These past two weeks have been extremely difficult for an important part of the country. The Chauvin trial has been a painful daily reminder of the unsolved racial divide among Americans. If that was not enough stress, the video with the brutal details of the abuse by two police officers against an Army Lt. triggered a collective outrage that turned into rage with the killing of a 20-year-old young man by a police officer.
The fact that the victims in these three cases of police abuse were Black men didn’t surprise anyone, and that’s precisely the problem. This country has gotten so used to the extraordinary power of law enforcement, especially if the subjects are Black people, that any suggestion to redefine their procedures is interpreted as an attempt to bring them down, or in a more recent approach, an intent to cancel the institution.
As I looked at a picture of the mothers of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Stephon Clark, in support of Daunte Wright’s family, I read that the police officer that shot Jacob Blake seven times, leaving him paralyzed, was returning to work without having to face charges. Finally, before I started to write my weekly piece, I learned that a young Black man was harassed by a U.S. Army soldier based at Fort Jackson, S. C. who has since been arrested for 3rd degree assault and battery. The soldier can be seen in a video yelling at the young man that he “was in the wrong neighborhood.”
I read a Black scholar say that her brother decided not to drive anymore because it wasn’t worth the anguish or the risk. The fact that a Black man in America being stopped by the police can lead to death is not an overstatement. This is not a new problem, it just got worse.
These past four years were not the cause for the increasing levels of racial intolerance, but it was certainly a period where overt racism, and bigotry were not only welcomed, but frequently elicited from the highest office in the land, through rhetoric and policy.
That there was still a doubt about what were the underlying reasons for the rise of white supremacy, made it clear that people were in denial about what the United States had been through, and even worse, people continuing to refuse to accept that it was never about economic, but rather, demographic anxiety. The threat of a minority-majority country, exacerbated by a party that has caved to its anti-immigration side, has created an enemy that will destroy this democracy, if they don’t realize that with a shrinking white majority, and negative population growth, they are setting the stage for a very dark future.
Racism is a sin, but it is also a learned system of beliefs. People are not born racist; they are taught to be racist. There is a system in place allowing people to feel comfortable with their prejudice, and there are institutions validating it. If there isn’t a reframing of the social fabric, this American experiment is going to fail. That reframing requires that this country, starting by its institutions, recognize Black people as foundational to its concept of American society.