Black Power, White Power
Questions never to be answered in the recent shooting in North Charleston: would an American citizen, born and bred, have video-taped what he saw, would he have turned that tape into the police in North Charleston, and what would have happened to that tape once it was in the hands of the local police?
Because the result of this incident in South Carolina is to certify that the worst behavior of any police department in the country has been validated. What people suspected was true is true. What people have seen on film is true. The distrust of policing units vis-à-vis their public has been validated: the idea that any confusion between the public and the police is resolved, generally, in favor of the local police, regardless.
Black people have known this for decades. White people have become comfortable with this for decades. After all, how else do we maintain law and order in a country as big and violent as this one is? The explosions in that tiny park blew apart more than one man’s life and family. The bravery of the young man with the video-machine at long last blew to smithereens the certitude that polite society has long held, and further reinforced the series of beliefs that new citizens here have – America is honest, good, and fair. This from a Dominican barber, idealistic and young.
Standard American reasoning: “He” must have been doing something wrong. Otherwise “he” wouldn’t have been killed. “He” must have been doing something, otherwise why would “he” be running away from the police? “He’s black” and therefore guilty of something. Racial profiling is nothing without the certainty that the profiler will go free. Here’s what we have. A population that cannot trust the people assigned to protect it. A protective unit feeling it is being out-gunned every day, targeted of late by not only urban, lone-wolf terrorists, but by the millions of Americans who are armed with handguns and rifles, legally. Blacks protected by whites, who are not happy with this assignment. Not being happy with this assignment, whites want as little as possible to do with blacks on any human level.
What the release of Mr. Santana’s video-tape has done is blow apart one of the pillars of white, post-restoration certainty that white rules are eternal. In one way, worse, police are convinced they are always under the lens of a magnifying glass. They are seeing cases where juries simply no longer automatically accept the police “version,” the “police video” against the privately held cellphones of passersby. They are feeling surrounded by a sea of weaponry and distrust. They are not happy.
One of the key instances in this story was the agreement between Mr. Scotts’ family and Mr. Santana that if the North Charleston police department continued to present the story as it had done earlier, that this was a defensible act, they would release Santana’s video-tape and that it would have to see and be seen by other eyes.
For 48 hours, the police department stone-walled, as people might have expected. Hour 49 arrived. The tape was passed from hand to hand. Which is to say, without subterfuge, had North Charleston been honest, the entire event would likely have de-escalated, even with a murder charge and trial to follow. That didn’t happen. What has happened is that the worst suspicions of everyone on all sides have been confirmed.
There’s more than murder on the scene here. This event helps explain what white pundits have so long been unwilling to admit. There is a deep sense of frustration and fatalism in the black community about its future. No matter how hard people work, how brilliant they may be, how many sensational discoveries and deeds are chalked up to the black community, the actors in these stories are always, always identified as “black.” Identified this way, the value of what has been achieved is minimized.
Remember that astonishingly embarrassing (but true, for all that) and certainly perceptive question asked of President Obama on a comedy show: “How does it feel to be the last black president of the United States?”
Knowing that the decks are stacked against them, why should blacks trouble to get to a voting place? The result of an election will make no difference to their day-to-day lives. They can march until their ankles melt down to their soles, nothing will change. In time, they themselves – despite decades of internal argument – suspect they’re not as good as whites. Not as talented, as destined for success, as programmed for a long, safe, and productive life.
In time, we – whites – have begun hearing that the blacks have it made. One can’t fire a black employee without complete and endless daily records of behavior maintained. Black women drop children for the governmental assistance they receive. Combine food stamps, welfare, Medicaid and you have a happy black family. Blacks are taking the places reserved for bright white students in educational institutions. Blacks lie instinctively, steal reflexively, refuse honest work. Any of this sound familiar?
Here once more, the issue underneath, like the shark in “Jaws,” is the easy availability of guns. Here, once more, the NRA has been assisted by the press is disguising this. Not one commentary read has mentioned the NRA.
Whew! Home free again!
Then again, this may be the first and clearest sign that the scales are changing. Are cellphones becoming the new handgun? Can the NRA actually stand up against eye-witness home-videos of crimes committed with firearms? What has seemed to be a question of black power versus white power is becoming a question of whose camera do you believe? That of the police department, or that of a passerby?
As we progress through the 21st century, where in fact does power lie? It’s certainly worth thinking about.
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
This is not question of black versus white, or ranchers versus farmers.
It is a question of national magnitude, before it becomes a question of black and white.