There is a sickness worse than coronavirus in our land. I must write about it, even though I don’t feel fully qualified to speak on all aspects of it.
I just hope I say something useful.
Backlash of Bigotry
A man—Ahmaud Arbery—goes jogging in Georgia. A former high school football player, Arbery liked to stay in shape. People often saw him jogging in the area. But there’s a sad detail you may have already guessed: Ahmaud Arbery was a black man.
Mr. Arbery had the misfortune of jogging past a couple of lynch-mob leftovers who decided he “looked like” someone they thought committed burglaries in the area (i.e., he was black). They chased him down in a pick-up truck. When he tried to avoid them, one of them gunned him down.
And the police and prosecutors? Well, these “citizens” were trying to initiate a “citizen arrest.” Apparently, it’s not just cops who get to use the hue and cry to “stop resisting” as a justification for murder.
The cellphone video, initially posted by a Brunswick radio station, shows a black man running at a jogging pace on the left side of a two-lane road. A truck is parked in the road ahead of him, with one man in the pickup bed and another standing beside the open driver’s side door.
The runner crosses the road to pass the pickup on the passenger side, then crosses back in front of the truck. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man in the street over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls face down.
Ultimately, the real “crime” appears to XWB—sorry, I already used EAB—or Existing While Black.
Despite the glimmer of hope some of us experienced from 2008 to 2017, with Barack Obama as President, the backlash of bigotry revives a world many of us hoped would fade into the pathetic past. Black men, disfavored since the foundation of this nation—which, in its whiteness also decimated the non-white Native Americans to expropriate their land—find themselves quite literally in the crosshairs of the MAGA movement—the movement to Make America Grotesque Again. (Or, if you prefer the shorter version: the movement to Make America Gross Again. Either way, despite what MAGAts claim, I can’t see their movement achieving anything else.)
Three-Fifths Build a Great Nation
I said black men had been “disfavored since the foundation of this nation.” And it is important to clarify what that means. Some think that our founders counted black men—and black women, and black children—as “three-fifths” of a person. That’s not really true, though. When this nation was established, our predecessors already counted an enslaved black person as not a person at all. Not three-fifths. Not even one-fifth.
Blacks were “property.” Not property like a shoe, or an iPhone, but like a horse, or a mule, or some other farm animal.
Southerners refused to join the new United States unless they could have their cake and eat it, too. As in modern America, lazy and incompetent bubbas constituted a minority. Nearly all of them lived in the antebellum South.
The so-called “three-fifths clause” was another cheat proposed to save ratification of the Constitution. Essentially, the founders agreed to give the lazy and exploitative minority Southerners a credit, so to speak, for the large numbers of blacks. The “credit” gave them greater representation in the Congress. And because of that, before the Civil War the South dominated the Federal government, worsening the nation’s birth defect.
At the same time, because whites treated blacks as farm animals, the United States of America became a strong, if also strongly-bigoted, nation. Make no mistake: it was on the backs of black people that this nation was built; it is on the refusal to admit this that bigotry survives.
This Is A Sickness Worse Than Coronavirus
When the parents of this nation contributed their DNA to its birth, they literally wove their racist attitudes into our DNA. The United States of America suffers to this day from this genetic birth defect, a sickness worse than coronavirus.
Our founders codified the defect into our very Constitution, as noted above. The big question is, “Can America Changes Its DNA?”
Whether we talk about police shootings:
Most killings began with police responding to suspected non-violent offenses or cases where no crime was reported. 89 people were killed after police stopped them for a traffic violation.
Black people were more likely to be killed by police, more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed.
Whether we talk about systemic racism in our schools, criminal courts and prisons:
- 42 percent of all school referrals to law enforcement are for black students, as opposed to 25 percent white and 29 percent Hispanic.
- Black juveniles are more than four times as likely as their white peers to be committed to detention facilities.
- Black drivers are two-and-a-half times more likely to have their cars searched during a traffic stop than white drivers.
