Where do you begin when the injustice and hypocrisy of America is so blatant that you want to puke? What’s new or original to be said about a country that has become so complacent and self-aggrandizing, so culturally and politically polarized, so “everyman for himself,” so beat down by an economic system it has neither the courage nor the intelligence to reform, so self-terrorized into arming itself mostly to massacre its own school children. I could go on; I realize this is going to be a rant.
That’s not the narrative Kool-Aid we are supposed to swallow. We are a nation of “heroes,” every soldier, every first responder, (although not quite those who have the courage to succor those afflicted with Ebola, it seems), every Officer Wilson ready to gun down a kid who snatched some candy, every neighborhood vigilante like George Zimmerman, like all the border militiamen decked out in camo.
Every time I see that scene in the Godfather—and I can never resist watching it when it is on television—that scene where Michael Corleone comes out of the bathroom in the Italian restaurant with the gun that has been secreted there for him, and he calmly executes Sollozzo and then puts one bullet in the throat and a second in the forehead of police Captain McCluskey, I feel a thrill of satisfaction. Of course, it is a revenge killing, of the sort we are quite familiar with in films that deal with organized crime in America. It doesn’t have much to do with justice, certainly not justice of the sort we are fed with the usual bullshit about how America has liberty and justice for all.
And that is what is satisfying to me about that scene; it is emblematic of the fact that some Italian Americans (my ethnic group) didn’t subscribe to that hyper-patriotic nonsense. My ethnic group had plenty of historical experience with the Turks, the Arabs, the Spanish, the French, and even the papacy, who would subjugate them and grind them into poverty if you didn’t put a bullet in their head. Of course, we know as we often hear that “violence begets violence.” But only half violence, if that is the only allowable order of things, means somebody is gong to get screwed, maybe dead. Half violence, especially uniformed half violence, let’s the perpetrators walk. Officer Wilson will walk, probably into a nice fat book contract (unless somebody walks up and administers a “McClusky”). The NYPD cop that strangled Eric Garner with 14 megapixel clarity will walk.
On my personal outrage meter, these injustices (the Rodney King tape is up there, too). rank up there with when O.J. walked. I am not sure there is an equivalency beyond that, given that O.J. would not have walked where he not well-connected with a legal establishment that is only available to well-heeled celebrities. But the Michael Browns and Eric Garners of America’s Fergusons fall into that 25% of black males who are in prison, the 25% were unemployed, or the 25% you are likely to die a violent death, mostly by gunshot (although one can be a member of all three statistical categories). They are the cohort that is physically exploited with excessive traffic cops by their white overlords in Ferguson, Being stripped of their part one voting rights by the white Supreme Court, and the American Republican white people’s party, being targeted for the debtor class by the expanding number of for-profit educational institutions, and generally being portrayed as a threat to the American “White way of life,” by the NRA, the NSA, and increasingly militarized local law enforcement for authorities.
Rodney King now famously responsible for suggesting that “why can’t we all just get along,” might have been kicked just a little too hard in the head. “They,” that substantial cohort of the American population that is racist and determined to keep America predominantly white, and certainly ruled by white people, Are not interested in “getting along” with America’s Nonwhites. They never have, since the near extermination of the Native American population, since the subjugation of slavery and the control of Jim Crow, since the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and now with the Republican Congress’s stonewalling of immigration reform. And nothing has inspired them to redoubled her efforts more than Barack Obama who, although he just doesn’t seem to get it, represents to them the ultimate threat to White sovereignty. In fact, even though he has belatedly made a typical half-hearted effort at immigration reform, he has been mostly accommodative with an economic structure that perpetuates the racial and economic disparities and injustices of this country (his “Stockholm Syndrome.,” and I refer not to his Peace Prize).
There is therefore a sense in which it would not have mattered if Officer Wilson had been indicted. He is a symptom of a deep-seated inveterate problem of denial in the American consciousness since slave-owners were signatories to a document that asserted that “all men are created equal” and there is equality under the law, while there has been a political process, an economic system, and a hypocritical religious/moral normative structure that have been employed to suborn and pervert those principles. One need only to listen to the governor and the militarized law enforcement authorities of Missouri to discern that their primary purpose is to maintain White supremacy. There was never a chance that Michael Brown (or the average of one Black kid per day that is gunned down in America almost each day) would receive any justice because America is a racist country, perhaps the most racist of the developed nations of the world.
Not irrelevant t that last statement is the recent release of the Senate report on torture by the CIA. Once again the falsehood of American exceptionalism is thrown into startling relief. Our national fear, like the alleged fear of Black men that killer cops invoke as justification, is trotted out by the authors of patently illegal and immoral physical and psychological torture, is summoned in self-exoneration. How easily we set aside our constitutional principles.
Few things make me want to puke more than the way religion is used in America to tamp down, to smother the ire that is prerequisite to action, to defiance, to retribution. Events like Ferguson and the murder of Michael Brown are like catnip to preachers, pastors, and other phonies that feed off the anger and sorrow of victims with nostril homes of prayer and bromides about the brotherhood of mankind. Black and White, and of any and all denominations they pounce on any available microphone and launch into their parables, psalm and Kumbayas. Jesus will make everything okay. Maybe it is not all that productive to burn down or loot some of your local businesses, but it is not nearly so counterproductive than the surrender of pious victimhood. Muslims don’t have an exclusive on the martyr complex.
Of course, when you are White the useful thing to do is add some red and blue, preferably in the form of stars and stripes. Make sure that every uniform is emblazoned with the flag, every speaking set up has old glory as a backdrop. Make sure your side is associated with patriotism.
It makes it easier to understand Michael Corleone’s motivation. Once you have been beaten up and seen your people killed, you understand that all that “America is the land of equality” stuff is a lot of bullshit, and it begins to make sense to take matters (and a gun) into your own hands. One thing seems certain: it isn’t the meek who are going to inherit the earth.*
© 2014, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.16.2014)