Disappearing the White Victims of Lethal Police Violence

From The New York Times Magazine: America’s Enduring Caste System:

“We saw a man face down on the pavement, pinned beneath a car, and above him another man, a man in uniform, his skin lighter than the man on the ground, and the lighter man was bearing down on the darker man, his knee boring into the neck of the darker man, the lighter man’s hands at his sides, in his pockets — could it be that his hands were so nonchalantly in his pockets? — such was the ease and casual calm, the confidence of embedded entitlement with which he was able to lord over the darker man.

“We heard the man on the ground pleading with the man above him, saw the terror in his face, heard his gasps for air, heard the anguished cries of an unseen chorus, begging the lighter man to stop. But the lighter man, the dominant man, looked straight at the bystanders, into the camera, and thus at all of us around the world who would later bear witness and, instead of heeding the cries of the chorus, pressed his knee deeper into the darker man’s neck as was the perceived right granted him in the hierarchy. The man on the ground went silent, drained of breath. A clear liquid crept down the pavement. We saw a man die before our very eyes.

“What we did not see, not immediately anyway, was the invisible scaffolding, a caste system with ancient rules and assumptions that made such a horror possible, that held each actor in that scene in its grip. Off camera, two other men in uniform, who looked like the lighter man, were holding down the darker man from the other side of the police car as dusk approached in Minneapolis. Yet another man in uniform, of Asian descent and thus not in the dominant caste, stood near, watching, immobilized, it seemed, at a remove from his own humanity and potential common cause, as the darker man slipped out of consciousness. We soon learned that the man on the ground, George Floyd, had been accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill, and, like uncountable Black men over the centuries, lost his life over what might have been a mere citation for people in the dominant caste.”

Isabel Wilkerson: Bestselling, Diversity, & Journalism Author ...
Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste.

Dear Isabel Wilkerson,

Have you heard of Tony Timpa? White man. Cops suffocated him. He begged for air. And his mother. Look into it. Then get back to us with your wise answer to this question: What is the “invisible scaffolding” that causes cops to kill roughly twice as many white males than black males each year? What are the “ancient rules” at work here? And the tell us why you and others keep perpetuating a myth about systemic racism in policing. I think I know why, but it would be nice to hear it from you.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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