Monday, November 8, 2010

chapter 26: Life in Jim Crow

So, Meserhle got off with a year for cold-blooded murder.

This is not a surprise. Nor will it be a surprise when he gets out in a few months, moves to Montana and gets a cushy job at a security firm. Where I come from in Pittsburgh, PA, the cops murder black people routinely, including one time where they shot an adolescent boy in the back for running from them. The idea of trials and sentencing is a pipe dream. What made this particular case special was the sheer overwhelming evidence against the killer cop (and his brothers who were beating the guy on the ground). The fact that it occurred in a "liberal" area inspired some hope. Many people thought this may be the one time where a black man's life was applied any worth in this country. It was not. Again, not surprising.

Which also doesn't make it comforting. There's a story in my book called "Assistant," in which I explore what it was like in the Jim Crow south, where black people lived under the constant threat of white terrorism. It was, in short, horrific, a life of constant fear. Events like this sentencing only nail home the fact that nothing has changed. I leave my house every day feeling like there is a giant target on my back. All the while I think: it could have been me. Or any number of people I know. I have literally been in the same position Oscar was, and knowing that I could have been murdered with the same reuslts is not comforting. I could be killed by white cops with absolutely no comeuppance, in order to maintain the status quo. As a black person, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself, other than fighting back. You can't turn your life around and live like a good citizen (like Oscar Grant did), you can't comply (like Oscar Grant did), and no amount of education kept Skip Gates from getting shackled like a runaway slave for trying to get into his own house. Its important to remember that the first police in this country were overseers, and that is the mentality today: patrolling the plantation to make sure the chattal don't get out of line.

This sentencing has also further exposed me to the depths of racism in the hearts of Americans. Go on any internet comments page, where anonymity makes people say what they feel. Its a flurry of comments about how Grant was a "thug," how "thugs" are going to riot in Oakland and steal liquor and Nikes, how blacks kill each other all the time and nobody makes a stink, how blacks need to stop complaining about racism because apparently the world is racist to whites now (the old anti-affirmative action BS argument), how nobody stands up for whites when "thugs" target them (in this fantasy universe where the predominant victims of black crime are white people, and not other lower-class blacks), and how Grant was resisting arrest, thus getting what he deserved. Only someone coming from an extreme place of privilege can say trying not to be handcuffed is worthy of public execution. As I said, we live in Jim Crow, where southern justice reigns and the uppity are made an example of. What scares me is that racism seems to be getting worse. The fact that you can find that many racist comments on a public message board, or spoken on Fox News, gives me the feeling that the only lasting legacy of multiculturalism is that the lines are drawn more clearly in the sand. I mean, you're really going to say Oscar deserved to die. Terrifying.

The San Francisco bay area is extremely racist. Its set up as a paradise for white liberals, who pay thousands of dollars a month in rent so they won't have to see the black people who live on a toxic landfill in Hunter's Point. Not only do people in Oakland live in a virtual police state, they have to live in the shadow of all the wealth in San Fran. The self-congratulatory liberal attitude around here makes me yearn for the days when I could be called a nigger to my face. I love watching the news footage where politicians villified the citizens who rioted. They patted themselves on the back for all the police they brought in, ignoring the fact that police started this in the first place.

This one thing is clear: in the Bay area, police execute civilians on train platforms and get away with it. This is a fact.

I feel proud to live in an area where people are politically active. Back in the 60s, blacks lived under Jim Crow. These were intolerable conditions. They inspired rioting. Even the now-socially acceptable direct action of Martin Luther King was, at the time, considered a huge disruption worthy of harsh retaliation. In the 2000s, black people live under Jim Crow. These are intolerable conditions. So they riot. And good for them.

Maybe I'm overreactive, but the fact that I live in the same environment of oppression and violence that my great-geat-great-grandfather, who was a slave, lived in, really hammers home that nothing has changed. The only thing I find encouraging, after watching the aftermath of Grant's execution, is that the people of the community are mobilized, and the institutions of resistance that have been around since the 1950s are still working to fight oppression. This is where I have found joy, in all this darkness.

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