Why Are The Deaths of Black People Invisible in America?
Back in the early part of 1999, I was a newbie in New York City, having moved there in the late summer of 1997 — and in those days, breaking news was delivered the old-fashioned way, which meant via TV, radio and newspaper.
The violent murder of African immigrant Amadou Diallo — who died at the age of 23 after being pummeled with 41 bullets by four plain-clothed police officers, right in front of his Bronx apartment in the dead of night — was a shocking and frightening realization of the deadliness of police brutality towards Black people.
Diallo, who was born in Guinea, was returning home from a neighborhood eatery, and was approached by the four cops who assumed he was the rape suspect they had been trying to capture for over a year.
The scenario that played out matches pretty much every case that involves police shootings and the victims of color, that are almost always deemed guilty until their blood spills and innocence is confirmed too late.
After being physically hit with 19 bullets, as punishment for reaching into his pocket for the wallet that contained the documents, that were supposed save his life, Diallo died, and his dreams for a better life in a country that he chose over his own — were buried with him.
There was no justice for the brutal slaying of the African immigrant in America, as his four murderers were expectedly acquitted.
And while Diallo’s family ended up receiving a large settlement from the city, which was considered the largest ever recorded “for a single man with no dependents” — there is no sufficient compensation for the senseless loss that violates civil rights based on the gross negligence of White cops.
Almost 20 years later, and nothing has changed. Literally nothing has changed because just the other day, Chinedu Okobi, a Nigerian-American, Bay Area native was pulled over by four sheriffs, who noticed him weaving in and out of traffic.
The encounter took a deadly turn after the suspect became allegedly combative, to the point that one of the sheriffs, who still hasn’t been identified, decided to utilize a Taser in an effort to subdue the individual.
The end result was death by cardiac arrest.
Tasers are typically described as “non-lethal weapons,” which means it’s fairly safe for police officers to use them during incidents that warrant that level of discipline. But when it comes to Black people, somehow “non-lethal” becomes lethal and for Okobi, even his mentally-fragile state wasn’t enough to prevent him from being illegally Tasered multiple times.
Botham Jean was murdered by an off-duty cop who shot him in the chest after being rattled that he may have broken into her apartment. It was after he was clearly dead that she realized how so very wrong she was, and in the days after — her actions were minimized to accommodate her Whiteness and the privilege that activates it.
Why are the deaths of Black people invisible in America?
There seems to be a glaring disconnect between the media and the hate crimes that have been killing off Black people without fail, and with disturbing frequency. The amount of energy and time that is poured into the issue of police brutality, and how the victims are rarely armed with weapons, but are still subjected to gun violence or Taser attacks is basically non-existent.
And now with the unfathomable tragedy of the bloody massacre at the synagogue nestled in Squirrel Hill, a mostly Jewish suburb located in Pittsburgh, PA — news outlets are understandably committed to humanizing the victims by emphasizing the idyllic neighborhood of tree-lined streets — and family-friendly atmosphere that’s enhanced by the tight-knit community who never saw this coming.
We also get the additional tear-jerker of how national treasure, “Mister Rogers,” began his humble beginnings in the very neighborhood that was viciously attacked by a White supremacist. And during the end of one of many segments on CNN, viewers were treated by a classic message of encouragement from “America’s Favorite Neighbor.”
For most of that weekend, major cable news networks were focused mostly on the massive shooting that took the lives of 11 people, with periodic updates on the bomb packages, that were addressed and sent to two former presidents and a handful of government officials and notables in various industries, including the New York offices of CNN.
There was absolutely no mention of another deadly and bone-chilling incident that happened at Kroger supermarket in Louisville, KY that involved the shooting death of two African-Americans who were targeted by a White male terrorist on a killing spree.
Maurice Stallard, 69, was shopping for school supplies with his grandson when he was gunned down by Gregory Bush. Vicki Lee Jones, 67, was shot dead outside the store, and when the shooter was faced with whether or not to shoot the White man who was also armed — and headed inside to check on his wife — Bush told him this:
“White don’t kill Whites”
Before killing two unarmed Black people, Bush had tried to enter the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, a predominantly Black church, but was unable to gain entry due to security measures. And so he proceeded to hunt down Black victims to compensate for the failure of his original plan.
The White male terrorist was eventually arrested, and faces “two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment for the shooting.”
