Some will be tempted to stop reading after the first three paragraphs. This would be shortsighted. Get past the discomfort, and immerse yourself in the author’s point.
Oh, and wear your mask when you’re out in public.
Let It Burn, by Robert Jones, Jr. (The Paris Review)
In 2017, I wrote an essay titled “I Don’t Give a Fuck about Justine Damond,” which outlined my perspective on Ms. Damond’s death at the hands of Mohamed Noor, a Minneapolis police officer who also happened to be Somali American and Muslim. My thesis was this: How can I be concerned about a white woman shot and killed by a police officer when there are countless Black people who suffered that fate to the stunning silence and antipathy of the vast majority of white American populace?
The essay was met with the characteristic outrage from white people (but not only white people). They accused me of disrespecting Damond’s memory and being inconsiderate of her family’s feelings. I was also accused of being a hypocrite for not condemning the actions of the cop as I had in previous incidents involving Black victims. Even some of the people closest to me believed that I had crossed a line and thought that I had been too harsh in my assessment and should if not show reverence then certainly remain silent on the matter.
But I could do neither, not with the blood of Black people flowing endlessly in the streets. I insisted that there was a purpose to my position. I had predicted that the outcome of Damond’s death would be unique and that, unlike in the numerous cases in which the murder of a Black person by state agents was considered “justified” and the agents themselves regarded as valiant, the officer who killed Damond wouldn’t have access to the protections or rationalizations that his white compatriots had always been given.
And I was correct.
Without so much as a raised pitchfork, Noor was fired, abandoned by a union that defends even the most egregious actions of its officers. He was swiftly charged, swiftly convicted, and swiftly sentenced to twelve and a half years in prison. And Damond’s family was swiftly compensated, settling for a hefty $20 million from the city of Minneapolis, not at the expense of police forces but at the expense of the taxpayers.
If we are to accept that this is what justice looks like in a penal and punitive nation like the United States of America, the question, for me, is then, why isn’t it applied universally? Why did it take the threat of burning the entire country to ash before the forces of “law and order” would arrest and charge the non-Black (and that’s important to note) police officers caught on camera murdering George Floyd, a Black man? Why are the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, inside her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, still free to murder another day? Police kill Black people at 2.5 times the rate they kill white people. In 2015, for example, more than a hundred unarmed Black people were killed by police, and only four cops were convicted of any crime in those cases. Experts believe police kill Black people at an even higher rate, but since the nation keeps such spotty records, perhaps intentionally, it’s difficult to grasp and easy for some people to dismiss the magnitude.
The answer to these questions is obvious and yet it’s an answer that this country—from the time it was just a patchwork of greedy and insatiable Europeans who pillaged and plundered the unsuspecting Indigenous people of this land until today—refuses to confront:
The United States of America is, by its very nature, anti-Black …