One of my favorite movies of all time is A Time to Kill. Samuel L. Jackson portrays a father who is put on trial for murdering the men who raped his young daughter. Despite the viciousness of the rape, white men in the South rarely got convicted for their crimes against black bodies. Jackson’s character took justice into his own hands; a thought that isn’t so far-fetched coming from a father trying to protect his family. He wanted revenge because, even though the men had been arrested for what they’d done, he knew justice wouldn’t be properly administered.
The iconic line that Jackson delivers on the witness stands rings loudly in my head often: “Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!” While the story is fictional, the horrible truths of this country are deeply entrenched in the characters and their roles.
When you watch the news, there are figureheads who would have you believe that the black community en masse wants revenge. Pro-police organizations and politicians spew rhetoric trying to convince their followers that black people are anti-cop and have no conscience or sympathy for dead cops. They use isolated events, such as the murders of 5 Dallas cops during a peaceful protest, to label an entire organization as instigators of violence. Conservatives use the media to paint the black community as a monolithic group incapable of being pragmatic about preserving black lives and the lives of cops while also chastising the way cops are failing in their methods of policing.
There is a dangerous population of Americans who wholeheartedly believe black America is out to get them. Cops are patrolling the streets every day looking at black bodies as targets, rather than people, because they have it in their minds that we are starting to formulate these ideas about revenge.
What if the black community did have a hundred Carl Lee Haileys? What if there were black men who decided that vengeance was best handled man-to-man? What if families no longer had to “hope and pray, wait and see” because only they knew when and where justice would be appropriately served?
Part of me is scared to think what society would look like. People running around on pure emotion and rage with access to weapons. Cops with heavy artillery at their disposal or at the minimum, one phone call away. If black people decided that revenge was the answer, I have no doubt that this country would meet its demise.
Instead, what we truly want is equality. We want to be acknowledged as individuals whose lives have meaning and value beyond entertainment or being sexualized by mainstream America.
Right now, a presidential candidate is running his entire platform on fear-mongering. But he’s not the only one. At the micro-level, police chiefs, local prosecutors, and pro-cop organizations are using language meant to heighten paranoia. Stop and frisk was deemed unconstitutional and illegal but it’s taken on a different form. It used to mean looking for a certain type of clothing or observing a suspicious behavior/pattern. Now, being black is enough for you to have an unfortunate interaction with the police. It’s impossible to change the attitude we have about cops when they haven’t taken any steps to change their culture of policing.
Make America Great Again is a slogan rooted in the premise that the country been stripped of something. Something that made it special, superior, and different. But really, the slogan is nothing more than a dressed-up, legalized way of seeking revenge through white privilege.
Revenge is a concept we can all relate to. As fathers, we hold our newborns and promise that no harm will ever to come them on our watch. In the slim chance that someone is taken away from you, so violently and so abruptly, the natural reaction is to want to inflict pain on the person directly responsible. This isn’t a Hollywood movie, though.
A country where people take violent matters into their own hands is one destined to fall. When I think about how politicians talk about making American great again, I find it ironic though. The stripping away of this country’s moral fiber hasn’t come at the hands of minorities and yet we’ve paid the highest cost of its “fall from greatness.”
In truth, revenge is the furthest thing from the collective mind of the black community. The sooner mainstream America realizes this, the sooner they can get back to attacking the problems at hand: which are de-militarizing police forces and re-training cops on how to police citizens.
Photo: Getty Images