THE BLOG

The Anguish of Being Dehumanized

I didn't quite know how to explain or describe what I was feeling in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of a 13-year-old black boy, and then, within 24 hours of each other, the shooting deaths of two black men, one unarmed, one apparently in possession of a gun in an open carry state.
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I didn't quite know how to explain or describe what I was feeling in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of a 13-year-old black boy, and then, within 24 hours of each other, the shooting deaths of two black men, one unarmed, one apparently in possession of a gun in an open carry state.

My friend, a black man, opened it up for me. I said I was angry and hurt, that the pain was so deep that I could barely describe it.

"It's anger," he said, "but it's also anguish. You are anguished as are we all, because we keep getting mowed down like grass. It's not just these recent killings. You are feeling anguish because you are feeling our history as a people in this country. It's too much."

His voice was quiet, even as I continued to weep. "The question is," he continued, "the question is when will it stop? When will they see us as human beings? When will they stop shooting us and just dusting their hands and their guns off and keep on going, oblivious to how we feel? They don't see us, Susan," he said. "We are objects. They do not see us as humans."

Anguish. That was a word I had not thought of, though the pain of these last three shootings did something to me that was unfamiliar. And I wasn't alone. At the rallies for Ty're King in Columbus, you could hear people saying, "It just keeps on happening..."

When will it stop?

Someone will immediately pipe in and say, "Well, black folks kill each other. What about that?" And yes, that is painful, too. But the dynamic is different. People who know each other, who live with each other, who argue with each other and drink with each other ...often kill each other. Kids looking to be included in some kind of affirming environment join gangs and kill members of their own communities in order to pass muster. It is sad and troubling. It is wrong. The pain of those left behind is enormous and often something that does not heal. Yes, black folks kill each other. But in their communities, white folks kill each other as do Hispanics and any group of people living together.

But this thing ...this shooting of unarmed people (in many instances) by police officers, people who are hired and supposedly trained to protect citizens ...is different.

It feels like people who have power are abusing it, just because they can, and because they are scared to death of black people. Law enforcement officers, historically, have often been involved in the murders of black people, unafraid of being called on it and almost never having to suffer any consequences for their actions. If law enforcement officers didn't participate in lynchings and shootings of black people, they often said and did nothing when they knew such atrocities were being carried out.

Civil rights icon Ruby Sales calls these ongoing murders - and that's what they are - of black people by law enforcement "modern day lynchings," and they are. But they are more than that. They are representative of a fatal American cultural flaw: its capacity to dehumanize people in spite of its claim to be a land of freedom. When Claude Neal, for example, was lynched after being accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Although held in jail, white mobs stormed the facility, took him to a designated site, where he was castrated, stabbed, his fingers and toes cut off and his body burned. Even as he hung there, the mob riddled his mutilated body with bullets. His case is only one of literally hundreds.

Nobody can do that to another person unless he or she has cognitively disassociated from that person. Neal was not seen as a human, but as an object. Young Emmet Till, Tamir Rice, and Ty're King, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher...were all seen as objects. Law enforcement officers who don't have the capacity or the desire or will, to know the people they kill. They merely stalk them and kill them because they do not see them as human beings.

And it hurts.

My friend is right. This emotion that not only I but so many people are feeling is anguish. With laws in place which protect police officers (all he or she has to say is "I was in fear for my life), the cycle of cruel and unusual, unjust punishment in the form of execution goes on and will go on, with officers not being held accountable. They who do these killings are not heroes. They are murderers, sanctioned by society to do what they do, and they do what they do largely because they know they can get away with it.

They, the police officers and the systems which support them, see no justification for the outrage. They feed into the prevailing feeling among too many Americans that if a person is shot by police, then he or she deserved it. They can shoot and kill and come off as heroes. Meanwhile, we who watch, who know better, who see what is really going on, are as powerless as were our ancestors who had to watch while their loved ones were lynched or raped or beaten or ripped from their families, unable to do anything about it. Our ancestors lived in anguish and so do we. In spite of this being 2016, little has changed.

When anguish languishes and ferments, there is bound to be an explosion. Explosions from the dehumanized have happened before and will happen again. The explosions are a cry for this world to see us and hear us. It's not likely to happen, though, if historical trends are to be studied and believed,

We are caged birds ...inhuman..."problems" to and for American society, as WEB DuBois noted, and the anguish is real. It is deeply troubling that the vast number of white Americans either do not understand what I'm saying, or do not want to. While the media worries about cities remaining peaceful after yet one more police shooting, we worry about how we are going to continue to survive this madness, one more day. Though American society sees us as objects, we are in fact humans with deep pain that keeps getting aggravated and reignited. Pain that bad kills souls, but if the souls of African Americans are killed, the soul of America will die as well. Like it or not, we, the dehumanized, are a part of your great land and if we suffer, this country suffers, too.