Even when you think you get it, watching a police officer murder a black man on video is shocking. Even when you think you get it, watching two white men take the law into their own hands and stalk and kill a black man for no good reason is shocking.
Belatedly we learn of the murder in March of Breonna Taylor, when plainclothes Louisville police officers executed a no-knock warrant on her apartment. An NPR story reports: “According to [Taylor’s] family’s lawyers, the subject of the investigation was not Taylor, but a man she had dated previously who had once sent a package to her apartment.”
To make matters worse, if that’s even possible, “the subject of the investigation” was reportedly already in custody elsewhere.
On top of this we see a white woman, one Amy Cooper, attempt to weaponize racist law enforcement against a black man who had the audacity to ask her to obey the law and leash her dog. She joins a long, long line of white women who wrongly accused black men of assault. (This is why I believe any slogan that says “Believe women” should have several big asterisks after it.) Unlike so many of all those black men wrongly accused, Christian Cooper is alive and well. He has accepted the woman’s apology. In an NPR interview, quoted in a CNN story, he said, “Now, should she be defined by that, you know, couple-of-seconds moment? I can’t answer that. I think that’s really up to her and what she does going forward.”
What I ask is why, in that “couple-of-seconds moment,” this woman’s reaction to being asked to leash her dog was to call 911 and accuse Christian Cooper of assaulting her. For decades I’ve been quoting a line from The Boys in the Band: “Guilt turns to hostility.” It explains more otherwise inexplicably hostile behavior than anything else I’ve come across. I’m betting that Amy Cooper knew her dog should have been leashed and, well, guilt turned to a hostility that could easily have turned lethal.
Because, well, racism. And the sort of white privilege that assumes that a white person’s lies will be believed over a black person’s truth.
In How to Be an Antiracist Ibram X. Kendi writes that there are two options: racist and antiracist. This avoids the tedious to the point of infuriating habit many white people have of claiming how and why we aren’t racist. (Read this book if you haven’t already. I’m not kidding.) In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and the killing of Breonna Taylor, and so many other killings by law enforcement and by people taking the law into their own hands, many thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, have marched, rallied, and held vigils around the world to protest the murders of people of color and to demand reforms of police departments and policing practices.
About 450 of those thousands were here on Martha’s Vineyard. A Sunday morning vigil at Waban Park was followed on Monday afternoon by the largest rally I’ve ever seen at Five Corners. All of us wore masks (many of them colorful, and some bearing messages), but social distancing was out of the question: All five of those corners were jammed with people. It was the first time many of us had seen each other in person, as opposed to on Zoom, in going on three months.
It was catalyzed by a high school student, Graysen Kirk, who told the Vineyard Gazette that when she first started organizing the event, “I thought it was just going to be me and my sign.” It turned out to be so much more than that. This is what antiracism looked like on Martha’s Vineyard last Monday.