By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
I am uncomfortable as we enter into the jury deliberation phase of the George Floyd trial.
Although some say the evidence is compelling and means the case is a “slam-dunk,” they are forgetting that there have been other cases – too many to mention – where the evidence was also “compelling.”
Remember Rodney King. Remember how his brutal beating by police officers was caught on tape, and how those officers were acquitted of wrongdoing.
At the core of my discomfort is a general distrust of the American justice system. It has rarely been concerned with making sure Black people get justice. Our lives have not mattered precisely because at the core of those in law enforcement and in the justice system is a belief that Black people are not fully human. As an example, Kehinde Andrews noted in his book The New Age of Empire that one of the world’s most respected thinkers, Immanuel Kant, believed that Black people were “incapable of being fully and rationally human.”
Attached to this widespread undercurrent of belief of the non-humanness of Black people is the belief that Black people are inherently bad, and that whatever treatment we get from law enforcement is justified. The criminalization of Black people began during the days of slavery and was perpetuated during Reconstruction. Black people could be and were arrested for any reason so that our labor could be tapped and used to build the American Empire.
So, there is no reassurance for me that the jury in the Floyd trial will bring back a guilty verdict. Even as his trial has gone on, White police officers have continued their assault on unarmed people, mostly Black: Adam Toledo, U.S. Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario and Duante Wright are the names that have most recently saturated news cycles.
It feels sometimes like the killing of Black and Brown people is an offshoot of the paranoia carried by many Whites that America has become and is continuing to become too Brown. White opposition to immigration – not just in this country but all over the world – is largely due to a resentment of the vast numbers of Brown people spilling out of their countries into countries where citizens would prefer that they just go away – and stay away.
White supremacy thinking has produced a monster. The people who adhere to its tenets seem incapable as well as unwilling to admit that all human beings have worth. If the truth be told, white supremacist thinking is as much a feature of sexism and classism as well, although we don’t talk about it as much. White supremacists believe in the supremacy of White men of means. They pull in poor White people so as to prevent the possibility of them joining with Black and Brown people in the fight for human dignity, equity and economic parity. They rest on their whiteness to guide them, but are resentful – as they have always been – when they see or feel that Black and Brown people are getting too much attention, and that the gains of Black and Brown people means a loss for Whites.
So, they have a vested interest in helping to keep the influence and presence of Black people at bay. If Derek Chauvin is acquitted, neither I nor the Black community will be surprised; it will be yet another hit to spirits that have already been bleeding because of continued hits on our spirits and emotions. It’s been hundreds of years of assault, and we have borne the lash of the whip of white supremacy while yet holding on and keeping on.
But our backs are tattered, even as masses of angry and resentful White mobs rise up, willing to inflict more lashes as they work to overturn this democracy, which they blame for the progress Black people have made in spite of their perpetual violence and unfairness.
In 1831, sociologist, historian and political theorist Alexis deTocqueville visited America to study our prisons and our democracy. While he found much about our democracy to praise, he found the relationship between Black and White people deeply troubling and said that the prejudice between the two groups was “immovable.”
He was right. Black people have made progress, but the battle for full humanity in this country has always involved and included violence meted out by angry White people. Mobs of angry White men, which have almost included members of law enforcement and the justice system, have attacked Black people with impunity and have largely gotten away with it. The mobs get their victories and then retreat for a bit, but they have never disappeared.
It feels like we are at a critical flashpoint. We would do well to strategize what we will do and how we will do it should a man named Derek Chauvin walk free. The immovable prejudice of White America sits with us all, and hovers over us.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Her latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America is available at all booksellers. Contact her at email@example.com.