“A Few Bad Apples”
I haven’t published The Blast since May 21st, when we were still only concerned with the global pandemic. Since Memorial Day, of course, the news has been dominated by the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police force --- almost to the exclusion of covering the pandemic. Not that the Floyd story, and its subsequent protests should not be covered extensively --- I only question whether it should be covered exclusively, particularly while “sheltering” protocols are being eased and there is serious danger of a second surge of this First Phase of the virus. But that’s a different story about the media and I want to focus on an aspect of the Floyd case that I don’t believe is being shown by the media for what it is. On Sunday, May 31st, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien was on Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union” and claimed he did not believe there was “systemic racism” in the United States. Worse, he used the lame excuse that it is a “few bad apples” who are giving “99.9%” of law enforcement officers a bad name.
We have heard this “few bad apples” excuse since time immemorial and it still doesn’t hold water. What I find particularly interesting, though, is that no one thinks to claim that when violent rioting, vandalism, and illegal looting occur --- even though it is clearly by a small percentage of the tens of thousands of peaceful protestors --- NO ONE claims these rioters, vandals, and looters are “a few bad apples.” Indeed, the Media --- which has conveniently stopped covering the pandemic for the higher ratings of 24/7 protest coverage --- never even suggests that the rioters/vandals/looters are simply “a few bad apples.” So, while Robert O’Brien claims 99.9% of law enforcement officers are not part of a systemic racist system, NO ONE is noting that 99.9% of the protestors are peaceful and demanding equal rights for ALL Americans. Isn’t that simply an extension of the institutional, systemic racism that is our culture?
I have not written about the George Floyd murder because I believe my views are predictable, given that I have written about this issue so many times and in so many ways. This is NOT a new story --- it is only the latest that White America has witnessed in the last decade, since cell phone cameras and police body-cams have provided only the slightest insight into the terrorism that besets people of color on a daily basis in this nation --- and has for centuries! I won’t belabor the arguments I have presented time and again. Suffice it to say that we do not have a “Black Person Problem” in the United States --- we have a White Person Problem. A culture and society that, from its start in 1619, was designed to benefit one group over another --- at the expense of “the Other,” at the criminalization of “the Other.” We know that the myth that was --- and is --- sold to poor Whites is: “at least you’re not a N****r.” As waves of immigrants came to this country over the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century, they were instructed to “assimilate,” so they could be considered “White,” if they played the game correctly --- and accepted the racist principle that they see Black and Red and Brown and Yellow People as “less than,” as “dangerous,” as “savage,” as “untrustworthy.” THAT’S what Systemic Racism is about. It is not the blatant racism of Skinheads or Neo-Nazis --- it is the subtle, insidious curse that is inbred --- that leads “liberal” white people to (at the very least) cross the street when they see a young Black man (or men) coming toward them at night. It is the system that leads a young White woman to believe that she can use “trigger” terms calling 911 and claiming a bird-watching Black man is threatening her. THAT’S SYSTEMIC RACISM --- and we are ALL victims of it.
And the Media does not help in changing the system! Melanye Price noted in today’s New York Times:
These videos are fodder for ratings, clicks and increased trauma as much as rage. What is the efficacy of rampant sharing? These images have not resulted in substantial changes to police culture or policy. A vast majority of offending officers are not convicted. It seems as though the only penalties for false 911 reports are doled out by #BlackTwitter and private employers. These videos have not resulted in the development of new policing strategies that make people of color feel safe. Nor have they persuaded most white viewers that these horrific experiences are routine in minority communities.
We have watched Eric Garner gasp “I can’t breathe,” we have seen Philando Castile shot to death in his car. In the past few weeks we saw Ahmaud Arbery hunted down by self-appointed White “neighborhood watchmen.” Seeing what is going on doesn’t seem to make a difference. Jamil Smith wrote in The New Republic:
It seems sickly fitting that those killed by police today are no longer transformed into the anointed or the condemned, but, thanks to more advanced and available technology, they become hashtags. With a flood of more videotaped killings, a hashtag seems a brutally meager epitaph, a mere declaration that a victim of police violence was once alive, human, and didn't merit having her or his life stolen.
Unfortunately, the increased visibility of trauma and death at the hands of cops isn't doing as much as it should be. The legacy of our increased exposure to black death has merely been the deadening of our collective senses.
The SYSTEM needs to change --- a cry that has rung out for over half a century. These latest protests have once again trained a spotlight on the issues that were clearly articulated in the Kerner Commission Report of 1968. It is not that we don’t know the system is racist. It’s not even that we don’t know what it would take to begin to rectify the myriad problems (there are “policy proposals” galore, dating back to the late 1960’s). What is lacking is the political will --- the acceptance by a majority of White people to admit that the system is, indeed, institutionally racist. We need to create a legitimate and powerful Peace and Reconciliation Movement that elicits sustained political, social, and cultural energy before we ever see any genuine changes.
Enough with the “few bad apples,” be they police or rioters/vandals/looters. There is an orchard that is befouled here and needs prolonged, serious attention.
The question for each of us is: what are you willing to do to genuinely make a difference?