Fear of Black Men

The year 2042 can’t get here fast enough. That’s the year when demographers predict white people will be the statistical minority in the U.S.

Finally, black folks will have to find someone else to blame besides whitey.

Only joking.

I’m not worried about being a statistical minority because I’ve never felt part of a majority. Aside from that, after living for 18 years in Southern California, I figured that if America ever has a race war it won’t be black vs. white. It will be black vs. white, pale beige, light brown, olive — every shade of skin really except a contingent within one race that clings to an ancestral identification to a country many of them have never visited.

I arrived at this theory after covering crime for a newspaper in San Bernardino County. Many of the Hispanics and Asians I met were not sympathetic towards blacks. They felt victimized by blacks and afraid of blacks. They or their friends and family had been assaulted, insulted, robbed, disrespected, raped or killed by blacks.

Now along comes Constance Rice, a black civil rights attorney who has worked with the Los Angeles Police Dept., to tell us that white cops are afraid of blacks.

“I have known cops who haven’t had a racist bone in their bodies and in fact had adopted black children, they went to black churches on the weekend; and these are white cops. They really weren’t overtly racist,” Rice said in an interview on NPR. “They weren’t consciously racist. But you know what they had in their minds that made them act out and beat a black suspect unwarrantedly? They had fear. They were afraid of black men.”

Rice told NPR that she has interviewed more than 900 police officers and that it was “almost like a therapy session for them I didn’t realize that they needed an outlet to talk. They would say things like, ‘Ms. Rice, I’m scared of black men. Black men terrify me. I’m really scared of them. Ms. Rice, you know black men who come out of prison, they’ve got great hulk strength and I’m afraid they’re going to kill me. Ms. Rice, can you teach me how not to be afraid of black men.’ ”

Since Rice is black, she can say that – which is part of America’s race problem. If you want to breed racial hatred, tell one racial group they can’t speak ill of another group. The silenced group will quietly seethe.

As it is, what Rice said is a variation on an infamous quote made 21 years ago by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

In 1993, in a speech to a largely black audience at Operation PUSH in Chicago, Jackson said, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps … then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

Jackson’s quote was captured by Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago columnist Mike Royko.

Unfortunately, the quote is revisited only occasionally in the media and is often dismissed or disparaged or apologized for.

If Jackson can feel fear of black men, why can’t cops – of any color? Blacks commit more crimes disproportionately than any other race. So do young males of all races. If you’re in the business of dealing with criminals like cops are, you’re going to have a heightened sense of apprehension when you’re dealing with young males or blacks.

Constance Rice cannot tell a cop when to be afraid and when not to. What she and Jackson could do, if they wanted to help improve relations between police and the black community, is acknowledge that some black males are well aware that they inspire fear – and love it. Call them out on their black swagger and its harm to the larger community.

Rice and Jackson could also stop linking all shootings of blacks by police as one equal, long-running injustice.

A young man who has just committed a strong-armed robbery then flagrantly walks down the middle of a street and refuses to cooperate with a police officer is not the same thing as a 12-year-old playing in a park with a toy gun that looks real. Still different is a middle-aged man who resists arrest, struggles with police, ends up unconscious and is allowed to die while officers do nothing to aid him.

Did Michael Brown really put up his hands and cooperate before he was shot? Or did he lash out at white Darren Wilson who appeared scared and weaker?

Did the officer kill the boy with the toy gun because he was black, or because the cop was unfit for police work and had, in fact, been dismissed from another police department for being “weepy” and “distracted” during firearms training?

Did the officers who gathered around an unconscious Eric Garner treat him so callously because he was black – or because he was someone who had an arrest record dating back to 1980 for crimes such as assault and grand larceny?

While Jesse Jackson’s infamous quote about his fear of black men is occasionally recycled, the rest of the speech he gave that day to Operation PUSH in 1993 has been forgotten.

Too bad, because in hindsight Jackson was right about so much. Here’s his observation about street crime:

“This killing is not based upon poverty; it is based upon greed and violence and guns.”

Jackson talked about what a waste of time it was to expect government to reduce urban mayhem and about “making heroes of gang killers who are in prison and trying to get them out so they can become ‘leaders.’ ”

Which black leader (or white Democratic leader) would dare say this now: “When we are on the offensive arguing about getting killers out of jail, there is no moral authority in that.”

Twenty-one years later, America has a black U.S. Attorney General who wants to let drug dealers out of prison.

Where are they going to live – in the neighborhoods they helped destroy? Where are they going to work – in the high-tech field where they may have to report to a non-black boss?

As Royko pointed out, Jackson had been talking about crime for a long time, but he received little news coverage.

“For reasons I don’t understand, but find embarrassing,” the columnist wrote, “the people in my business are quicker to give prime-time coverage to a goof like Al Sharpton, who seems to blame most black woes on Korean shopkeepers or the nearest white guy with a badge.”

Royko, now dead, was known for being cantankerous, but he ended that column on a note of optimism:

“He (Jackson) is so far ahead of the parade that he’s almost walking alone. But if he keeps it up, they’ll catch up. And when they do, it might be his finest moment.”

Sadly, Jackson didn’t keep up. He joined the crowd – or perhaps he noticed what the media prefer to cover.

This past weekend, he gave the eulogy for Marion Barry, the Washington D.C. mayor known for smoking crack cocaine and making a lot of unfulfilled promises to his black constituents about providing jobs and ending poverty.

The eulogy capped three days of misplaced adulation for a black mayor who did very little for his people or his city. Jackson called him a “blood brother” in the struggle for civil rights. Brother: a word of Indo-European origins.

Let’s see who counts as brothers in 2042.

– Pamela Fitzsimmons

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