- People of color represent two-thirds of the life-sentenced population.
- Despite using and selling drugs at rates similar to those of their white counterparts, African Americans and Latinos comprise 62 percent of those in state prisons for drug offenses.
- In certain communities, the re-incarceration rate for African Americans is three times higher than that of whites.
- Blacks in New York County (Manhattan) received plea offers with jail time in 74 percent of felony cases, while whites received plea offers with jail time in only 51 percent of felony cases
Whether we talk about racism in regards to housing loans and re-financing:
In 2017, 19.3 percent of black applicants were denied a conventional home loan, compared with 7.9 percent for whites, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The refinancing market saw similar differentials with blacks rejected on 39 percent of their applications and whites on 22.9 percent.
Whether we talk about hate crimes:
Since 1995, black Americans have been the victims of 66 percent of all racially-motivated hate crimes, according to FBI data collected from local law enforcement agencies.
Whether we talk about societal attitudes on race:
Most Americans (65%) – including majorities across racial and ethnic groups – say it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Trump was elected president. A smaller but substantial share (45%) say this has become more acceptable.
Whether we talk about coronavirus:
Alarming health department statistics from cities and counties in the Carolinas, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin show that black people are getting sicker and dying at higher rates from the novel coronavirus than white people.
Part of the reason for this is that blacks suffer historical disadvantages that leave them less wealthy, less healthy, and with less access to resources. In addition, black people who do work are more likely to have the kinds of jobs—jobs that keep the rest of us getting around, having sanitary neighborhoods—that increase their risk of exposure to coronavirus.
Just as flu victims did 100 years ago, many workers — predominantly black and brown — are going to their “essential” jobs because without them, the rest of society wouldn’t function. Dozens of New York City mass-transit workers have died, and hundreds are sick.
Whether we talk about the economic fall-out of coronavirus:
The current crisis could devastate black Americans by hitting their earnings. Not only are black workers more likely to get laid off, but black-owned businesses are among the most likely to get hit by extended closures demanded by controlling the public health crisis. And with men of color suffering higher mortality rates due to Covid-19, some families may never see those earnings return.
Whatever aspect of our lives you look to, you see that racism is a sickness worse than coronavirus—even when it comes to coronavirus itself!
A Little Personal History
Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, Sorta
Before I was born, my father joined the Navy. He stayed in for twenty-four years. Thus, my family moved around a lot. I was born in Delaware. I lived in three different parts of Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, among others, before coming to California.
Tennessee was the last stop before California. It was also the most interesting. If I remember correctly, I was in 7th grade. We lived in Atoka, or Munford. I don’t really remember. I seem to remember that there was either a railroad track, or a large road, or both, that divided one from the other, and I also seem to remember that it was almost like there was only one town, and blacks called it Atoka, and whites called it Munford, or maybe the other way around. But I think that’s a faulty memory. What I can say for certain is treatment of blacks did not equal treatment of whites: people used “colored” or “white” entrances to places, “colored” or “white” water fountains, and—except in our neighborhood, consisting mostly of Navy people, and thus a mix—”colored” or “white” neighborhoods.
We did have integrated schools. My brother once called his school principal a racist for telling him he could not share his lunch with a [word we don’t use was used], whereupon he was immediately chauffeured home on a school bus all by himself.
We knew a family with a large farm. They had a live-in maid. The maid was a descendant of slaves, and she herself was essentially a slave when I knew her. I learned this was not unusual. In a land born of a sickness worse than coronavirus, the after-effects have so far been life-long.
The Boy Scouts Get Integrated, Sorta
My father signed my brother and I up for the Boy Scouts. He became a Troop Leader, himself. I don’t know exactly what his position was at the time of this incident; I’m not sure if he was still “just” a Troop leader, or had a higher position. I know what happened because of what he did, though.
