Jordan Davis and Unarmed Blackness

Why is it so hard for some to see our humanity? I just don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, I could give all sorts of intellectual answers around how such views developed, and particularly how pre-existing anti-black logic took a nasty turn on this side of the Atlantic in the 17th century. But those answers don’t seem to suffice at times like these.

No matter the situation it seems that the image of God remains veiled within black skin in America. All I can do right now is remember our symbolic sons and daughters that stand in for the millions that have lost their lives over the past 400 years for no other reason than because their mere blackness constituted a ‘presumed’ threat in someone else’s eyes. I especially note these 5 names down below because in 2013 they have been (re)etched on the collective hearts of all those that seek justice for the oppressed and for those that hope and fight against the anti-black prejudice that results in the senseless violence and loss of life we have all become way too well adjusted to.

As we remember, let us not do so in despair, but instead let’s commit to digging deeper in our organizing, resistance, and struggle against white supremacy and anti-blackness. I am more convinced than ever in the Way of the Lamb whose victory will have the last word. We can not defeat a system if we continue to live by its rules and mode of being. Let’s rally against racism and the senseless violence America lives by, trusting in Jesus to show us how.

 

We remember Jordan Davis

We remember Trayvon Martin

We remember Renisha McBride

We remember Jonathan Ferrel

We remember Oscar Grant

 

And we remember those in our own communities that were killed, yet had no champion, and for whom most people will never hear about.

 

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13 comments

  1. dawg · February 16, 2014

    “Don’t get me wrong, I could give all sorts of intellectual answers around how such views developed, ” — and then i stopped reading because you didnt start it that way

  2. Greg Hahn · February 17, 2014

    I came here from your tweet, bro. The idea that, “the image of God remains veiled within black skin in America” is painful for me to read. I think of how untrue that statement is in my own life and church. And it bothers me.

    That being said, there is definitely an issue here, of white fear that prompts the wrong response. Renisha McBride and Johnathan Ferrel seem to be instances of that. And more overt racism- Jordan Davis and Oscar Grant seem to be examples of that.

    But all those human lives look to me to be valued like any other in that their killers were or are being brought to justice. To the degree that a minority of white people exhibited ideas of white supremacy and anti-blackness in those 4 cases, the majority of white people seemed to be saying, “Hey wait a minute, that wasn’t right. You can’t kill a human being like that for no reason and get away with it.”

    I certainly grieve the loss of life of those 4 seemingly innocent victims, , and applaud the justice system for doing what is right. Or am I wrong here?

    But what else can we do about the racism that led to these tragedies?

  3. artbucher · February 17, 2014

    Thank you Drew. I’m reminded by these victims that it is not just the irrational fear of blackness that motivates these atrocities, and causes white Americans and the US justice system to empathize by default with the murderers, it is also a pervasive and firm belief in the moral impunity and superiority of white citizens. Dig deeper indeed.

    • Drew Hart · February 18, 2014

      Thanks Art, appreciate your comments. I think it is important that we interrogate both anti-blackness and white supremacy when we are able to get our hands on it. It is often elusive and a hidden mechanism of our society. Thanks.

  4. Drew Hart · February 17, 2014

    Greg,

    Thanks for coming over. I appreciate our questions, honesty, and what appears to be genuine desire to struggle through this with open ears.

    I guess where we might disagree is what constitutes being “brought to justice”. For one, just so I am clear and upfront, I put little weight or trust in the American justice system. Given our 400 years of historical injustice, it will be on the responsibility of the system to prove me wrong and convince me otherwise. We might be coming at it from different angles, not sure, but figured I would be transparent and open about my own starting points and assumptions.

    Given that, just because a jury makes a decision, doesn’t mean that justice has actually occurred, from my vantage point. Some cases are still open and to be decided, but I certainly don’t think the criminal system affirmed the humanity of Trayvon, Oscar, or Jonathan and up til this point Jordan. Seems like what has happened is that folks get slapped on the wrist. Also, I don’t believe that if the race of the victim and the killer were reversed that the verdicts would have ended up the same. Just my honest opinion. Again, these are deeply held beliefs and perspectives shaped by my own communities experience and observation, rather than something that I can “prove” in any given case.

