When All the Angels Are White

 By David J. Leonard

Originally Published at Gawker 

When All the Angels Are White

I am an angel in this nation.

And I suspect the New York Times or Fox News would remember me as an angel if I am murdered in the middle of the road by a police officer in California, Florida, Missouri or Washington. Of course, I don’t worry much about being shot by a police officer. I have the ultimate get-out-jail-free card, the most powerful form of protection: whiteness.

I have no reason to believe that I will be written off as a disrespectful punk, a “thug,” a “troubled kid” looking for fights. I will be seen as just another white boy figuring out the world.

I stole a lot as a kid. That will not matter. I fought a lot. That will not matter. I punched holes in doors, and drank throughout high school. On the football field, I was known as “an enforcer,” a term reserved for the white athletes in my division who bullied and wreaked havoc. None of that will ever be counted against me.

I’d like to challenge the national racial logic that contributes to all too deaths, that sanctions and rationalizes the almost daily killing of black youth. I’d like to really question how this nation constructs and ultimately forgives its angels. Why are we angels always white?

In what has become a predicable playbook, Michael Brown’s death resulted in a public trial and conviction of the victim. The police and much of the media and the public engaged at what has become the ultimate two-step: first denying racism, only to quickly deny Brown’s innocence but implicate and convict him in his own death. In the words of John Eligon of The New York Times, Brown was “no angel.”

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Not done, Eligon painted Brown as a “handful,” a child who spent a lifetime wreaking havoc, defying authority, and otherwise getting into trouble. “When his parents put up a security gate, he would try to climb it. When they left out pens and pencils, he would use them to write on the wall. He used to tap on the ground, so his parents got him a drum set; his father played the drums.”

If Brown were white, and his murderer black, would his experimentation with drugs and alcohol, his love of rap music, and any other mistakes be been dismissed as youthful indiscretions? If he’d been white, would the story have been that he was curious because he wanted to explore beyond the security gate, that he was a budding artist who expressed himself through his drawings and his music?

Like me, Mike Brown might have smoked marijuana and even sagged his pants prior to being gunned down in the streets. In response to Times piece, and the persistent criminalization and demonization of black victims, people took to Twitter to express their outrage, questioning why Darren Wilson, the Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, or James Holmes were provided more sympathetic narratives than Brown, Martin, McBride, or countless others.

African Americans took to social media to challenge the double standards and societal stereotypes that govern black entry into public discourse. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown juxtaposed images that mirrored dominant stereotypes with the others defying expectations of white America: a young black male puffing smoke and wearing a hoodie; the same young man in his Navy uniform.

The question was, if the time came, which photo the media would use, and which person white America would see: a thug, a criminal, a pot-smoking threat, or a soldier, a student, a professor, a doctor, a son, daughter, father, mother and loved one?

Why are all the angels white? Out with my teenage friends one Saturday night, we found ourselves, loitering, seemingly looking for trouble on the Santa Monica Promenade. Standing around, we were talking shit, mad-dogging and scowling every dude the block. We were teenage boys, entitled, white, and without a worry in our minds. That didn’t change when a group of bicycle cops rode up

Continue reading at Gawker 

3 thoughts on “When All the Angels Are White

  1. Dr. Leonard,

    This is spot on.

    Somehow the past criminal activity of Tamir Rice’s father became more relevant than the fact that Officer Loehmann seems to fall apart under stress and was deemed unfit for duty. Somehow the fact that the original police account, of three warnings and ample opportunity to avoid firing bullets, being directly contradicted by video evidence doesn’t matter.

    People can watch the video and clearly and confidently say “Well, the shooting was CLEARLY justified, it was OBVIOUS that the officer had no choice.” The only possible answer is that people are making up their minds before they ever review evidence.

    Even the case of Akai Gurley where the NYPD has admitted that it was a terrible error is drawing out some of the ugliest rhetoric the internet can produce. An innocent man, who wasn’t even suspected of breaking a law at the time, was shot by the police while unarmed. Yet, the rage surrounding the case seems to be merely spillover from the Garner case. If an NYPD officer shot a white man outside his home, however accidentally, I’m sure the reaction would be much stronger. But the majority of people don’t see Mr. Gurley as an “angel” as you put it, and they chalk up his death to another casualty of “the projects.”

    Thank you for writing about this without mincing words.

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