The truth about Rev. Wright, Rev. Al Sharpton, and even Malcolm X is that all are/were reasonable people whose experiences with racism were so consistently horrendous that their reactions make sense - many of us would probably have similar reactions and reach similar conclusions if we had similar experiences. I think that reactions to these men on the part of many Whites is based on a lack of awareness of the reality they've lived, and that part of this lack of awareness is deliberate, because acknowledging this reality has three consequences:
I can't come up with a better explanation as to why people who are not racist could find a way to justify the lack of prosecution in the Eric Garner case. I've had this discussion on OurSalon very recently, I do not think the person I was talking to about this is racist, and I am sure that he doesn't define himself as racist. That racism is intrinsically a bad thing is an accepted starting point for both of us. This is the difference between an argument now and a couple of generations ago - back then, the discussion would be about the merits of racism. We are, at least cosmetically, past that - the arguments now center more about whether racism applies in a given case rather than centering on whether racism is justified.
This is far from the first time I've been in this position. Four of us once had a long discussion here on OurSalon with someone who thought racism was way less prevalent than the rest of us think (or, more accurately, than some of the rest of us know from personal experience), and that discussion triggered the four of us to write a book about racism called Talking To The Wall.
Why would people have a vested interest in believing that a police or judicial action is not racist? The claim is made that this stand was not driven by a vested interest but reaching this conclusion involves jumping through too many tortured hoops. In some of the other recently publicized cases there are ambiguities - there are in the Michael Brown case - but the Garner case is just too one-sided:
An obviously unarmed man (his clothing did not lend itself to hiding a weapon) accused of a misdemeanor and not making any physical threats or attempting to escape is grabbed by an officer. His physical reaction is a quick sort of flicking the officer's hands away, snapping "Leave me alone." He's in cuffs within seconds and on the ground within seconds. A choke hold that is against police regulations is applied to Garner; he continuously says he can't breathe, when he loses consciousness he's ignored by med techs, he dies, this is all on video, and the coroner rules his death a homicide.
No one is indicted for this. When this information comes out, the first reaction of nearly all observers, including even the normally one-sided Sean Hannity, is essentially "You've got to be kidding."
My point is not to argue the Garner case. My point is to try to understand why anyone short of the Staten Island Prosecutor's mother would bother arguing this case. Preponderance Of Evidence is an understatement here.
I was asked if I thought a White defendant in an analogous position would be treated any differently. I cannot imagine that a White defendant in an analogous position would be treated similarly. I think the police department would be frightened of lawsuits if they treated a White defendant like that, lawsuits where their odds are pretty awful, not to mention electoral consequences for police chiefs and prosecutors who permitted this.
Again, I don't think the guy making this case to me is racist. If I accept that as a given, I am left with the question of why it is so apparently important to him to take the police/prosecutor side under such obviously damning circumstances.
What does it cost him to agree that racism is the problem here? What is he so anxious to defend? And why does he start out by assuming in any given instance in this recent string of police killings of unarmed Black men that racism is highly unlikely to have anything to do with it?
I'm not singling him out; he's not alone and it's the category I'm trying to figure out, not just the individual. How do we categorize non-racists who are virulently driven to deny the presence of racism in any case where the faintest possibility exists that something else is at work? Why do racists deserve every benefit of the doubt when the defendants they arrest and sentence or sometimes kill are apparently not entitled to the same benefit of the doubt?
Is the issue that law enforcement officers shouldn't be held accountable because of the danger of their work, even though the odds of survival are lower in other occupations such as fishermen, loggers, and even trash collectors? Even if that were the case, this argument doesn't apply to prosecutors. Why be anxious to protect them? If we go to the Michael Brown case, whether or not we run into a problem at the police level, we certainly run into one at the prosecutorial level. Prosecutors convene grand juries to help them indict; there is no point in convening one and then making the case to the jury that they shouldn't indict, which is what was done in Ferguson. If, as a prosecutor, you don't want to indict, the method for doing this is very simple and time-honored:
Don't indict. Yes, it is that simple.
The prosecutor could have gone in front of the cameras and said:
"I've looked at the available evidence and from what I've seen, including what ambiguities there are, I don't think I can establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court. [He could go into details of evidence here as needed.] Given that, I see no point in wasting the State's time and the taxpayers' money pushing a weak case we're unlikely to win."
I've given my theory. I think it's about what in my college days as a sociology major we used to call Cognitive Dissonance - people are inclined to avoid admitting, even to themselves, especially to themselves, that they are holding internally contradictory viewpoints. I am in favor of justice, I am patriotic, if my country isn't just then maybe my patriotism isn't justified. My answer is: In that case we should try to fix the country. But that's not everyone's answer; some apparently believe that acknowledging the problem is somehow disloyal. My own take is that failing to attempt to address the problem is disloyal, but that's me - I care more about function than about international appearances and, frankly, I think visibly addressing problems actually improves our international appearance. I love my daughter unconditionally but I certainly don't think that attempting to correct her errant behavior is disloyal; on the contrary, as a parent I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities if I did not attempt to correct her and, analogously, regarding my country, as a citizen I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities if I did not attempt to correct her.
It's a theory. I'd welcome anyone else's take. What makes a sizeable population of people who presumably are not racist so reluctant to admit that structural racism is ever a factor in police using inappropriately excessive force and being given a pass for such conduct by prosecutors?