Over the past weekend, as I expected, there were marches in Tampa and St. Petersburg protesting the shooting death of a young black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer. They were almost a copycat of hundreds of others nationwide, with almost identical signs and chants.
One of the signs I saw read, “Black Life Matters.” Really? A more truthful phrase could have been put on a long banner and said, “Black Life Matters, But Only If It’s At The Hands Of A White Person.”
It continues to amaze me how so many black folks can work themselves into a frenzy over the murder of one black person, tragic as it may be, at the hands of a white person, but completely ignore the deaths of thousands of others at the hands of other blacks. Apparently, when a black man is killed by a white man, especially a police officer, that black man’s blood is redder than most.
It’s not like there aren’t enough black men being senselessly murdered around here. Where were these marchers when Floyd Lassiter, a retired Army veteran, was gunned down in front of his home in South St. Petersburg back in May? Where was the outrage and demand that his accused killers be brought to justice? How much did his black life matter?
This reminds me of Josef Stalin’s famous quote about the millions of people who died due to his orchestrated famine in Ukraine in the 1930s: “One death is a tragedy; 1 million is a statistic.” So amid the marches for justice for one in Missouri, the murders of many elsewhere are met with a collective shrug.
Take my hometown of Chicago on the Fourth of July weekend. The casualty report: 16 dead, 82 wounded. For most cities, that’s a year’s worth, but that wasn’t enough to get Al Sharpton and others to head to the Windy City. No George Zimmerman or white cop to blame for that carnage. The shooters were the enemy within and therefore not the usual targets of marches and protests.
As Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal put it a few weeks ago on “Meet the Press”: “Let’s not pretend that our morgues and cemeteries are full of young black men because cops are shooting them.”
While the voices screaming the loudest in Ferguson and elsewhere might not be pretending, they are certainly ignoring. Venting anger at the police and/or justice system is convenient and traditional. It allows some folks to reenact marches of the 1960s and feel a bit of civil-rights-era nostalgia. On the other hand, turning that rage inward and confronting those who live among us — our sons, brothers, nephews and neighbors — is considered “blaming the victim.” In the process, however, the marchers march right past greater crises in our communities.
For more than 40 years, the civil rights establishment and local community activists have been trapped in a 1960s-esque activist paradigm that demands they blame structural racism and “the system” for everything bad that befalls black America. This comes, unfortunately, at the expense of effectively healing self-inflicted wounds.
This much I know: If before his encounter with the police officer, Michael Brown had been confronted by another black male who had a beef with him and shot Brown to death, he would have died in relative anonymity.
Like thousands of other young black men, he would have been mourned mostly by family and friends, and no celebrities would have traveled from out of town to attend his funeral. The incident would have been deemed worthy of about 6 inches in the local metro section, and there wouldn’t have been days of marches demanding justice for his killer. That’s because the outrage to senseless killings depends on who the killers are.
If the police officer shot Brown in cold blood while his hands were up, as the story has been told, then he should be prosecuted and imprisoned. The Justice Department is on the case, so let the legal process work its way to get to the truth.
In the meantime, we can count on there being more marches for some racial incident or injustice. The marchers need to keep in mind, however, that what is being ignored is more serious than what they’re choosing to rally around. It’s past time for some serious introspection. This is the 21st century, and we don’t need reruns of the 1960s.