For the second time in seven months, the American justice system has failed to produce justice, demonstrating that it sees color vividly and in high definition.
As the news that Jordan Davis’ killer would not be convicted of murder flooded the airways I sat, familiarly reflective and saddened by the loss of yet another Black life at the hands of a sanctimonious racist, and angry at a justice system that refused to convict a white man for murdering a black boy on the basis of the stereotypical depiction of black males as threatening hoodlums, thugs and criminals. Sadly, this experience is not an isolated one. Largely, the lives of young Black men have never held great value in this country. From birth to untimely death, many of them have been treated as mules for labor, obvious scapegoats, easy targets and disposable–at no consequence to the disposer.
This is why the deaths of 17-year-old Black boys like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin at the hands of vigilantes, and the murder of Black youth on a daily basis across the nation, can be forgotten with the wave of a hand. Calls for justice regarding their murders are often dismissed as cries from overly sensitive people playing the proverbial race card. Yet tragedies like the Newtown murders carry weight because they disturb the image of the ideal white America and draw sympathy over the untimely demise of innocent white children, who are never viewed in the same light as their innocent black male counterparts. Sadly, murders of “threatening” black males at the hands of vigilantes like Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman, or law enforcement officers who patrol the so-called “urban jungles” across the nation, are simply added to a tally.
The failure to convict Michael Dunn of murder only highlights the perceived value of Black life and reinforces the stereotypes, which justify racial animus against Black males, their disenfranchisement, abuse, brutalization and mass incarceration. It further sends a clear message that murdering a Black male can be justified simply on the basis of his being a Black male.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X., Marcus Garvey, Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights and human rights pioneers are rolling over in their graves, bemoaning the fact that while America’s Supreme Court guts the voting rights act of 1965 and attempts to turn back time on gains made through their sacrifice, legislatures across the nation refuse to repeal Stand Your Ground laws, which only emboldens racists to act on their hatred with the same assurance the Ku Klux Klan of old had: that the law will stand behind their despicable actions. We must act now to repeal Stand Your Ground in every state where it exists, challenge the U.S. Department of Justice to file charges for civil rights violations in both the Dunn and Zimmerman cases, and work tirelessly to dismantle racism across the nation.
In so-called “post-racial” America, where black males can be shot down in the streets and their killers pay no price for their murders, we definitely need a change.•
Rev. Swan is president of the Greater Springfield chapter of the NAACP.