Living in Terror
A friend of ours erupted in a fusillade of angry, frightened tweets Tuesday night. While everyone else we follow was tweeting the usual — sports and politics — our friend was writing things like this:
“I’m so fucked up about all these brothers getting murdered right now, I don’t even know what to do with myself.”
“Seriously, at what point can I reasonably say the police are constant threat to my life? If not now, when? How many more men have to die?”
“What the fuck am I supposed to tell my son?”
Our friend lives in DC, works as a government contractor. Most days he’s griping about the bosses, or public transit, or school lunches, like any other middle-class American. But unlike most middle-class Americans, our friend is Black.
And he’s living in terror. Because he’s just one traffic stop away from being the next hashtag.
We’ve heard much about “terrorism” the past fifteen years, but few of us have been touched by it. Despite our relative safety — compared to the rest of the world — our government has transformed itself into a security state. The barest hint of a plot puts law enforcement on notice, and where none exists, they’ll make one up anyway. The War on Terror may no longer go by that name, but we’re still fighting it.
Yet when it comes to actual Americans terrorized by their own governments, we look the other way. Or we blame the victims. Or we condemn polite attempts to bring it to our attention.
And the terrorism goes on, month after month. We’re reaching the point where we need a memorial wall to keep track of the fallen.
When we were growing up, there was a shooting on a college campus. War protesters faced the National Guard. The National Guard fired. Four protesters died.
The shock of the event — our government firing on its own citizens — swamped the national consciousness. The college’s name remains the event’s label to this day. Neil Young wrote a very popular song about it.
One shooting was all it took.
Of course, the victims were white.
We don’t have a solution to the shootings today. The problem runs deep in our nation, back to the original sin of our founding document, and throughout our history into living memory — we were born in the final years of the Jim Crow era. Maybe some day we can bury it all in our past, and future generations will wonder what the fuss was about, the way we can’t make sense of “Irish Need Not Apply” signs.
But that day has yet to arrive, despite the obliviousness of people who have no clue how their fellow citizens continue to be terrorized.
We have no solution to the problem. But the obliviousness is ridiculously easy to address. All it takes is people with large audiences to bring the problem to attention, so it can’t be ignored.
Like politicians. Or the news media. Or entertainers.
Or even football players.