Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

The Innocence of Racism

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

The Innocence of Racism

Article excerpt

We will get to Baltimore in a moment. First, let's talk about innocence.

That's the unlikely ideal two great polemicists, writing over half a century apart, both invoked to describe America's racial dynamic. It's a coincidence that feels significant and not particularly coincidental. In 1963's "The Fire Next Time," James Baldwin writes, "... and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. ... But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime."

In 2015's "Between the World and Me," Ta-Nehisi Coates muses about the possibility of being killed under color of authority: "And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of 'race,' imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgment of invisible gods. The earthquake cannot be subpoenaed. The typhoon will not bend under indictment."

It simplifies only slightly to say that what both men were describing is the phenomenon sometimes called institutional, structural or systemic racism.

Which brings us to Baltimore and a scathing new Justice Department report on its police department. The government found that the city's police have a long pattern of harassing African- Americans and that oversight and accountability have been virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, the Constitution must have been looking the other way when an officer struck in the face a restrained youth who was in a hospital awaiting mental evaluation, when police arrested people who were doing nothing more sinister than talking on a public sidewalk, when they tasered people who were handcuffed. …

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