But he remarkably hasn’t been charged with a hate crime, and the coverage by outlets always hints of the “possibility” that he will be charged, despite the irrefutable evidence that proves why there shouldn’t be any doubt of his motives.
The story about the two Black people who were killed because they were Black, was finally added to the items that overruled it — much later on — when it must’ve been clear that it would be unforgivable to exclude it from the noteworthy events of that same week.
The reason it took so long for CNN, and other news organizations to spotlight the hate crime that occurred in Louisville, is simply rooted in the normalization of these types of tragedies, and how Black pain never yields the same amount of empathy that would justify lingering coverage.
This practice of selective coverage is nothing new, and even extends to global catastrophes, especially when the brutality of terrorism hits cities like Paris and Brussels; the traditional hubs for tourists who arrive in droves for the pleasures of awe-inspiring scenery and participatory traditions.
The bedazzled attributes that make these cities enticing, also qualify them for the deadly attacks that aim to paralyze and destroy. It wasn’t that long ago that terrorists stormed these European gems with fury, and the dire consequences definitely warranted the round-the-clock reporting — accompanied by the touching tributes that highlighted the fitting memorials against the backdrop of unrelenting opulence.
Yet, the suicide horrific bombing in Lahore, a less glamorous city in Pakistan, that wiped out more than 75 inhabitants, took place around the same time that Brussels was attacked in early 2016, and yet there was hardly any mention of that tragedy.
This treatment of nonchalance is seemingly reserved for the “less civilized” nations with troubled rap sheets, that stem from the potency of White supremacy, and how centuries of fateful interference, ultimately leaves former colonies — systematically incapacitated — indefinitely.
And so places like Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria, etc tend to be eliminated from the trending cycle, and even when they are included, the attention is sparse — as all the worthy hashtags have been applied to the tragedies that do matter.
And once the attention has been sucked away, all that’s left are dribbles of information that pale in comparison to the more comprehensive packaging — afforded to worthier Westerners.
This logic is assigned to the familiarity of graphic images of suffering that feature the subjects that match the category of non-stop bombings that demolish a school bus — or the shooting death of a Black teen who was trying to escape exactly what befell him, or the emergency scene of a hate crime that never quite brings a hostile nation to its knees until the victims sport another color.
Black people have been relentlessly tormented by the system in more ways than one, and our lives don’t carry nearly the same value as our White counterparts, and yet we keep on keeping on, despite the public harassment that even extends to Black children — and the daily threat to our lives by law enforcement and White male terrorists.
So forgive me if I harbor a bit of resentment when it comes to the way the media downplays the unfortunate plight of Black victims, by ignoring the breaking news and then inserting it only to fuel the validity of the coverage that centers around the lives that seem to matter more.
Suddenly, hate crimes is recognized as the epidemic it is, as users on social media express the fear of terror that perhaps their world is about to be shattered by the reality of a new kind of violence — that never existed until President Trump fucked it all up with his hate-filled rhetoric.
And of course we as Black people, who have been assaulted with the curse of #livingwhileblack since the beginning of time, are forced to endure the media’s persistently inconsistent reportage of Black lives under siege, which has endorsed the falsehood of how hate crimes and societal violence is a newly activated issue — introduced by Trump’s America.
Where was White America, when Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, were brutally silenced by a system that was programmed for their extinction?
When it comes to demonizing the mission statement of #BlackLivesMatter, while threatening to hijack the symbolic demonstration of stoic activism from a true-born hero — White people are quite eager to participate without any organic tendencies towards allyship — that is inspired by acquired knowledge and empathy.
Black people are routinely killed by the system and nobody cares because they’ve seen that particular show enough times to know how it ends — and the media can’t be bothered because the theatrics won’t provide the heart-tugging testimonies that guarantee an avalanche of clicks and ratings.
It’s not about measuring the value of lives or the irritation that the tragedy at the synagogue finally woke up America — and validated the horror of hate crimes, because the coverage is always necessary whenever lives are violently assaulted for reasons that are rooted in extremism.
It’s the notion that Black lives and the ongoing threats that are disproportionately aimed our way — never registers as worthy enough for the same respect that’s automatically bequeathed on the Americans that carry higher currency.
We don’t want to be invisible anymore. The deaths of Black Americans from racially-motivated crimes should always matter.
RIP: Maurice Stallard and Vicki Lee Jones