Today, I wept.
I was already reeling from the report that a young, white, wealthy teen boy received probation after being convicted of vehicular homicide in an accident which resulted in the deaths of four people. I have been studying the phenomenon of mass incarceration, a reality which is responsible for literally thousands of young blacks being imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses, virtually ruining their lives forever. That this young white kid could and did get off, on the premise that he suffers from “affluenza,” i.e., his wealthy parents virtually let him get away with everything.
In an article in TIME Magazine, the reporter wrote that a psychologist, testifying for the defense, said, “He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Gary Miller, a psychologist assigned to Couch said in court. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”( http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/12/12/the-affluenza-defense-judge-rules-rich-kids-rich-kid-ness-makes-him-not-liable-for-deadly-drunk-driving-accident/)
The judge bought the defense argument and this kid is out of jail.
As I was struggling to get through the disgust and repulsion that I felt at that situation, I got the news flash on my phone that the ex- New Orleans police officer who was convicted of murdering an unarmed black man, Henry Glover, following Hurricane Katrina, has now been acquitted. Ex-cop David Warren will be home for the holidays.
The story is always the same with these killings: Warren said he thought his life was in danger because he thought he saw a gun in Glover’s hand as he and another man ran toward police officers, including Warren. Glover was not armed. To add insult to injury, Glover’s body was burned in a car by another officer.
But Warren is free, as is that young, white, rich teen.
I am sick.
The story I read said that Glover’s sister broke down when she heard the verdict acquitting Warren. Her tears are sadness and anger. This justice system, filled with officers, attorneys and prosecutors who apparently don’t care about justice, continues to slap black people in the face. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/acquitted-killing-man-post-hurricane-katrina-mayhem-article-1.1545038)
I keep thinking, “What if that had been my son?” Or, in the case of the young teen, “what if one of my kids had been killed?” Where does one put the grief and the anger at not getting justice. Why is it that this nation continues to elevate some, who are a certain color or who have a certain socio-economic status, and throw other people away? Over and over again, this justice system says to people of color, and to poor people, “You do not matter.”
I am a theologian. I believe in God. But I promise you, this stuff is taking its toll. Why doesn’t God shake the consciousness of people and breathe into them a holy breath that tells them they are assaulting people who are also children of God? Carlyse Stewart, author of Black Spirituality and Black Consciousness, says in that book that the spirituality of black people has been the force that has sustained us in spite of oppression. Black spirituality, he writes, has a soul force that gives black people the ability to exercise “patience while suffering, determination while frustrated, and hope while in despair.” He says African-Americans have the ability to create “their own world and culture within or beyond a world, free to fashion their own values, beliefs and behaviors in response to the larger culture and society.”
That is true; black (and, by extension, I would think, all people of color and poor people as well) people have only been able to exist and maintain sanity in spite of gross injustice, dehumanization and criminalization because a spirit force inside them whispered to them to “hold on and keep fighting.”
But this is the 21st century and this stuff keeps happening. Juries and the justice system keep sending the message that certain people count more than others, that certain deaths matter more than others, and that some people just are not worth treating like dignified human beings.
That young teen who received probation, like George Zimmerman, probably walks arrogantly now, thinking, as I feel Zimmerman did, that he can do whatever he wants. His “affluenza” entitles him …to do whatever he wants …precisely what the psychologist says his parents taught him.
Officer Warren is probably walking arrogantly as well, standing on his claim that he was “afraid for his life.”
Cut me a break.
With all these officers killing unarmed black people, can’t someone, won’t someone say, “something is wrong here?” Doesn’t anyone have enough God in him or her to say, “enough!”?
I weep. Why does an individual weep, and, larger than that, why does a people weep?
Because they are ignored and dehumanized.
They are treated as dreams, deferred.
A candid observation …