Dear Black People,
I just wanted to write to say I am sorry about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and the others too numerous too list.
About Brown, the process that resulted in a decision not to indict Darren Wilson was so unusual as to appear rigged. Prosecutors rarely cross-examine and express skepticism about their pro-indictment witnesses. They also typically do not launch a wide-ranging investigation into all the possible explanations for the alleged crime. Nor do they fail to instruct the grand jury about the charges they are seeking. For that matter, state prosecutors, including those in Missouri, can charge defendants without going through a grand jury at all. Even we white people, who fail to see so much of the bias that affects you, can see that this proceeding was, for lack of a more polite word, f*cked up. As the details seep about about the failure to indict Daniel Pantaleo, Eric Garner’s killer, the story appears to be similar. A grand jury, the saying goes, can indict a ham sandwich. But apparently a grand jury cannot indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed African American man.
And I am sorrier still for the conditions that surround the deaths of all these African American men. They include the high rate at which police kill young black men generally. They include the continuing inequality of income, wealth, employment, and education for black people. They include the government and private sector’s role in all of these phenomena: our history of redlining African American and integrated neighborhoods, our history of disinvesting in public institutions in ways that have discriminatory effects, our history of eliminating public sector jobs that benefit rising working and middle class African Americans, our history of disproportionate criminal prosecution and sentencing, and most of all, for the fact that none of this is only history. It is our present too.
I am sorry that much of this has gotten worse, not better, under the watch of our nation’s first African American president. Many of us, if I might speak across the racial divide for a moment, had great hope that President Obama would lead us all to a more honest understanding of race and its continuing role in subordinating millions of African Americans. But instead, his presidency seems to have brought out the worst in some of our fellow citizens. Their racism against him has made it harder to address the structural barriers to equality–inadequate health care, drastically unequal education, huge disparities in wealth, and so on–that compound racial discrimination. To be clear, I do not blame the President for the entrenchment of racial discrimination. Yet it is a grievous disappointment that his election did not signify the beginning of something better, something closer to the erasure of the color line. But it did not.
I am sorry that your sons and daughters are not safe, that they cannot goof off, go shopping, rent apartments, walk or drive in some neighborhoods, and myriad other everyday activities, without your worrying about them. Will they come home? Will they get arrested? Will they have that first moment of realizing they are different, that the world views them differently, that they are less free?
Finally, I am sorry to be writing to you as a group. I know you are not one big family, a monolith that experiences everything the same way. I do know that. But I also know that white people have not kicked their habit of racism, of not seeing what is inconvenient and unsettling to see. So, dear Black People, I have little to offer other than these words and the hope that some day, through conflict, struggle, the hard work of politics and the occasional soaring communion of high ideals, we may reach a day when we white people get it– when no one is disposable, when everyone matters, and everyone gets justice.
With respect and love, White Person