The Bounce Back: Black history revisited
24th February 2014 · 0 Comments
By David Dennis Jr.
In 1787 America’s forefathers decided that every enslaved African — pretty much every descendant of Africa in the New World — would be considered three-fifths of a human being. So when a slave died, only sixty percent of a human died, according to the Census.
In 2014 I look at my son and I wonder if his life is worth any more than those enslaved Africans from hundreds of years ago. Right now, I’m not sure if a Black life has any worth in America. And as my son grows older, I wonder what value this country will place on his well-being.
In just the last month I’ve seen three Black lives get treated like collateral damage. As if their deaths weren’t worth justice or the time of day. First, there’s Trayvon Martin. You know the story by now: he was followed through a neighborhood by a man who suspected him of being dangerous based on his appearance. The man, George Zimmerman, shot Trayvon Martin in cold blood. Despite what the facts of the case say, we know that if George Zimmerman had not followed a Black kid based on stereotypes and prejudice, then Trayvon Martin would still be alive. I watched the trial horrified at the fact Martin’s parents had to watch their son’s killer walk away free.
Over the year or so since Zimmerman was found not guilty, though, I’ve tried to cope with what the verdict means for Black lives in America. Sadly, it was just a signpost for an era where Black lives were eradicated without any sense of retribution. To make matters worse, Martin’s life was further desecrated by Zimmerman’s whoring himself for attention. He’s agreed to take part in a Celebrity Boxing Match; because killing a Black boy is apparently all it takes to become a “celebrity.” A dead Black boy became a prop for fame in the same way sex tapes and reality shows have been in the past.
Just as this was happening, we saw the trial of Jordan Davis’ murderer, Michael Dunn. Dunn was upset teens were playing music too loud and fired shots into an SUV, murdering Davis. The jury found Dunn guilty of four charges of second-degree murder but hung on him being guilty for first-degree murder. So he was essentially found guilty of trying to kill a car full of teenagers, but he was found not guilty on actually murdering any of them. Thankfully, Dunn will see plenty of time in jail, but the principle of the situation is disgusting. In the face of seemingly undeniable evidence, another young Black man’s killer was found justified in his actions.
There’s also Alfred Wright, a Texas man whose death was ruled a suicide until his family hired their own private investigators to discover that his throat was slit and he was missing an ear. The description of his body sounds eerily similar to lynched victims of years past. The police department is being investigated for foul play, but I struggle to find any fait that there will be a suitable and just outcome.
When I read these stories, I think about my son. I was once a teenager, as he will be one day. I was followed by police, insulted by older white men and women and accused of committing crimes just like he undoubtedly will one day. I can’t control these things, but I can tell him how to act in his best, safest interests.
But I have a definite fear of a country that allows the George Zimmermans and Michael Dunns to walk free after murdering young Black men. I’m scared of a country that feels like an eight-grade reading level is suitable for my son when he graduates high school. I’m not scared of raising a son who breaks the law. I’m worried about my son living in a country that doesn’t care if he breaks the law or not. A country that sees him as wholly expendable no matter what.
Still, these stories scare me. Two hundred years ago, when Black men and women were three-fifths of a person, there was at least consequence for their murders as they represented a loss of work force on a plantation. Is it possible that a Black life is worth less in 2014 than it was in the 18th century?
This article originally published in the February 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.