Feeling Conflicted About Dallas Shooting Doesn’t Make Black People Less Moral Or Decent. It Makes Us Human.
Was Micah Johnson wrong for shooting police officers in Dallas?
On the surface, this question seems rather simple. Of course, he was wrong, is the immediate, knee-jerk response, for all the obvious reasons. He killed five police officers. He injured ten. Families and friends lost loved ones — fathers, husbands, sons. He escalated an already terribly fraught relationship between police and Black communities. Murder is murder. What is there to debate or discuss?
But, believe it or not, for many Black people, this question of the rightness or the wrongness of Johnson’s actions may be a much tougher question to come to grips with than at first appears.
I class myself in that group. Moreover, I believe if many more black people were honest with themselves, they would do the same.
I’m fully aware of the moral risks that crowd around such an admission. I’m aware of the criticisms heaped on Black people from all sides — including from other Blacks — who may be tempted to view Johnson as, in some way, a “martyr.” I’m alert to the fact that some Black people hold the fear that raising the question of the morality of the Dallas shooting in this open-ended way is controversial, unethical, morally reprehensible, and will trigger white backlash.
But, here’s the thing, as much as I wish it were, processing grief and pain within a white supremacist capitalist social construct is not perfect.
Watching that news report filter in late Thursday night of a lone gunman — a sharp shooter — positioned on rooftops shooting white police officers, my own visceral reaction was “And? So what? They had it coming.” (“They” referring to the system. But, we’ll come back to that later.)
I admit this without any apology and aware of the discomfort I will likely cause in some readers. However, I see the act of suppressing this feeling, this reaction, about the Dallas tragedy — and, make no mistake, it was a tragedy — as akin to the deplorable and annoying habit of asking Black families of victims of racial trauma, as well as the larger Black community, in the immediate aftermath of police killings, to forgive their oppressors.
Why would you do that?
The chilling truth of the matter is, as a Black person living in America, it would be extremely and superhumanly difficult, unnatural and emotionally dishonest not to elicit this manner of guttural response in that moment, especially in full view of knowledge that the racially motivated police practices leveled on black bodies that we witnessed on social media last week are not new, but, in fact, is a very, very old phenomenon in America.
And, we also know that, despite the overwhelming evidence of excessive force shown in these graphic videos, which partly motivated Johnson’s actions, the probability that any of the officers who killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile will face judicial reprisal is very low.
We expect that no one will be indicted. And, if indicted, we expect that no officer will be convicted. And, sadly, we expect that, in the months ahead, the state will lynch more black bodies under all sorts of faulty pretexts.
Imagine having to navigate your way through this ritual once you’ve internalized it. Think about what that does to your psyche. Every Black person knows that any one us on any given day could be Alton Sterling or Philando Castile. It’s safe to suggest that most of us feel completely vulnerable and powerless in the face of the monster that is the criminal justice system.
So, when Johnson unleashed hell that Thursday night, it’s possible that many Black folks interpreted his actions not simply as an attack on individual officers, but retaliation against the system of American policing in general and, by extension, against the criminal justice system.
This, I strongly believe, helps explain why so many Black people, like myself, felt “nothing” at the lost of the officers. It helps explain why Black people say that they are not surprised by what happened in Dallas, not simply because of the unwillingness of Washington to push through major gun reform legislation but, more importantly, due to a recognition of the ongoing vitality of white supremacy as the order of the day in American society and continuing impact of racial bias in just about every police department in this country.
It’s wrong, I know. But, as a response, it’s fair.
Black people should be given the space to process through this anger and frustration we’ve suffered repeatedly at the hands of white supremacist police practices over the past few years, the past week and throughout American history.
And instead of shaming and condemning us for these admitting these feelings, people should be helping us find healing spaces where we can process this anger, frustration, despair, as well as rekindle a sense of hope about the possibilities of our nation and species.
We have a right to grieve in this particular way. It doesn’t make us any less moral or decent or humane a people. To the contrary. It makes us human.