Monday, 27 December 2010

“A Black Christmas after all”

That’s what a guy said to me as we were fighting our way through the horizontal snows yesterday in downtown Manhattan. It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone play on those standard clichés, and that wish for a snowy Yule is certainly one that could be defended on objective grounds, unlike ‘black humor’ or ‘a dark mood’.

The double standard, however, remains intact in the sphere of criminal injustice and prisons, which is certainly a gloomy environment as well as an overwhelming black one. Our bumbling governor did the right thing and commuted the sentence of a guy who should never have ended up in jail, charged with occupying suburbia while black. John White (yes, yes) blasted a teenager off his property a while back and killed him, and although gunplay is not my reaction of choice to rowdy kids, let us do a thought experiment: if a gang of black teens were chasing a white kid up to his doorstep with threats of violence, would a white homeowner be facing charges to have shooed them off with a shotgun?

Paterson is soon to be our ex-governor, for which thanks may be offered to Lord Jesus or whomever. He characteristically handled the incident badly and then apologized, leaving everyone pissed off. But Paterson is so irrelevant it didn’t even generate a decent scandal, and the tabloids hardly noticed.

However, the White case does recall the Christmas, 1984 Bernard Goetz subway shooting, in which Goetz fired away at a group of black kids and immediately became a city-wide hero, at least to some. He got off with a weapons charge, and as can be seen in this Time magazine cover on him, generating ample discussion of ‘violent crime’ (which Goetz probably feared) and attacks on the courts for even charging him. Check out this account of him at if you have any doubts.

The defenders of the slain white teenager in the black White case made a lot of noise about how he wasn’t a racist and that therefore, White should be punished for shooting him. So running after a lone black kid in a gang right up to his doorstep and shouting ‘nigger’ at him is not racist. Go figure. Even today, the Long Island newspaper recalling the case shows that 57% of its readers think Paterson was wrong to let White out.

I guess it’s relevant to recall this double standard now that Bradley Manning is being psychologically tortured for spilling government secrets while Dick Cheney and Lewis Libby, who arguably did far worse, are enjoying a bountiful holiday season. Cheney and Libby maliciously exposed an active CIA agent trying to spy on nuclear weapons proliferation, and Libby—who was caught—was pardoned by George Bush for doing so. Obama then pardoned all the Bush-era torturers without even investigating their crimes, but he doesn’t seem too upset about the continuation of torture in different U.S. venues and with other excuses.

We’re a long way from a true Black Christmas, but who knows, we may get there yet.

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