Death certificates in America – Cause of Death: “Being Black”

Numbers are cold and can narrate America’s story of deep rooted structural racism and white supremacy in clear and sometimes an overtly clinical way.  When numbers are combined with the picture and video of a 17-year-old young black kid, then America’s racist and troubled soul is exposed.  A soul frequently drenched in blood, pain, and suffering that persistently is unleashed by White Supremacy on African Americans and other minorities.   

In Chicago, and for whatever cosmic reason, young Laquan McDonald came face to face with America’s structural racism represented on that day by a hunting squad “disguised” as police officers.  The results are pre-determined and instantaneous death prescribed for the sub-human.  Because blacks were marked as sub-human on the first day when placed as cargo in the hulls of ships on the distant shores of Africa.  America’s cities, towns, and streets are today’s hulls of slave ships, where death is awaiting the locked up human cargo and death is sudden, always unnatural, even when it is of supposed natural causes.  

If Laquan McDonald was a white kid with a knife, then would the police officer arrive on the scene and begin to shoot immediately?  How many unarmed white kids, young or even old, get killed by police in today’s America if compared to the numbers of African Americans that face deadly force even when they have done nothing other than drive, walk, or play while being black?  In today’s America black is a cause of death!  Consequently, death certificates in America should be written with the cause of death line reading: Blackness!

African Americans’ encounter with police, ends with death as expected and experienced year after year, month following month, week catching another week, and 24 hours a day with no end in sight.  Numbers 13, 14, 15, and 16 are used daily by billions of people across the world, but in the murder of Laquan McDonald, they illustrate more than anything else, America’s structural racism and white supremacy.   It took the prosecutor and Chicago city leadership 13 months to file murder charges against police officer Jason Van Dyke.  In the released video, officer Van Dyke arrives at the seen and in a period lasting 15 seconds ends up shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times–13 or 14 of these seconds when Laquan was already hit twice and laying on the ground posing no threat.    

Chicago’s mayor and prosecutor’s office called for a press conference and a meeting with African American leadership a day before the video was released to calm the expected angry reaction of the community.  Structural racism rooted in white supremacy was the embedded force acting to protect and prevent first degree murder charges from being filed on the same day, or a few days after the Van Dyke shooting of McDonald.   Why did it take 13 months to file charges while the Cook County Prosecutor’s office had access and reviewed the tape immediately after the shooting?  Why file the charges only after the judge orders the release of the video and a day before the public is allowed to see it across the country and the world?  Also, what to make of the false reports from the five other officers on the scene?  Did they collect other video tapes and destroy evidence in this case?  Obstruction of justice cases should be filed up and down the chain of command and all the way to the mayor’s office.

Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald but America’s structural racism provided the gun, the badge, and the car while Chicago’s police leadership, the Mayor’s office, and Cook County Prosecutor provided the cover and obstructed justice.  America’s structural racism prevents the real culprits from facing justice and only the supposed bad apple, Jason Van Dyke, will face charges.

Accordingly, America’s racism constructs a black man with a knife, or without a knife, as a threatening monster who must be controlled, imprisoned, chased, and frequently killed.  Van Dyke and Chicago’s leadership acted the role assigned to them in this racial structure: for police, it is to hunt down the “threatening” African American young men, and for the city bureaucrats, it is to provide the legal and institutional cover.  The guns shoot bullets to the bodies of African Americans, but the city leadership murders the victim anew in the consciousness of civil society by providing the institutional cover.

Police violence is a problem, but it has to be contextualized within America’s structural racism which permits and defends the differentiated treatment accorded to African Americans.   Documenting the violence in numbers and figures is one aspect of the picture, while the bigger story of African American suffering must be narrated.  African American suffering is brought about by constant erasure, negation, otherization, institutional and structural racism, church burning, polite racism, media defamation, and inclusion for the purpose of exclusion.

The daily carnage is counted in numbers and readily evidenced in bodies mounting in society’s spacious mortuaries and locked up in prisons and cells dotting the landscape.  Numbers give us the large picture but also hide and obfuscate the narrative and the story of each and every individual represented in the aggregate data.  The numbers associated with Laquan McDonald murder 13, 14, 15, and 16 are clinical, and at the same time, peal away America’s rotten apple, structural racism, and white supremacy.