Somewhere past the mid-1960s, and maybe as late as 1971, the Boy Scouts (so far as I recall) had a black Troop in the area. I think it was in Memphis. One black Troop. White Scouts could join a Troop near where they lived. Blacks could only join “the Colored Troop.” So in addition to the fact that “the Colored Troop” always received the short end of the stick, black Boy Scouts had the additional requirement of traveling farther to get to Troop meetings.
Now I don’t know the whole history of the Boy Scouts, particularly in that region. A Wikipedia page says the Chickasaw Council was a leader in racial integration in scouting. This “racial integration” was not part of my experience, until my father did what he did. Or, I should say, tried to do what he tried to do.
What he tried to do? Well, he did it, for at least a minute. He ended the practice of making black Boy Scouts travel to join a Troop. He integrated the Scouts in our area, at least temporarily.
As you can imagine, this did not go over well in the kind of community that sends a young white boy to the principal’s office for sharing food with a young black boy.
The next thing I knew, we were packing up to move to California. As the family story goes, the Navy decided my dad needed to be out west where it was allegedly more liberal, and less racist.
California Is Not Less Racist
California racists, it turned out, aren’t fewer in number. Mostly, they just acted differently. California racists did not generally advertise their racism. I rarely heard the “n-word.” Decent people did not use that word, even if they were racists. They did not see themselves as racists, and using the word might have contradicted their self-view. Quite a number of California racists even “had a black friend.” Interestingly, one sure way to help learn who the racists were was to have more than one black friend, or to actually treat your black friend like a friend. That would teach you who was who.
Today, as a criminal defense lawyer practicing in the San Joaquin Valley of California, I see this every day. The systemic racism of the criminal “justice” system can, at times, overwhelm. I routinely see a disproportional representation of blacks (and other people of color) in our courtrooms. They receive harsher sentences. I remember when I handled a daily load of juvenile cases: on any given day I might not see a single white child in the courts. As I’ve blogged before, the California Division of Juvenile Justice child prisons typically contain 10% or fewer white children.
But Enough About Me
I feel a bit like I’ve talked too much about my own life, and what I’ve seen. I want you to understand, though, that I’ve seen both overt, and covert, racism. Note that I did not say I’ve experienced it. Because there’s the elephant in the room: I’m a white guy. I barely know what it feels like to recognize my own white privilege. Unless brought up short, I can easily forget it for a while; a fish seldom notices the water in which it swims. I certainly cannot speak to what it’s like to live in a nation with a sickness worse than coronavirus.
Sickness versus Symptoms
More than once, I have said that I wish Trump and the Trumpettes would go back under the rock whence they crawled. I hate seeing their overt racism. I hate that hate crimes have increased. And I hate that attitudes about the acceptability of openly-expressed racism seem to be favorable, at least, in far too many circles. I hate that we have an openly-bigoted President, who goads on the racist base that brought him to power.
Some of my black friends say they prefer open racism, rather than concealed. Knowing is better than not knowing. I don’t know if all my black friends would say this. Race discussions don’t come up all the time with all my black friends. (It’s just you, Joseph!)
From my perspective, racism is a genetic defect woven into the DNA of America. I’d love some gene therapy to help us wipe it out. In the meantime, the rise in symptoms bothers me. When I’m physically ill, I take anti-inflammatories to reduce fevers. I use cough suppressants to avoid coughing fits, and overly-sore throats. As I write this, these seem piss-poor stand-ins for the ease and impunity white people have in killing black people these days.
Nevertheless, until we find the cure for our nation’s genetic defect, I’d like to see fewer dead black people. I’d like to see only the faint glimmer of the white eyes of Trump and his followers glaring at us from beneath the rocks, where they belong.
If you’d like to engage in a discussion on this, or educate me further, please feel free to chime in to the comments below. Or just let me know what you thought about this post. (At about 2500 words, I know it’s long. It started out over 3100!) Please also use the “share” buttons along the left side, or below, to share the post with others. And, lastly, if you’re interested in joining my newsletter, and getting a free copy of my “How to Hire A Criminal Defense Lawyer” ePamphlet, there are signup forms below, and at the top of the column on the right!