Some of you may remember the cult classic Billy Jack from 1971, and if so, the title character’s remark that, “When policemen break the law, there is no law!”
That might be a bit too strong. Policemen are people. People break laws. Sometimes people break the law when they’re on the job. So that Derek Chauvin broke the law when, in the course of his duties, he murder George Floyd, doesn’t mean “there is no law”. For there to be no law the police’s flouting of the law would have to be systemic.
Of course what counts as systemic depends on who’s doing the counting. Whoever’s doing the counting, there’s no magic number that marks the line between the rule of law and a return to the jungle. It’s whether one feels he can count on the rule of law. And – or so I’m told – in America that feeling hangs largely on the colour of one’s skin.
Even if it turns out – though I suspect it wouldn’t – that there’s as much blue-on-white violence as blue-on-black, there are other reasons black Americans fear the police. And it’s those other reasons that are exacerbating this distrust. The lynching of a black man means something that the lynching of a white man does not.
As a white Canadian, I have very little skin in this game, save that I’ve observed there’s a sub-game being played between (what I’ll call) the Cool-Hands and the Hot-Heads. The Cool-Hands acknowledge that ‘tis always thus when one people colonizes another. Think of the Normans and the Celts. But, they remind us, in time the Brits fucked their way into one people. So black America just needs to give it another couple hundred years.
In his cooler moments, the Hot-Head doesn’t deny this. But in addition to being a black man, he’s also just a man. And a man doesn’t have two hundred years. I suspect that if I were black in America I’d be a Hot-Head. And if I were a Hot-Head, here’s what I might be thinking:
Between 1963 and 1975, a half a million black men came back from Vietnam with an M16 rifle on one shoulder and a chip on the other. It wasn’t Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream!” that turned it around for blacks in America. It was white fear of a race war. But those M16s only got us facing the right direction. If we’re going to move in that direction, maybe, just maybe, we should think about bringing them back up from the basement.
So it’s probably a good thing that I’m both white and Canadian.