So, for those of you following the news/social media/the US anything recently you probably heard about the Trayvon Martin verdict. A lot of people have a lot of feelings about it and I have been reading some stuff and thinking a lot and decided to just put it into a post.
While this issue and the current news and feelings are not about me, as a white person, and don't revolve around me, one of the nice things about having a blog is that it does revolve around me. The blog is about me and how things affect me, not just how things are in the world.
In the past 12 hours something came back into my head which I hadn't thought about it years. Just now when I was trying to remember it, I was surprised that the name popped into my head so easily: Amadou Diallo.
For those who might not remember or who weren't alive/old enough to know, I will give the very brief summary and then link you to the wikipedia page. Amadou Diallo (wikipedia page link) was shot and killed by plain-clothed police on February 4th, 1999. He died at the age of 23 after four cops fired a total of 41 shots (19 of which hit him according to wikipedia) in the Bronx. Diallo was unarmed and outside his apartment building. Another black man at the time was armed and a serial rapist and the officers (remember, plain clothes) approached him. After a series of events (which I am unclear on and will not guess) Diallo pulled out his wallet and the officers who thought it was a gun began to shoot him to death.
The internal NYPD investigation ruled that they acted within policy (i.e. done nothing wrong). The Bronx grand jury indicted them on 2nd-degree murder and reckless endangerment. It was appealed and eventually the four police men were acquitted of all charges. In 2001 the Justice Department announced that it wouldn't charge the officers with a violation of Diallo's civil rights. In 2000 Diallo's mother and stepfather filed a lawsuit against the City of New York and the officers charging gross negligence, wrongful death, and racial profiling and other civil rights violations. They won (a lesser amount than they had filed for, but still a significant amount). Here is a link to some NY Times articles about the issue.
Apart from some of the obvious similarities of an unarmed black man being shot to death and the killer(s) being acquitted there is my own egocentric reason for writing about both of these.
The death of Amadou Diallo is the first significant memory I have of realizing that racism wasn't over. In my sheltered little bubble with my middle class friends of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, I had been led to believe that we were past all that. I learned about racism and lynching and all of that in a historical sense. I learned that the civil rights movement happened and that Rosa Parks and MLK Jr. destroyed the white supremacists in their non-violent righteous battle and that now we were all equal.
Amadou Diallo's death was a startling wake up call for me. I was old enough to understand what was going on but not old enough to feel like my thoughts mattered or that I could do anything. I was helpless and confused. I had no idea how a wallet could look like a gun, even in a badly lit area. I also thought that cops were good and only hurt bad guys and that this was an isolated incident. I assumed that the men would be brought to justice since they were just bad cops, not representative of what cops were like (because cops protected us, all of us, because I was white and that's what I was raised to believe).
Diallo's death was still in the back of my memory when I was reading about the recent verdict. I have been hesitant to even type out his name and have only been saying "the recent verdict". However, like Diallo's name etched forever into my mind the name of Trayvon Martin should not be erased.
While Diallo's murder is the first one I remember being aware of, it was not the last. Like many people, most of the names of the murdered fade away and are forgotten. Trayvon Martin is the first name to stick since that time when I was a child. The first time I have heard the same name more than once, the first time I have heard people talking about it for more than a few days and angry about it to the point of action.
I am white. I do not try to hide the fact that I am white and when people meet me I am read as being white. I benefit from white privilege constantly and feeling guilty about that does shit to keep black men from being murdered. My guilt and discomfort with my privilege is useless to bring justice to the families of those people being murdered.
Instead of talking about white guilt I'm just going to share some of the articles I've been reading lately and tell you to read them. Go read something else or do something else. Ideas below.
I've heard that doing activism via social media only is "slacktivism" and that is some ableist bullshit. Some of us can't take to the streets. If you can, great, check out this link: http://peoplespowerassemblies.org/justice-for-trayvon-martin-actions/.
Sign a petition?
Those are usually pretty easy and not super spoon draining (I think it is acessible but if I am wrong please call me out): Petition (there is also a petition through NAACP but I can't seem to find the link at the moment)
Read up on racism?
I read Beverly Tatum my freshman year of college and, like the experience after the murder of Amadou Diallo, I began to completely rethink how I saw race. The whole class it was for but her stuff and her analogy in particular are useful.
A blogger's explanation of Tatum's analogies
If you haven't read Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" (of which there are mulitple lists created for other types of privilege) then I highly recommend reading it.
"In the outpourings of grief and anger about the Zimmerman verdict, I’m asking myself and other white people: how are we reflecting on and actively transforming our own personal racism? And our collective racism? This is not about hating ourselves, it’s about loving ourselves so much that we commit to transforming ourselves and our communities. Because white people: we are ALL racist. It is impossible to have grown up in a white supremacy and not have taken on racist beliefs and actions"
Now read the rest of that article: http://sunnydrake.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/racism-is-to-white-people-as-wind-is-to-the-sky/
He mentions in the article and I'm going to agree that it is worth checking out this presentation.
1 Black Man Is Killed Every 28 Hours by Police orVigilantes: America Is Perpetually at War with Its Own People which is an article about Operation Ghetto Storm.
In other news: “Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville had said the state's "Stand Your Ground" law should apply to her because she was defending herself against her allegedly abusive husband when she fired warning shots inside her home in August 2010. She told police it was to escape a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had already taken out a protective order.”
And I will let bell hooks finish it off for me since I can't top anything she says:
"White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. Viewers are encouraged to feel sympathy for the white male home owner who made a mistake. The fact that this mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to 'protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat.' This is what the worship of death looks like.”