Our Real Problem Is White Rage

Edward Wyckoff Williams, Salon, July 15, 2013

If there is no justice, there can be no peace. But in the American South it seems white folks suddenly believe that decorum and charm are a proper response to unspeakable acts of violence and unconscionable injustice.

The day before a jury delivered an acquittal in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger and Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith gave a national press conference to appeal for a peaceful reaction to the verdict—regardless of its outcome.

Eslinger, who is white, said, “We will not tolerate anyone who uses this verdict as an excuse to violate the law.”

The veiled threat of an aggressive police response to imaginary civil unrest belies the very logic that led to Trayvon Martin’s death to begin with. For, you see, African-Americans are never protected or served by the law enforcement apparatus—yet they are always subject to its military might.

Sanford police coyly “tolerated” the actual killing of an unarmed black child, but yet refuse to “tolerate” any anger expressed for the acquittal of his murderer.

This is the new Jim Crow realized.

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This arrogant call to remain calm in the face of such fatal injustice reveals a basic disregard for the humanity of black people. It is this fundamental disconnect—an unwillingness or inability to see African-Americans as fully realized human beings—that allows whites to blindly ignore the need for equal treatment and equal justice.

It is this warped mentality that led George Zimmerman to murder an unarmed child, feel no remorse and say it was “God’s plan.”

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But neither justice nor humanity are colorblind in the eyes of American law. The nation’s sociopolitical consciousness remains plagued by a three-fifths compromise that devalues the lives of black people in general, and black boys and men in particular.

And when the criminal justice system— in the hands, as it was, of two white defense attorneys, two white prosecutors and a mostly white jury presided over by a white judge—choose to disregard the life of an innocent black teenager, it can hardly be a surprising result. Trayvon Martin was profiled not just by Zimmerman on the night he was killed, but by the very people charged with adjudicating justice on behalf of his senseless death.

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Melissa Harris-Perry, on her eponymous MSNBC show, explained this weekend that “race riots” is a biased term that dismisses the underlying calls for justice, which are often the primary purpose for protests by black and brown people. She highlighted the key fact that in America’s history the worst “race riots” featured violent attacks perpetrated by whites against blacks: The Tulsa race riot of 1921 and the Rosewood, Fla., riots of 1923.

In Tulsa, a mob of armed white men charged into a black neighborhood, burning homes, killing over 300 victims and leaving an estimated 8,000 people homeless. In Rosewood, a series of lynchings escalated into hundreds of angry white rioters killing an unknown number of black citizens and leaving the entire town in waste.

Yet white rage is never articulated by America’s law enforcement as a reason to fear or strategically organize against. White males aren’t stopped by police in disproportionate numbers nor frisked before entering movie theaters and first-grade classrooms. But there are many angry white people out there.

The image of a threatening black male prevails in the minds of white prosecutors, juries and average citizens alike—and the Zimmerman verdict will only serve to solidify that concept and embolden like-minded vigilantes to behave recklessly and act with impunity against the lives, bodies and souls of black folks.

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What words written here can suffice to argue on behalf of an innocent dead child, as his murderer walks free — absolved by the system that failed to hold him responsible from the very beginning? The very logic that precipitated Trayvon’s death and rendered jurisprudence to justify his killing reflects the misguided principles at the heart of Zimmerman’s defense: that this black boy had no right to live.

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