Until now, I have chosen not to write about the fourteen-year-old boy who was beaten and kicked to death by a group of White men January 6th in a so-called "boot camp" (how apropos!) in Bay County, Florida. I have also chosen not to write about the rape of an African-American dancer at a "party" in Durham, North Carolina, March 13th, where members of the Duke University lacrosse team were unwinding after a grueling week of being...well...whoever it is men like that perceive themselves to be.
Initially, of course, the fourteen-year-old boy, whose name was Martin Lee Anderson, was said to have died of sickle cell complications--after the beating that was (fortunately) caught on videotape. (Just how stupid do you have to be, one might wonder, to beat and kick a child to death in a group in front of a camera you unquestionably know exists?) And initially, of course, the rape victim--a young single mother of two who pays for her college courses dancing at parties (which is not as wildly uncommon as one would imagine)--was raped again in the media.
Some people in polite U.S. society (whatever that is in the face of our national love affair with violence against people of color everywhere in the world, including Florida and North Carolina) look away from these types of incidents, mumbling about young boys that get in trouble and young women who "shouldn't be" at an all-male party. I looked away--as much as I could--because reports like this give me a gut ache. My throat shuts. My tongue swells as if I might vomit. My tears clot. My teeth clench. I really, really want to see somebody get hurt. And that's not a way I like to feel. It never changes anything.
Now we hear that students from three schools are sitting in at the governor's office up in Tallahassee, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are scheduled to show up, and the FDLE chief--the top dog in this matter (hand-chosen by Governor Jeb Bush several years ago and the guy who actually established the particular boot camp in question, interestingly enough)--has stepped down. Also, we hear that, in spite of the fact that DNA tests ostensibly did not implicate the guys on the team, the coach has been fired, the remainder of the season scrapped, and two of the players (named Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty--no comment needed, I'm sure) have been arrested and charged with a string of serious crimes. And so we watch it all unfold in the daily news.
But glad as I am that "something's being done" and that it's not being "swept under the rug" on these two occasions, I know this doesn't mean that "progress is being made." It means that for whatever reason, these two incidents are going to play themselves out in public and something will happen (whatever that is), but a child will still be dead and a young mother's psyche will still be shattered (like to imagine how her final exams will go this coming week?). A mother and father will still be devastated and two children will still be raised by a woman whose fifteen minutes of fame are of her half-clad body on a burning cross. And people of color everywhere in the United States will still be left knowing that on the right day in just the right situation that victim could still be them.
No matter what happens, there's no reason to believe that these are the only similar incidents that have occurred this spring or that these events are not being repeated behind closed doors--and closed minds--even as I write these words. And there's absolutely no reason to believe as yet that rape and murder by European-Americans against helpless victims of color are not going to continue as a direct manifestation of White power in a nation not gone mad, you understand, but mad at its conception.
Europeans created this nation by stealing land from the Native Americans already on it and then making it rich by forcing millions of Africans to work fourteen hour days seven days per week for 250 years--without pay. And now White folks--who pat themselves on the back as if they have done something good--conveniently ignore the obvious: that their history has never really stopped. It continues to crop up like a relentless plague of weeds carrying a poisonous flower. It's indigenous to the culture. And it's going to take more than good intentions--or a couple of high profile legal cases--to get rid of it.
Another high profile case last year involved a European-American dance teacher who left the scene of an accident in Tampa, Florida, in March of 2004 after killing two children and maiming two others (all from one African-American family). When the dust settled, Jennifer Porter wound up with house arrest, probation, and community service work. And after a little sputtering, those still alive went on living. These new cases and the others already in motion and the ones that will be reported tomorrow or the day after that or next month will, more than likely, go more or less the same way. It's painful. It's depressing. And it's wrong.
Every once in a while, some particular case (such as the one in Jasper, Texas, involving White men who dragged an African-American man to his death behind a truck) is resolved, by hook or by crook (no pun intended), in some appropriate legal manner. But that's not the answer to this puzzle. We have to go all the way back to the root cause of our mutual dilemma. It's mutual because, while African-Americans are still being brutalized, European-Americans are staying insane. And which is more monstrous: being a victim or being a perpetrator? The rapists and murderers who actually carry out the crimes are not, repeat, not, repeat, not operating in a vacuum.
Yevtushenko wrote that he was a "Jew" at Babi Yar (the scene of an anti-Semetic massacre in Russia). John F. Kennedy told the German people gathered at their infamous wall that he was a "Berliner." And no matter what I look like, when a person of color is attacked by a White person anywhere in the world, I will see myself as attacked. There is no other way to restore myself to sanity.