It’s been a treacherous two weeks. First Ronnie Shumpert in Mississippi (who it seems either people weren’t aware of or that they’ve already forgotten), then Alton Sterling in Louisianna, and the next day, the very next day, Philando Castile in Minnesota.
Then this happened.
I looked at the picture of the man that brought about the tragic deaths of 1 Black Lives Matter protestor and 5 Dallas police officers. I looked at his picture and two things struck me immediately: His skin color and what was covering his skin – an United States military uniform.
All of a sudden the tragic occurrence wasn’t so surprising to me. Tragic, yes. But not surprising.
Now, please don’t take what I’m about to say as being callous or unfeeling, but as with everything, there’s a context. Let’s get to it.
What Had Happened Was…
The history of Black people serving in the armed forces of the United States of America is long. Like, no, reeeeeeeeeeally long. Just as long as any contribution of folks with White skin as a matter of fact.
American Revolutionary War (April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783)
Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865)
Spanish-American War (April 1898 – August 1898)
World War I (July 28, 1914 – November 11, 1918)
(Click here to see more amazing photos of Black soldiers in WWI.)
World War II (September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945)
Vietnam War (November 1, 1955 – April 30, 1975)
So, let’s be clear. Black people been fightin’ since forever. And I must tell you, a knot filled my chest, tears that felt like they formed in my throat rose to my eyes as I looked through the photo archives of countless Black faces, the courage, the smiles, soldiers – they gave so much only to receive so very little, little to nothing from their country in return.
And anytime White veterans (unjustly) received nothing, the United States government made sure to give the Black veterans even less than that.
When Black American Revolutionary War soldiers were done shedding their blood for their country (and for themselves), their country still considered them to be sub-human, not human, not citizens – beasts of the nation. And they treated them as such. Slavery saw to that.
When Black Spanish-American War soldiers were done shedding their blood for their country, their country still considered them to be sub-human, not human, not citizens – beasts of the nation. And they treated them as such.
When Black Civil War soldiers were done shedding their blood for their country (and for themselves), some slaves even fighting for the Confederacy in the place of cowardly or ineligible/disabled White slave masters, their country still considered them to be sub-human, not human, not citizens – beasts of the nation. And they treated them as such.
They executed “gradual” emancipation in different states from North to South, doing things such as freeing some depending on age or keeping the children of the freed slave longer. With very limited economic freedom or rights to, you know, exist, many were left with no other choice but to become sharecroppers. (“Sharecropper” – more often than not, was essentially a fancy word for “slave”. Trust me). Over time, Black folks built some things out of nothing, but again, let’s be clear – America was not the land of the free for them. It just wasn’t.
Lynching Black bodies was commonplace. Well, actually it was more than commonplace. It was more like a White family past-time. They’d purchase postcards of burned alive castrated and dismembered Black bodies hanging from a tree or tied to a stake surrounded by sometimes smiling White children, women and men. The sadists would send these White terrorism post cards to their families and friends. “Wish you were here!”
As for the United States government? They made sure that the 13th Amendment excluded people in prison, made or changed the laws governing everyday Black life, made living while Black a criminal act, filled up the jails with Black bodies, and voila! Free forced labor! Otherwise known as slavery.*
(*But, of course, they didn’t call it that).
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” – The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution
When Black World War I & II soldiers were done shedding their blood for their country, their country still considered them to be sub-human, not human, not citizens – beasts of the nation. And they treated them as such.
They couldn’t so much as pee in a toilet freely. White veterans, however, received the Price Is Right grand prizes of WELFARE unlike anything the nation had ever seen before- government subsidized monies and loans out the whazoo from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The New Deal and the GI Bill gave White veterans/ White people everything from food to houses to college financing. Black folks? Not so much in policy or practice. Black veterans still had little to no functioning rights of citizenship equal to that of Whites, aaaand oh yeah – lynching was still very much a thing.
When Black Vietnam War soldiers were done shedding their blood for their country, their country still considered them sub-human, not human, not citizens – beasts of the nation. And they treated them as such: The criminalization of everyday Black life? Still a thing. Urban centers eventually built and Black folks forced into them procedurally helped construct ghettos. City planning (literally how they constructed town borders and where they decided to place highways) plus unjust anti-Black housing practices from the banks down to the real estate agents intentionally channeled Black life into high concentration population-dense poverty-stricken housing areas. (Thanks, Redlining!)
As Black people, they were restricted from most rights as veterans in practice if not in law. (No housing loans for you, Black vet!) Quality and access to education was still in the gutter, both before and after the integration of schools. (You want money for schools? Quality education fa ya kids? Getouttaheah!) Add to that Vietnam veteran drug addiction, the mental trauma of war and an all-out attack through discriminatory practices and over-policing in Black, minority, and low-income communities.
(Side Note: Funny how hard it is to continue a civil rights movement once a whole community/race of folks are in jail, in poverty, hypes, or struggling to hold it together with none of the resources that Whites had at their disposal from the last decade, generation, well, from the last forever. Coincidence? I think not.)
So, back to the present…
Notice the pattern, yet? Black man willingly serves his country. Black man returns from war for country. Country oppresses and tries to kill Black man…and Black woman…and his kids, too. Pretty much.
So is it any wonder, that a man in a military uniform who has been trained and socialized to carry a weapon and use it to eliminate threats to liberty, who gives his life for that country and countrymen, turns around and hunts his own countrymen when his countrymen threaten his liberty?
What exactly is surprising us about this tragedy when we know his country tells him in the presence of his countrymen…
that there has been a referendum on freedom? when through acquittal after acquittal, in no charges filed after no charges filed, this country tells Black veterans that the loss of Black life at the hands of men in uniforms will not be seen as murder by the system he swore to protect?
that his countrymen with guns and uniforms are free to threaten his liberty?
that the countrymen for whom he gave his life are now free to take his life?
that government protected liberty is not his reward for his service?
that, in fact, he has no liberty?
So, now Kids, can you see how the Groundhog Day of police murdering Black folks miiiiight trigger a negative and dangerous reaction in someone who fits the description of the victims?
PTSD? Perhaps. But if so, he likely didn’t acquire it solely on foreign soil. It is probable that his PTSD could have been just as much homegrown. Organic, even. With the recent years’ frequency and nature of police-on-Black crime, “hunted” is a horrifyingly accurate adjective for how Black women, men and children feel.
Do not misread. This is not a justification of his actions. Just an explanation for why I am not surprised. And you shouldn’t be either.
You see, this is why it’s so important that you reconstruct the crime scene, the context in which the murders took place. America is the scene of the crime.
America, you trained your son Micah to kill, abused him, and now you’re surprised that he came for you? You abandoned him, but you’re surprised he abandoned you? You charge him with murder as your fingertips drip with the blood of your victims. With the blood of those you so parasitically used. You taught – no, conditioned – him throughout the annals of history, through Fox News and White murderers off the hook, that blood and injustice is your currency of choice. It is the very language you speak.
In short, Captain America has been more Hydra than hero.
And considering that this country hasn’t behaved too much better in its treatment of citizens with mental illness and veterans in general, America has certainly put an awful lot of ammo in this gun they feel justified in saying shouldn’t go off.
Oh my dear America, you must take your finger off the trigger.
Black people have served and protected these United States since before they were united. Unfortunately, these United States have always failed abysmally to return the favor.