    What can be proven, is that overall, black people get harsher sentences for the same crimes as their white counterparts. That has been well researched and documented, all one has to do is take the time to look it up. However, in each individual case, it becomes extremely difficult to prove tangibly that that is what is happening. So in a case by case scenario, we all go by our intuition. That’s the truth. My challenge has been to choose whose intuition to go by, the dominant cultures intuition (which for 400 years has claimed its own innocence along the way, not retrospectively) or those that have struggled to survive the oppression and brutality and knew it to be wrong along the way. That is not a science that guarantees the right answer, but again, my intuition tells me to trust those on the margins.

    We will see what happens with Renisha Mcbride. I hope her blackness doesn’t result in a varying verdict than what would come if she were white, but I am not going to hold my breath. Finally, these few cases are just that, a few symbolic cases. They represent many others that have quietly experienced similar situations. But more than that, they represent all sorts of encounters and interactions that many African Americans experience (sometimes on a daily basis) that chips away at our dignity and denies our humanity. And it is for those reasons and more that so many people respond so passionately to these symbolic cases.

    Anyway, thanks for chiming in. Ended up writing much more than expected, as I wait for my class to start. Hope to hear back and to keep dialoging into the future, so that we can both grow in understanding of where the other is coming from. Peace.

  5. Greg Hahn · February 17, 2014

    Drew, I think I have somewhat of a revelation through this post and our interaction. Maybe it’s a God thing, but I just thought of this. I think I found a way to empathize through a similar experience.

    For me, I don’t trust the liberal news media. Been burned too many times. After Rathergate, Dan Quayle’s spelling, My Pet Goat, the Reuters photog that doctored the Israeli/ Lebanon war photos, and on and on and on. For a lot of those things, any one of them could be explained as to why it did/ didn’t get reported, and how come it always just happens to fall a certain way. I can believe that occassionally it won’t go my way, but I have to think that after something happens 5, 10, 20 times… the ball eventually has to fall in my direction. But it never seems to.

    So I begin to say, “This is the way the liberal media is- they do it this way on purpose.” And I begin to see it in every story. (This is me, this is what I do today, for real.)

    Now the fact is, they might be trying to do right sometimes, and sometimes maybe even they succeed in doing right. But I have too much experience with these people to trust them fully, and I always expect them to screw me if they can.

    That *seems to me* to be a somewhat fair analogy of where you are coming from as far as law enforcement and the justice system. You’ve seen it be unfair so many times, and the cards SOMEHOW just never seme to go your way, that now you doubt them every time. I readily admit I could be way off base in this analogy, and I hope you’ll let me know if you think so.

  6. Drew Hart · February 17, 2014

    Greg, I think with this example you give, you kinda get the idea, but I want to push you a bit on this. The example that you offer falls squarely within the conservative/liberal divide. Conservatives think liberal news media is biased and irresponsible and Liberals think conservative news and media is biased and irresponsible. My personal opinion is that both sides are full of it and problematic (must be the Anabaptist in me). However, the binary by itself doesn’t mean that no one is right, it just has to be demonstrated. With the example I gave, I readily admit that I cannot prove bias on a case by case basis, but what has been demonstrated is that the justice system has disproportionately (in mass) dispensed justice very differently for white people than it has for black people. When black people commit the same crime, they are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive a harsher sentence. So, if you can find serious data that affirms your suspicion of liberal media (that makes it unique from the practices of conservative media) then I would say yes, that works. Again, it doesn’t mean you will be able to prove the motive of each occurrence, but if you can find scholarly research showing that liberal media is intentionally misleading then your point would be similar.

    By the way, have you ever read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”? Curious what you think about it. It relates directly to the topic at hand about the justice system and racial disparity.

  7. Greg Hahn · February 18, 2014

    It’s fine that you push back a little Drew. I need that, and besides, I realize the analogy is flawed, but it helped me see your perspective from something I’ve felt from my perspective.

    And while I didn’t want to hijack the post and make it seem like I was trying to invalidate your perception, I do think that the baggage we both carry affects the way we interpret events. That’s the only way I think I can explain how I can see the Zimmerman/Martin case so differently than a lot of black folks.

