Under The Law (The Invention of Race and Contemporary Life Experiences)
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TitleUnder The Law (The Invention of Race and Contemporary Life Experiences)
AbstractSix Hours of Separation and a Lawless Legal Legacy: A Tale of Two Men and the Atlanta Police June 2020 “I’m terrified at the moral apathy – the death of the heart which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long, that they really don’t think I’m human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say, and this means that they have become, in themselves, moral monsters.” James Baldwin The Wendy’s on University Avenue in Atlanta is closed. There is a vehicle parked in the drive-through. It is around 11 p.m. on June 23, 2020. A man is asleep in the vehicle. He is black. The up-scale hotel six miles away in downtown Atlanta closes its doors at 2 a.m. in compliance with the CDC’s protocol for dealing with COVID. Five professional black men maintain security. It is June 24, 2020, around 4 a.m. Outside at the entrance a man is drunk and demands entry. The security staff asks if he is a guest. He answers in the negative. The staff asks if he is visiting a guest in the hotel. He answers in the negative. He is irate. He wants to enter the hotel. The security staff explains the COVID policy of the hotel. They do not allow him to enter. He threatens to “beat the asses” of the security staff. He tries unsuccessfully to push past hotel guests entering the hotel. He is white. The police are summoned. A policeman arrives at Wendy’s. He is white. A policeman arrives at the hotel. He is black. The Wendy’s policeman awakens the sleeping black man. The policeman asks him to move his car to a parking space and calls for back-up help. The man quietly moves his car. The black policeman approaches the white man and speaks kindly to him. Another white policeman arrives at the Wendy’s. The white policemen ask the man how much alcohol he has consumed. He explains that he has just come from his four-year-old daughter’s birthday party. The black policeman at the hotel manages to calm the aggressive white man. The white policemen at Wendy’s ask the black man to get out of his car. He does what they ask. They administer a sobriety test. The black policeman at the hotel does not administer a sobriety test. The man at Wendy’s tells the white policemen that he has friends nearby and will walk there. The black policeman at the hotel informs the security team that the man lives close to the hotel. The white policemen at Wendy’s tell the man he cannot walk to his friend’s house. They take out their handcuffs. The black policeman at the hotel helps the white man into his patrol car and drives him home. The man at Wendy’s panics and runs. The police claim he grabbed the taser from one of them and shot at them. They shoot him twice in the back. They handcuff him. He is bleeding. The black man dies while the white policeman stands on his back. On October 23, 1705 at a General Assembly in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia a law was passed that reads as follow: And if any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony; but the master, owner and every such other person so giving correction, shall be free and acquit of all punishment and accusation for the same, as if such accident has never happened: And also, if any negro, mulatto, or Indian, he or she so offering, shall, for every such offense, proved by the oath of the party, receive on his or her bare back, thirty lashes, well laid on; cognizable by a justice of the peace for that count wherein such offence shall be committed. What does it feel like to be a man of color in our current society? It feels like the first three minutes on a roller coaster. It begins when you hear that deafening click of the safety belt that locks you into that uncomfortable, dense seat, and the trembling motor starts to hum. At that moment you understand something is about to happen, and you are no longer in control. The machine slowly begins to move forward and then creeps up the steep hill very slowly until it reaches a serene place almost at the top where it pauses for a slight moment. You instantly catch a view of the breathtaking skyline. Then all of a sudden, your stomach feels like it’s in the back of your throat and your breath escapes you. You realize your only option is to hold on for dear life and or just enjoy the ride. I realize that my fascinating dark brown skin is that uncomfortable seat, and fear is the motor that begins to hum. The fear in question is the inability to trust the people designated to protect you. Who would ever think that falling asleep in the common area on a college campus, falling asleep in your car, barbecuing in the local park, or walking around in your front yard could cause someone to call -the police on you? Men of color have to always be aware of these potentialities. My first encounter with the men in blue happened on a warm autumn evening when I was in my early twenties. The sun had begun to go down, but it wasn’t yet dark enough for the street lights to come on. My sister and I lived in an apartment in Forestville, Maryland, located in Prince George’s (P.G.) county. P. G. County’s law enforcement had a reputation for being very aggressive in their interactions with people of color. Across the street from our apartment complex was a Seven Eleven convenience store. It was a hot afternoon. Hoping to cool off, I walked to the Seven Eleven to get myself a cherry slushy. I grooved to the music on the radio en route to the store. About a hundred meters from the Seven Eleven, I watched a police car abruptly enter the apartment complex. The police cruiser quickly approached me and stopped. Uninterested in what the officer was doing, I continued to pursue the slushy. The young officer aggressively jumped out of the vehicle with his hand on his weapon and began yelling at me. I looked around and felt a little confused about why this officer had yelled and walked towards me in such a confrontational manner. He asked me where I was going. I told him, and then asked him why he had approached me. He shouted out, “Shut the Fuck up! I’m asking the questions.” I asked him if he wanted to see my ID. I reached in my pocket, pulled out my ID, and gave it to him. I placed my military ID on top of my driver’s license to see what his reaction would be. He snatched the ID cards out of my hand and held both up so that he could see them better. I watched his entire demeanor toward me change. His harsh, cold face softened to a warm, devilish grin. He said, “You know, my brother is in the Marine Corps.” I looked at him sternly and said, “Don’t patronize me. Why did you stop me?” He claimed he had received a call, and I fit the description of the person from the call. I asked him what was the person’s description--a black man? “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin