“Them motherf–kers,” said the staggeringly beautiful African-American woman, a bit of Iman before David Bowie, circling the visitors’ waiting room of a Florida federal prison. “Them mothers kept me out again,” with which she hurled her locker key across the waiting room. I was 100 per cent on her side. The guards had taken against her and she was always pulled out of the line and told her hands were “dirty,” so no visit. Once she insisted that the duty officer test the accusing guards’ hands and they both tested “dirty” for drug use, too. “Money dirty,” she said, “touch it and ain’t no way to know where it’s been.”
African-Americans (and Hispanics) are prison inmates way out of proportion to their presence in the population. Most are in for non-violent drug crimes, serving lengthy and often no-parole sentences. I don’t know how much of it is racism but it is certainly class-and-caste. Blacks have a President in the White House and a black attorney general, not to mention congressmen, senators and even cabinet members, and it doesn’t help them a damn. Because these are largely upper-middle-class toffs with Ivy League degrees who don’t give a damn about their own black underclass. They remind me of 19th-century German Jews, assimilated into the best circles, deeply resenting the rag-and-bone Jewish refugees of Eastern Europe flooding into Berlin and embarrassing the hell out of them.
Prison-reform bills sit in committee with black congressional leaders like Chicago Congressman Danny Davis promising to push them through. Those bills were there in 2008 when I started my prison-visiting stint and haven’t passed yet. Attorney General Eric Holder got Congress to reduce the disparity between the weight of crack (favoured by blacks) and the weight of powder cocaine (the white preference) needed to trigger mandatory prison sentences from 100-to-one down to 18-to-one. Some equality, that.
This lumpen mass of Americans at the bottom of the ladder, largely black, living with inferior schools and functionally illiterate—like the touching 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel in the George Zimmerman trial—can’t levitate into a better life, especially with their males in jail. They are not more stupid, more genetically criminal than any other American group, but the country goes on pounding them into the ground with its useless war on drugs and smug indifference to their problems. No one bothers white, middle-class drug users—rather like Vietnam, when no one cared much about the nearly all-black draft until LBJ started hitting on middle-class whites. It’s a Marshall Plan for blacks that’s needed, rather than the billions spent on phony drug wars.
Every group has its own “It” handbag. In prison, a gold “grill” on your teeth trumped tattoos. (Even better, diamonds in that grill.) The first black my husband helped tutor to his high school leaving certificate told him that, when he got out of prison, the premier thing he would do was junk his grill. He wanted to put that life behind him. Now he could write correctly and read properly.
Every now and then, President Obama does a Rev. Al Sharpton number and jives up the mob in his own suave way—as when he assumed his specially grave voice to tell Americans pre-trial (!), “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” I don’t know where Trayvon Martin was going in his life. He had been suspended from school and was drifting. There’s a photo said to be him, wearing a grill, but it could be play-acting. He was a very young man but not a “child,” as CNN kept saying, as if he were a seven-year-old with toy trains. It’s a terrible tragedy that he is dead, horrible, but justice would not have been served by any other verdict for George Zimmerman than “not guilty.”
The evidence was conclusive. Zimmerman was attacked and had the right to defend himself. Whether his following Martin led to the incident doesn’t matter legally. If a policeman shoots and misses a bank robber in the commission of the robbery and the robber is convinced the policeman is going to shoot again to kill him, he would have a legal right to defend himself. You have the legal right to protect yourself from grievous bodily harm. British case law also points out that the threatened may not be able to “weigh to a nicety.” That means that, in the two seconds before you think you may be pounded to a pulp, you can’t be expected to take everything into account.
This trial only happened because Martin was black and such luminaries as the Rev. Sharpton did their Bonfire of the Vanities thing and roiled the mobs. Zimmerman was handcuffed, taken away and questioned for five hours, followed by a police investigation that found—as the jury did 15 months later—there were no grounds to charge him. I love Anderson Cooper but he’s at his peak intelligence standing in a hurricane rather than analyzing a complicated area of the law. And it’s a curse disadvantaged blacks bear that their so-called leaders from the White House to the NAACP care only about self-aggrandizement and power rather than substantial action for this constituency. The journos go along, emotive and shrill, crocodile tears flowing, because by now, they get their info from Twitter, where complexity is reduced to 140 characters.
There’s a 2012 video on YouTube tagged 5723Michael, claiming to be an African-American at a Mississippi protest over Trayvon’s death. It’s strong stuff, 100 per cent proof. In this and other videos, he talks of the numerous black-on-black murders that get no protests, no NAACP, National Urban League, Sharpton or white TV liberals. “A black life,” he says, “only has value when it’s taken by a non-black. It is what it is.” A black hole of hypocrisy.
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