Death of the nefarious nigger: America's hate-obsession for Black men

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I am heartened by the national outcry against the Staten Island grand jury's decision not to indict NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo for choking Eric Garner to death.

As a black woman, it takes continual, daily effort to work through my rage and sorrow over the untimely deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and Trayvon Martin. The weight of so much ubiquitous brutal history -- the hundreds if not thousands of black men who have died at the hands of overzealous police and sadistic mobs in America -- is a painful psychic scar that rips open anew each time I watch one more violent, senseless video, one more black man dead.

Not that a dead black man gets much sympathy from a wide swath of Americans. To no surprise, the usual gadflies leap to blame the victim: Garner was obese, asthmatic, and had a history of illegally selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on the cheap; Brown was alleged to have stolen cigars from a convenience store and "charged" the armed, now former police officer Darren Wilson; Martin wore a hoodie, had remnants of marijuana in his possession, and was featured in online photos sporting a gold gangsta grille (translation: he was a thug at heart).

It might be easy to dismiss these deaths as the expected demise of petty criminals whose days were numbered anyway, or pre-teen and adolescent boys who "look menacing" and are therefore guilty by appearance. The subtext of these racist sleights-of-tongue and bigoted backseat quarterbacking?

The niggers deserved to die.

Over $50 worth of cigarillos? A handful of cigarettes? A bag of Skittles?

These men died for one visceral, fundamental reason: Hatred. Loathing. Centuries of contempt for the despicable, irredeemable nigger.

Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper and civil rights attorney Constance Rice, who spent time interviewing 900 white police officers, say fear also plays a role in police attacks on black men. Fear of the black brute, the superhuman beast, the monstrous hulk impervious to pain -- these conditioned fight-responses fuel the shoot-first-skip-questions default approach by many police officers.

But this fear is camoflauge. A symptom, not the cause.

It is hatred that lies behind the trigger-finger reactions of police who swiftly move in to kill a black male rather than de-escalate a confrontation, as they are trained to do. Cops see a black man and immediately criminalize him (well-respected, law-abiding citizens included) or demonize him (any brother with a checkered past). Black kids don't escape this wrath: a defenseless child will be just as ruthlessly gunned down as a grown man.

This universal hatred of black men has contributed to what Richard Wright warned against in his novel Native Son: that there would be many Bigger Thomases, generations of black men propelled by the rage of the unilaterally loathed, the collectively targeted, the forever branded and hog-tied as less than.

Twelve year old Tamir Rice suffered a fatal lapse of judgment when he brandished an air gun in a public park. His mother had already had what many black families in the U.S. call "the talk" with her son. But Tamir, being the callow 12-year-old boy that most boys his age are, did not heed his mother's warnings. The surveillance video showing a police vehicle racing up to Tamir and Tamir going down in little more than one second after an officer jumps from the car tells a too-familiar tragic and cautionary tale: black males are always presumed dangerous; black males never, ever to be given the benefit of the doubt.

One can imagine how markedly different the Cleveland park scene would have played out if a white kid had been the one waving around a pellet gun. At the very least, questions would have asked. The police would have ascertained that the gun was a toy and the boy no threat. They would have patted him on the back before sending him home, chuckling with avuncular amusement. They might have even shared a post-incident laugh with good old dad.

Such leniency isn't granted to boys like Tamir. Or Trayvon Martin. Or any other black male who finds himself in the crosshairs of a law enforcement officer's gun.

It's been nearly 24 years since the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King by five Los Angeles policemen and the riot-inducing acquittals of the officers involved. And yet black men are still dying fast, as rap artist Tupac Shakur lamented that same year in his infamous "I Don't Give a Fuck":

I don't give a fuck They done push me to the limit the more I live I might blow up any minute, did it again Now I'm in the back of the paddy wagon While this cops bragging about the nigga he's jackin I see no justice All I see is niggas dying fast The sound of a gun blast Then watch the hurst past Just another day in the life 'G' Gotta step lightly cause cops tried to snippe me

The situation today is unchanged. And yet ... and yet. Have we finally arrived at a place where our collective consciousness has congealed? Has the impunity of white-cop-on-black-male-homicide reached its tipping point at long last?

The voices of protestors rise and refuse to go away. Holiday shopping be damned. As one demonstrator in Seattle put it: "People are dying. And if you can't get with that over getting cheap deals, that's your problem."

The cries of black outrage have been joined by the masses. Black mothers, wives, sisters and girlfriends are no longer alone. And the relentless, minute-by-minute overcoming that is every African American's unique cross to bear -- the potent residual of a long and brutal and ugly history against which all black people must struggle daily -- is gaining new traction at last.

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