Long before the Black Lives Matter movement raised the problem of immoral police (and vigilante) violence, African Americans grappled with its reality and the seemingly impenetrable logic which undergirds it. The mind reels at the justifications proffered for killing a 12-year-old child, or the calculation that finds an officer raining blows on someone’s grandmother, or the science that encourages a man to fire a gun over his shoulder and into a crowd.
Fiction undergirds all of these acts—of furtive movements, reasonable fear, and therapy through violence. So strong is the power of the legitimizing narrative, that even those who are victims of these violent fictions are rarely deterred from crafting justifying fictions of their own. In the 19th and 20th century, the old discriminations against white ethnics—“no Irish need apply”—did very little to prevent those same white ethnics from engaging in anti-black racism. Yet for a starker example, it may well better to look closer to home.
Two weeks ago, the comedian Eddie Griffin was asked about the torrent of sexual assault accusations made against Bill Cosby. “Did he rape these bitches?” asked Griffin. “All of them said the same thing—‘We went to the room.’ Why would you go to the room of a known married man?” Griffin seemed perplexed that Cosby’s accusers did not immediately report being assaulted by a millionaire and one of the most powerful black men in show business. “30 years?” asked Griffin. “I don’t understand that. That’s like a motherfucker robbing me, and I wait 30 years to call the police.”