Thursday, December 6, 2012
Comfortably Numb. Why I Have Little to Say About the Murder of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry speaks truth to power. Bob Costas's intervention about gun violence puts all of the madness in perspective.
Another young black person was shot and killed by an unhinged white vigilante several weeks ago. I would like to be able to muster the emotions and energy to feel outraged by what happened. I am spent. I have no more to offer following the hunting and killing of Trayvon Martin.
I am not dismissing the crime which occurred in Florida where a white vigilante thug murderer shot and killed a black teenager who was guilty of no more than playing loud music. Part of being a teenager is a rite of passage wherein he or she acts like a self-absorbed jerk. This behavior ought not to be a death sentence.
There is a well-developed vocabulary to describe how black youth live in existential peril. Researchers, social workers, activists and scholars talk about "community disorganization" and the ghetto underclass, the violence of the drug trade, the perils of a "youthocracy" where communities are made to suffer a deficit of impulse control and where no proper role models exist, and of course the prison industrial complex and disparities in sentencing.
As potent as terms such as "niggerization" are, they often obscure the day-to-day realities and risks that come with being young and black in America.
Here, there is a more basic truth in cases such as Jordan Davis' shooting by 45 year old Michael Dunn: black people, and black youth in particular, are forever suspect, criminal, and subject to wanton violence until they prove otherwise. Black youth are considered adults for purposes of imprisonment and violence.
In addition, the American collective conscious is fixated on the dangers posed by black people--and black men in particular. We are "black beast rapists." We are "thugs." We are "super predators." These stereotypes persist both despite and regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Unfortunately, there are young black people who internalize the White Gaze and see themselves through the eyes of Whiteness and white racism. These negative values are internalized; the wages of such choices are death and diminished life outcomes.
The perverseness of the logic which justified Michael Dunn's shooting of Jordan Davis is one that considers the black body as a perpetual threat.
As such, lethal violence is required to control black people because somehow we exist on the fringes of civilization, capable of breaking its chains, boundaries, rules, and norms, spontaneously and without cause at any time.
Black men must also have superpowers because as I discussed in regards to the hunting and murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, hoodies become cloaks of doom and nefarious power when worn by us, and harmless objects in our hands are magically transformed into lethal weapons. Black people must have a mysterious glamour that we can use to confuse the perception of those around us like witches or warlocks. It would seem that we do not have the power to deactivate such abilities. They are curses not blessings.
However, I am at an impasse in regards to how the mass media and "black leaders" decide whose death is worthy of attention and which others are simply statistics on the evening news. Jordan Davis's death, like Trayvon Martin's, resonates because it is a reminder of how in America the historical reality has long been that any given white man can decide to kill a person of color in civil society with little if any consequence.
Yet, there are many dozens of young black people killed every week in this country. Some are knuckleheads. Many are innocents. Most are killed by other young black people. It would seem that the latter have also learned the lesson of Zimmerman and Dunn: black life is cheap.
I have a thought exercise and counter-factual that I would like to propose. What would happen if all Americans took the lives of all young people in this country as a cause of common concern? Are not all lives valuable? What is stopping us from a having a national conversation about preserving all life, of young folks especially, on either side of the colorline?
Why are we unable to discuss the murder epidemic among our First Nations brothers and sisters, rural whites, Latinos, and young black people in one conversation? And then to understand violence as a symptom of a national sickness that all citizens should be invested in correcting?
Would the public's mentality about violence change if the truth were more readily known, that the crime statistics dramatically under-count rates of violence and murder, and do not allow for how innovations in trauma surgery within a country which has been at war (on and off, for almost 70 years) dramatically improved survival rates from gunshot and other types of injuries?
As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy and a million are a statistic. The truism still stands, especially in an era of 24 news which is looking for an easy (and salable) storyline to follow.
I am a secular humanist. Jordan Davis's murder matters because the sanctity of all life and human dignity is important in the Good Society. All crime and murder is a harm to our collective humanity.
In these moments, I just worry that all decent, concerned, and reasonable people are sacrificing an opportunity for shared alliances and concern across lines of class and race by adhering to a narrative which focuses on the race of the victim, as opposed to common issues of human rights and safety in our shared personhood.
Are my worries and concerns misplaced?