Why Do We Never Get to be Innocent Victims?

By Daniel Johnson

Guest Commentary


Recently, four high profile cases featuring dead Black people and White (or White looking) killers have prompted this pondering: Why are Black males (and other males of color) automatically percieved to be threats and therefore deserving of death by vigilantes or the Police? It seems to be a pattern now, Black person gets gunned down at night; Black person’s defense team must prove that he/she is spotless, untarnished, with no defects in life, otherwise they are convicted on the strength that they deserved to die because they aren’t perfect. Nevermind that they had the same rights as the person who pulled the trigger to ensure that they have the right to live and to protect their life from the untimely ending of it. Why must we still prove and defend our human worth when the killers are on trial? Does it really matter if an individual was not “a perfect human”? A person is dead and nothing that they have done in life should dampen the fact that they didn’t ask nor deserve to be put in a position to fight for thier life either on the street or inside a hospital. There seems to be some sort of connection between being a minority and being a percieved threat that seems to run common within (at least) the two juries and two grand juries that were selected to weigh the facts of these cases, because they have to at least believe that these two men “felt threatened” by these people of color. It also hints at the idea that there must be a belief that because that person did x y or z that he is somehow less deserving of life. What does that have to do with the facts of the case?

To me it’s just a diversion from the facts; if we can just get them to believe that he deserved to be gunned down like a dog because he struck fear in the heart of this upstanding and reputable citzen of this city, then we don’t have to address our client’s character flaws because the jury has already accepted the fact that they should fear Black men/minors at night. What is this teaching us as a society of people? Should we fear certain groups of people just because of the time of day? Just because they exist? Do we treat them as though they could kill us at any time just because this is what we have accepted into our collective consciousness? It seems to me that the proceedings of these two high profile cases tell us that our Black children are of inherently lesser worth because they are Black and they should be feared when seen at night. Why is this so ingrained into the psyche of the American justice system? Why is it pushed and pumped into almost every stereotype of Black men? We are animals, we are savage, we have no self-control and we must be put down in order to protect the communities of upstanding White people even if our only crime is “looking suspicious” or “listening to your music too loud” or “being too big and tall for the police to otherwise subdue.” Is this what our lives are worth?

What is this thread that runs rampant in American society that says unless you look like this, dress like this and are seen at this particular time you are guilty of being a threat? Why are we still fighting to be seen as human after we have buried our children too early? In these courtrooms and in the media portrayals, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and even Eric Garner were not allowed to be victims, they had to prove that they were not threats. This is what’s wrong with the Justice System by and large: as long as you can pay good money, or be a police officer, you can get away with murder. You can kill a Black person in the dead of night (or even in broad daylight on camera and around witnesses) and walk away freely, because nobody sees you as a threat. We are programmed to see Black people as threats. This is why everytime a trial like this goes on, there are two trials: The Trial of Innocence/Guilt and the Trial of Human Worth. Why are we still not allowed to be worth the same as you in a court of law? You automatically percieve us as threats. We are human, just like you. Treat us like equals and not as sub-humans that must first prove they deserve to have the same rights to self-protection as you do. Presume us innocent, not guilty.


Mr. Johnson resides in Huntsville, TX and also attends Sam Houston State University where he is currently pursing a degree in English. He is also a published poet and occasionally visits art museums and exhibits.

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