Well, Thank God ‘That’s Over’ and we can get on with Thanksgiving

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Try this on: You are the majority, of a particular skin color – White – in a town where everyone in charge is of a different skin color – let’s say Black. You live in a town in middle America; I’ll call it “Jefferson” – a busy little county seat.

Blacks own most of the shops, houses, businesses where you Whites work, loaf, shop, rent, live on welfare, do poorly in schools. The city council is all Blacks, the county board of supervisors does have a woman but she as well as everyone else is Black; and Blacks fill all the offices — clerk, treasurer, auditor, attorney, assessor, recorder, sheriff, zoning commissioner and so forth. All lawyers, judges, cops, doctors, school superintendents, sewer marshals, dog catchers, merchants, chiefs are Black.

In other words, if you’re White, you’re lesser, second-class citizens. It will be more likely that you lose your license for slight infractions, are stopped on the street for some reason or no reason, are questioned if there is a robbery in your neighborhood, are ignored for long periods of time in any courthouse office, and are despised because you exist, spat upon figuratively and sometimes really; you’re White, and everyone knows you’re apt to get in trouble, do drugs, not work, have no daddy and are likely to have dropped out of school.

So, here’s the scene:

A White kid walking along a street – maybe West Harrison in Jefferson – one early evening, dark but not late: picture him – nice looking kid, athletic, big shoulders, swaggery walk, cocky, off to trade school in Omaha in two days to learn heating and air conditioning (so he says), having always thought he would like to have a trade, own his own shop. He’s been uptown to talk with his buddies, hit an old guy, steal an ice cream cone at Twinns, now strolling home to his dysfunctional family to call his girlfriend. Past the Middle School he strolls, crossing Highway 4, walking along Ben Yoder’s big yard with the low fence, Jean and Don Feldmann’s on the north of him now; crossing Oak Street, passing Ron and Josie Steven’s old Victorian, Vern Foge’s uber-neat place to his right, then the alley and Rick Morain’s big front porch on the corner. Our possible petty thief/hitter/chip-on-his-shoulder White teen (18—he’as a man, really) crosses Maple and soon will pass Judge David Harris’s former house when WHAM!

Cop has him. Not on the sidewalk but in the street the kid is, where’s he’s been walking all this time. A Black cop stops him to ask him what he’s doing walking in the street. And the kid is suddenly dead.

Because this is a town with Black people in charge, White people are suspect no matter what they do, so slam, bam, one of those White kids is shot dead because he was . . . walking in the middle of the street? Rude? Mean? A thief?

Did the Black cop know that the White kid had just stolen an ice cream cone? That he’d had an argument with the clerk and pushed him? The entire video tape of the strong-arm theft would eventually be on Fox News, so apparently the White kid really was a bad apple. But, really, what can you expect, he was White – dopehead, criminal, angry deadbeat.

The cop, when he stops this White juvenile deadbeat, does not know that this kid might have just robbed an ice cream joint – he hasn’t got this update yet – he just stops the kids because . . . because the kid’s not Black? Because he’s walking down the middle of the street? Most likely.

What happens next in this scene on West Harrison, no one—well, except the Black cop – knows. The brief period of shouting brought out a few folks, witnesses now. But they all have a different story to tell. There is blood. There is death. There is a body on the street for three or four hours before anyone does anything.

I’m glad the members of the grand jury of Jefferson, Iowa, finally got their facts marshaled after three or four months of the prosecutor gathering information so they can tell us what they deliberately decided: that the Jefferson cop, Black guy, knew exactly what he was doing and when attacked by this 18-year-old White punk (yeah, right, off to trade school come Monday) and defended himself and the law and the safety and the security and the Blackness of his town, Jefferson, where, really, there’s been a problem of late because so many Whites live here and they’re all unemployed and cops do have their directive from up there somewhere in the state, some orders about White males. . . .

There is a disparity in justice in this scenario. However much a jerk, a loudmouth, a thief, a scary big man-boy the dead person was, this country says it doesn’t kill anyone for his attitude, his minor theft, even his felony if in fact he did strong-arm the clerk. Maybe the cop did shoot him because he was in fear of his life; this kid was bigger than most folks, including the big cop.

It would be so adult and productive – Christian if you want to bring it into the good behavior directive of this part of our lives – if all of these people Black and White could talk with one another on a goodwill basis and see what facts, biases, old wives’ tales surface in this strange, regressive relationship between the two races in America. Really, sometime. Soon.

Justice U.S. style and who’s going to have a Happy this Thanksgiving?

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