They each cried for God. One was guilty and one was innocent, or at least this is what the jury had decided. Two weeks of arguments and deliberations were over and there before me was the reality of the American criminal justice system. These two black men were being tried for the murder of another black man and the attempted murder of the black woman who was in the vehicle with him. Why does this narrative repeat itself so often? Why do individuals who have so much in common end up hurting each other and killing each other?
The answer to this question is much more complex than a simplistic answer can provide. To truly understand the nature of why these events happen in communities of color all over the country is to understand the nature of institutional racism and oppression in this nation’s history. The two defendants who were in court during my jury duty were mere actors in a drama that has been in production for over four centuries. The most encompassing answer that I can give is that these individuals feel that they have no other recourse but to engage in these activities in order to be able to establish an even benign sense of humanity, albeit a twisted one. These two men feel that by asserting themselves in a violent and aggressive manner, they might be able to assert their manhood along with a sense of power that they feel would not be afforded to them otherwise. The operational word here is feel.
While there is a possibility for men of color to escape from the pitfalls of poverty, this possibility has been so fractional for such a long time that many in the community believe that there might as well be no possibility. Additionally, by the time many of the individuals come to the realization of this possibility, they have already been fast-tracked into the criminal justice system. For many, the prospect of quick money and instant power and respect in the community is too tempting given the alternative of hard work and patience with the hope that it will pay off. Not surprisingly to those who understand the economic behaviors of opportunism, these individuals often succumb to this temptation and find themselves trapped in a loop of despair and anger that is not easily outmaneuvered.
Almost a year has passed since the verdict was given in which these two individuals cried for God. In that time, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken off and the issue of police brutality has been prominent in the media and society as a whole. I wonder if the lives of black individuals such as these two will ever matter to the American public. Their stories and ultimate tragic endings reveal not so much their failures as our collective disregard for the value and worth of communities of color. If we worked as hard to educate these individuals when they are in their youth as we do in our efforts to secure the most stringent convictions for their brutal acts of violence, perhaps we would witness different outcomes. Alas, this is not our current reality and we must therefore do as they do before the bleak reading of a verdict: pray to God.
Frank Salcedo is a freelance writer who focuses on education. He currently develops curriculum for a non-profit Mexican-American cultural institution in Los Angeles, California.