(Opinion) Once again we revisit the term “post racial” as was most famously coined by President Barack Obama when he won his first bid for election to become the first known person of African descent to becoming president of the United States. Man, I sure wished that were true and, as Black bodies and sinew continue to oil the cogs of industrialized racism in America, the end to racism and all of its vestiges are my silent prayer each night before I doze into a slumber.
Alas, with each morning I awaken to my sip my morning coffee, poring over the cable news networks and the blogosphere to see what my daily assignment will be, racism rears it's ugly head. Though instances of racism have often populated my news sources since my career began back in the 1990s, it appears to be hitting the news at an increasing rate. But, as a man whose family history can easily be traced to the Reconstruction Era, I know full well that institutionalized racism, and interpersonal racism, have never gone anywhere. However, individuals who wished to impose their views on race upon others simply became more nuanced at keeping them under wraps or disguising their racism as something else altogether.
The guise of law enforcement is easily the most frequently used modern form of lynching. So, according to data released by the New York Times, the last “traditional” lynching in the United States occurred in 1950. However, I can still recall the horrendous details surrounding the horrid, humiliating death of James Byrd, Jr. in 1995 when his “friends”, two of which were white supremacists, dragged this Black man to his death by chaining him to a pickup truck speeding down a country road.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a lynching as the killing of a person, especially by hanging, for an alleged offense with a death penalty being the foregone conclusion whether the alleged defendant has been tried or not.
Though Byrd’s death was indeed gruesome and disrespectful, aside from three racists murdering a Black man, it wasn’t the literal definition of a lynching. But that is what it has been described as. What is often lacking when many in the media address lynchings in the contemporary space is the fact that the vast majority of the killings featured citizens taking the law into their own hands, even after the victims were exonerated by a court of law.
In many instances, law enforcement officials were complicit in the often circus-like atmosphere of lynchings by detaining Black men under the guise of protection, then releasing them into an area where the victim could easily be captured by those wishing to make his death into a spectacle.
Modern lynchings aren’t called lynchings at all, but the ensuing media and television spectacle remains the same. These days we use code words like “unarmed” and “police involved” to try to differentiate it from that ugly word and make it seem as if it’s an issue of Black people versus the police. That’s a far easier, and lazier, news story to sell than depicting the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Jr.,John Crawford III and countless others as being indicative of historically hostile stance that law enforcement, and others who claim to be acting in the best interests of law enforcement, have taken against racial and ethnic minorities, but perfected as a tool of terrorism and subjugation against Black people.
Even well-meaning members of the media feed into this at times when using terms like “unarmed Black man” to describe these modern day lynch victims when such a term alludes to a Black man’s default state as being “armed” when the fact is that Black households have a far lower gun per household rate than the rest of the country-trailing White American households by a two-to-one margin. It also leads one to believe that ANYONE who is considered armed should be gunned down on sight, like young Tamir Rice was in Cleveland, Ohio. The only problem is, the eyes are attached to the brain. Preconceived notions allow the brain to lie to the eyes as to the nature of a threat. Tamir had a toy, as did Mr. Crawford.
On March 11, I wrote an article titled Xenophobia and Racism highlighting several instances in which armed White males brandished firearms, threatened law enforcement, and lived to tell about it. Young Mr. Rice was carrying a toy but was killed on the spot. So, egregious in the execution of the alleged threat, A Cleveland Police Officer actually fired the fatal shots immediately after departing from a moving vehicle. No moment to make sure he’s seeing what he thinks he’s seeing, no attempt to communicate with him, little remorse for him after he was struck. Another young Black male’s flesh and reputation devoured by the system.
When we look at the numbers, the traditional form of lynching in the United States appears to have never gone away. Instead, a grim transmogrification occurred that skewed the reality of institutionalized racism in America.
On the surface it appears as though lynchings have become nonexistent. But those duties were outlawed for usage by the citizenry and reserved for the sole use of law enforcement and its deputized and non-deputized agents.
So, these numbers will never show up in any study on racial violence in America because the offending actions have been legitimized by the state and buffeted by the overarching belief that Black people are less deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than others.
On March 4, the Department of Justice released its findings on the diabolical manner in which the Ferguson Police Department victimized its Black citizens for decades by using them as a cash resource for the municipality by nickel-and-diming folks to death with jaywalking tickets, searching of vehicles, court dates, legal fees-causing an air of distrust that permeates the very essence of the entire area.
At the time many writers and reporters said that similar investigations needed to be done in a major metropolitan area and that the findings would make Ferguson’s maleficence look like child’s play. That has to be the biggest underestimate of a phenomenon since Michael Jordan got cut from his high school varsity basketball team.
According to the Philly PD report, Philadelphia’s so-called Finest shot 400 people over the 7-year span between January 2007 to December 2013. They also shot and killed 59 unarmed people. Half of those, according to the report, involved officers who misidentified a phone, a gesture or other ambiguous movement as a threat. Those killings fit the traditional definition of a lynching as described above. However, it is rare that you will see anyone call these shootings lynchings, but that’s exactly what they are. The only difference being the manner in which these unfortunate souls are dispatched.
Unlike Ferguson, Philadelphia Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey actually asked for the DOJ investigation and reportedly told the Philadelphia Inquirer that many of the suggestions made in the report, including additional training protocols, have already been implemented. However, this writer is very skeptical about the effectiveness of any protocol that would try to train away racism, especially the institutional kind.
This is the only malady that I know in which you may simply have to kill the patient to prevent it from infecting others. In order to completely stamp out institutionalized racism in Ferguson, Philly and beyond, these entities need to be completely dismantled and rebuilt from the bottom up. A painful, arduous mission, indeed. So much so that most Americans, Black and White, would balk at such a measure. So, we’ll all just fold our hands, hope that the sly fox implements his own reforms and protocols to curtail is own ravenous behavior. But we chickens are like “Oh, hell naw" at the next blatantly racist incident they try to explain away as an anomaly.