager and felt like I needed to escape, I would sneak out of the house and go on walks at night. I would wear a hoodie and listen to music on my cd player. When Trayvon Martin went out for a walk in his neighborhood at night armed with a bag of Skittles, he was murdered by a preying sociopathic vigilante who was ‘standing his ground.’ Trayvon was black.
In so many words, be thankful that you’re white.
Don’t you remember the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Giffords? Jared Loughner walked right up to her at a Tuscon supermarket parking lot and shot her in the head at point-blank range. He then shot and killed six bystanders. As a member of our legislature choked on her own blood, Loughner was arrested by the police. He was unharmed. He was white. Even our most violent criminals can be arrested without police violence.
Have you forgotten the 2012 rampage in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado? James Eagen Holmes entered a showing of Batman and proceeding to fire a shotgun indiscriminately into a packed theater, killing twelve people. Several young men died cradling their girlfriends. Holmes, dressed in tactical gear, was apprehended without incident by police minutes later. He was white. Even our most violent criminals can be arrested without police violence.
You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve forgotten what it is I am supposed to be thankful for. Let’s try this again and maybe I’ll get it right.
Should I be thankful that I can openly carry a military-grade assault rifle in a public park, yet John Crawford III was shot and killed by police within seconds for holding a BB gun in a Walmart two months ago? He was black. And by the way, the BB gun was in the store because it was for sale.
Should I be thankful that no one in my family has ever even stepped foot in a prison, yet approximately 10% of young black men are behind bars?
Should I be thankful that my white LBGTQ friends aren’t senselessly arrested for ‘soliciting prostitution’ when they’re simply walking home from the bus?
Should I be thankful that if my house is broken into while I’m at home, I can call the police and they won’t assume I am the suspect? That they won’t ask for my papers and try to have me deported?
Should I be thankful that not one single judgement based on the color of my skin has made my life more difficult?
No. I should not.
A system facilitated all of this and it’s being sold to us under a brand name – Justice. This Thanksgiving, ask yourself if you’re buying it. Ask your families if they’re actually saying that they’re thankful that they’re white, and if they are, confront them.
IF BLACK LIVES ARE WORTH LESS, THIS SYSTEM IS WORTHLESS.
I tried to imagine how I would feel if, having, God forbid, lost my precious daughter, born three months and ten days before Christina Taylor-Green, somebody offered this charming, tidy, corny vignette to me by way of consolation. I mean, come on! There is no heaven, man. The brunt, the ache and the truth of a child’s death is that he or she will never jump in rain puddles again. That joy was taken from her, and along with it ours in the pleasure of all that splashing. Heaven is pure wishfulness, an imaginary solution to the insoluble problem of the contingency and injustice of life.
But I’ve been chewing these words over since last night, and I’ve decided that, in fact, they were appropriate to a memorial for a child, far more appropriate, certainly, than all that rude hallooing. A literal belief in heaven is not required to grasp the power of that corny wish, to feel the way the idea of heaven inverts in order to express all the more plainly everything—wishes, hopes and happiness—that the grieving parents must now put away, along with one slicker and a pair of rain boots.
This painting of the banks of Lake George by Sanford Gifford was first owned by Edwin Booth, the brother of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin. And it so inspired poet Herman Melville that he wrote a poem about it.
We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.
Civic virtue can include harsh criticism, protest, even civil disobedience. But not violence or its advocacy.
Following her emotional return to the House of Representatives last night to vote in support of the debt deal, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffordsannounced on The Early Show this morning that she will run for re-election in Arizona. The show promptly tweeted the news. The recovery of the 41-year-old representative from Tucson following her gunshot wound by crazed shooter Jared Lee Loughner in January has been closely watched. She was released from the hospital five months after the shooting, staging what appears to be a miraculous recovery. Explaining her vote last night, Giffords said in a statement “I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.”
PHOTO OF THE DAY: Students at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, Ariz., observe the national moment of silence Monday to honor slain classmate Christina Green, who was among the six killed on Saturday. (John Moore/Getty Images)
President Obama in a heartbreaking embrace with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona in the House Chamber shortly before he made his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. Giffords resigned her seat in Congress to concentrate on recovering from her injuries from an assassination attempt last year.