**This post is the conclusion of a three-part series addressing the historical contextualization of racism and subjugation in the United States, and the relation to the value of Black and Latino lives in the wake of the infuriating verdict in Jordan Davis’ tragic murder.**
Thinking about the Michael Dunn jury verdict, or lack thereof in regards to the killing of Jordan Davis, made me frustrated, upset, and scared. Yes, scared. You see, as a black and Latino man, I am scared of scaring people. For many of all races, my body and presence are aggressive, intimidating, unintelligent and dangerous. When I go for a jog, I try not to go at night. I constantly police my tone and voice when engaging in debate because one intonation misstep leads a peer to say, “Why are you getting so aggressive?” I make it a point not to use curse words, as much as I can. I police myself so that I do not get policed by law enforcement, vigilantes, strangers and even friends. But still, I do. That is why race matters.
Go into any neighborhood from Harlem to East L.A., from Beverly Hills to Brookline, Massachusetts, and try to find a young black or Latino post-adolescent who doesn’t see police interactions, harassment, and abuse as a cost of living. We have normalized this unequal treatment within ourselves and in our society. A survey of New Yorkers found that 57% of white people supported stop and frisk, while 53% of Latinos and only 25% of black people did. Protecting white people’s social want to feel safe trumps the protection of black and Latino constitutional rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. What’s more, there are sizable amounts of black and Latino people that believe that they need to be policed to be safe. That is the power of racism. That is what gives Michael Dunn the belief that he can shoot ten rounds into a car full of black teens just because one of them dared to defy him. That is why race matters.
To be clear, racism and the de-valuing of nonwhite life is a historical tradition. In 1856, our Supreme Court proclaimed that giving black people and non-whites personhood “would exempt them [black Americans] from the operation of the special laws and from police regulations which they considered necessary for their own safety . . . . and inevitably producing discontent and insubordination among them, and endangering the peace and safety of the State.” (Dred Scott). Translation: Giving black people value, or constitutional personhood rights, would in essence make them exempt from legal rules that only applied to them. The police would not be able to stop them with impunity whenever they felt like it, which is necessary for black safety and well-being. Value would empower them to combat the injustices committed upon their bodies and communities and that could endanger the country as a whole. The opinion went on to say that giving black people personhood and rights, would allow nonwhites to “go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished.” Oh, the horror! Although we do not have special laws that pertain only to nonwhite groups (anymore), we do have laws that are disgustingly and disproportionately applied against certain groups. We have rights that are subverted for certain groups. That is why race matters.
Heck, members of those groups even believe they deserve that unequal policing and subjection! And Chief Justice Taney’s final concern in the Dred Scott decision, that our government could only police and arrest black people for offenses white people could also be policed and arrested for, seems to be of little concern today. Racism, since we don’t talk about it, has allowed the subconscious and unspoken consciousness of government actors to disproportionately police and imprison black and Latino men. For instance, marijuana was criminalized in the 1930s because many white Americans feared Mexican immigrants and government actors tied Mexican recreational marijuana use to violent crime and sexual deviation (i.e. the rape of white women)—faux science that has since been debunked—yet we still criminalize the herb. Indeed, smoking a joint is almost an American tradition that politicians admit to with a wink and a smile, but there are black and Latino men in prison serving hard time for a joint. That is why race matters.
You see, the main issue is how much value we as a society place upon Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Denis Reynoso, Jonathan Ferrell, Andy Lopez, and me. The answer is rooted in history and culture, and its clear that we, black and Latino people (post-adolescent men in particular), have less value than others. Black and Latino men are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school; surveyed, stopped and frisked; pulled over on highways; jailed for drug possession when they are no more likely to possess or sell drugs than their white counterparts; killed by law enforcement; have lower clearance rates when they are victims of murder; receive longer prison sentences; and stripped of their constitutional rights to life and due process, all under the guise of blind justice. But justice is not blind. Justice is a scale that weighs your worth, and some of us go in with a deficit encapsulated in our skin. That is why race matters.
Racism’s vicious cycle combined with the widely held and false belief in blind justice infects our politics and media, exacerbating this heavy burden black and Latino men carry. Politicians of all stripes wanted to get tough on drugs, which was an easy way to survey and police those the media suggests are the primary users and sellers of drugs, black and Latino men. The media portrays black and Latino men as violent, signaling to law enforcement and civilians that these are the people you have to watch. Even more, racism in media and politics indoctrinates black and Latino men at a young age, teaching them to believe that they are worth less, that they are dangerous, that they must be policed. Add to that the fact that these young men of color see so many of their fathers, uncles, brothers, and neighbors get arrested due to unequal enforcement of drug laws, and the indoctrination becomes an American truth. That is why race matters.
by: E. Peter Alvarez (guest contributor)