    That’s why I was so grateful for your broader focus, and the other 4 deaths that we can agree on. I think agreement is one of our most powerful allies. If we focus on the cases on which we cannot agree, we will never accomplish anything, and I’m sure that you and I both want to make a diffference. That’s why we write and speak and engage. We want the killing to stop. We want black and white to get along and love one another. That might not happen fully until the Kingdom of God comes, but we are called to make what difference we can. But I’m not sure how to do that.

    No, I wasn’t aware of Michelle’s book, but I just purchased it from Amazon. I’ll read it and let you know

    • Drew Hart · February 18, 2014

      Greg,

      Great! After you finish it, please let me know your thoughts. And thanks for the conversation.

      • Greg Hahn · March 2, 2014

        Hey I’m back, and finished with the book. My impression: It was the most depressing book I ever read.

        I think from many of the things she says that are undoubtably true, she makes a great case for ending the war on drugs from the standpoint of racial disparity and corruption alone. And I think she provided a valuable service in documenting that, and that goes very far in advancing what she says is the only purpose of the book: to stimulate discussion about the role of the criminal justice system
        in creating and perpetuating racial hierachy in the United States.

        But she didn’t stop there. She set up a framework in chapter 1 which paints the picture that the war on drugs was a conspiracy- a framework created specifically and intentionally to continue the enslavement and oppression of black people. Not only was it deliberate, it was, in fact, the next link in the chain of many methods that white people have used to accomplish that end throughout US history. And I inferred that once this method is done away with, another one will be put in its place to accomplish the same goal, this one, like its predecessors, more difficult to detect than the one preceding it.

        Ok… that is either true, or it is not true. If it’s true, black people in this country should be freaking hysterical. And not just black people, but all people that are passionate about racial equality and racial justice. And besides them, how about all people that love their fellow man at all? Let’s all go march on Washington DC right now., and lets not quiet down for one second until this is done because this is absolutely criminal.

        But if it’s not true….. what she has done there is unspeakably bad. Unspeakably, horribly, awfully bad. Because by writing that, if it’s not true, she caused heavy damage to one thing we need more than anything in this conversation: Trust.

        The reason I brought up my distrust of the liberal bews media was to mention that someone came along that I felt I could trust: Bernard Goldberg.

        Goldberg worked for CBS News for 28 years as a producer, reporter, and correspondent, then started pointing out how the liberal bias was working in the mainstream media. He left CBS, wrote some books, and said a lot of the same things I was saying.

        But sometimes when I got all worked up about something and I said, “That looks like liberal bias to me,” Goldberg would weigh in and say, “Well, no, not really this time.” And he’d give his reason. And it would make sense and- here is the important thing- I would trust him.

        And here is what I’m saying: I think the black community needs a Bernard Goldberg. They need someone that says, “Yes, racism is still a problem in this country, it’s a problem in the war on drugs, the death penalty, and many other things. But it’s NOT a problem with x, y, and z, from my perspective, and here is why I think so.”

        I was adamantly against Obama’s election, but when he was elected I tried to see the bright side. I hoped he would be the Bernard Goldberg we needed. He has not been. If anything, Obama has made everything about race relations worse in this country since he’s been in office. And to me, that’s the biggest failure of his presidency, because that was the one area that his prospects for success seemed brightest.

        What Michelle Alexander implies in her book is that no one can be trusted and that there is no hope. And hopelessness is the one thing that can keep you down forever, because you don’t have the will to go on.

        And that’s the thing that is truly tragic.

  8. brw1019 · February 20, 2014

    Yo man! Had to weigh in on this one. Your conversation with Greg, specifically the part about intuition from the margins, was what I needed to hear. That’s what I keep going back to whenever I start obsessively thinking about the inner workings and details surrounding and running through these killings. The intuition and perspectives on justice belonging to those who thirst for it most (in its truest form) are where we need to go in our search for truth.

    • Drew Hart · February 20, 2014

      Powerful. But it is a terribly difficult thing to do, that is to dare to rely on someone else’s intuition over one’s own perspective. Thanks for weighing in!

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