The Big Scary Black Man Narrative

March 3, 1991.  Rodney King led officers on a high speed chase that ended in Simi Valley, California.  When he finally surrendered, police took him out of the car, tasered him, and, as the now infamous video shows, kicked and beat him repeatedly as he laid on the ground.  The officers claimed he resisted arrest and was high on PCP, making him a dangerous threat to them.  Tests later showed that Mr. King did not have PCP in his system.  And the video showed nothing more than Mr. King laying on the ground getting beat up by club wielding cops.

Nonetheless, when it came time to try the officers in a court of law for using excessive force and for violating Rodney King’s civil rights, the jury found the four officers (out of how many that beat him?) not guilty.  Why?  Because Rodney King was a Big Scary Black Man.

Never mind that he had no drugs in his system causing him to act violently and with super human strength.  Never mind that he was unarmed.  Never mind that once he surrendered he did nothing except fall to the ground once tasered.  He was a Big Scary Black Man and therefore he needed to be dealt with.

January 1, 2009.  Oscar Grant got into an altercation on a BART train.  BART police arrested Mr. Grant and others involved in the scuffle.  They escorted him off the train at the Fruitvale Station.  Mr. Grant was laying handcuffed on the floor of the platform, face down, when Officer Johannes Mehserle shot him in the back at point blank range, killing him.  Mr. Mehserle claimed that he wanted to use his taser on Mr. Grant because he was unruly, but he grabbed his gun by mistake.  Video tape of the incident did not show Mr. Grant doing much of anything, however.  On the surface, it would seem odd that then-Officer Mehserle would feel the need to use force against him at all, given what the video showed.

But that doesn’t matter.  Oscar Grant was a Big Scary Black Man.  Never mind that he was handcuffed, laying on his stomach, immobile.  Never mind that he was unarmed.  Never mind that he was a lot smaller in stature that Johanness Mehserle.  He was a Big Scary Black Man, undoubtedly capable of who knows what.

Both of these cases involved black men arrested by officers who fell under the intoxicating spell of the Big Scary Black Man, a spell which causes seemingly responsible peace officers to act in extraordinary ways.  But peace officers are not the only ones who can be so bewitched.

February 26, 2012.   Trayvon Martin walks to his father’s apartment from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida, after buying Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles.  George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, thinking Mr. Martin looks suspicious, follows him and, after events which have yet to fully make the light of day, shoots him to death.  Mr. Zimmerman claims self-defense.  He further claims, via various emissaries, that Mr. Martin pushed him to the ground, punched him in the nose, banged his head on the sidewalk, and threatened him in a way that made him fear for his safety.  Therefore, under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Mr. Zimmerman was fully in his rights to use lethal force against Mr. Martin to protect himself.  The Sanford Police, apparently, agreed and did not arrest Mr. Zimmerman, who as of this writing, over a month later, remains a free man.

On the surface, this might seem odd.  The 17 year old Trayvon Martin was not pursuing Mr. Zimmerman; Mr. Zimmerman was pursuing Trayvon Martin.  Mr. Zimmerman is not a police officer or an officer of any sort; he was just a neighborhood watch captain.  Mr. Zimmerman was told by the 9-1-1 dispatcher not to pursue the 17 year old any further; nonetheless he continued to do so.  And Mr. Zimmerman encountered Mr. Martin on a public street, therefore the “ground” he was “standing” on was in fact not his own.

Odd, indeed, until we realize that Mr. Zimmerman felt threatened because Trayvon Martin was a Big Scary Black Man.

Never mind that Mr. Martin was smaller than Mr. Zimmerman.  As noted above, size matters not.  Never mind that Mr. Martin was unarmed and not pursuing Mr. Zimmerman.  Never mind that Mr. Martin was well within his rights not to answer any of Mr. Zimmerman’s questions, since Mr. Zimmerman was and is not a peace officer.  Never mind that Mr. Martin was fully in his rights to walk away from a stranger with a gun.  Oh, and never mind that a video of Mr. Zimmerman arriving at Sanford Police headquarters shortly after the shooting fails to show any signs of a scuffle — no bloody nose, no blood on the clothes, no ripped clothes, no bandaged head. Once we remind ourselves that Mr. Zimmerman’s fear is based on the fact that he perceived Mr. Martin as a Big Scary Black Man, then all becomes much, much clearer.

Yeah, all too clear.  And the Big Scary Black Man, replete with tats and hoodies, is the narrative used by Mr. Zimmerman’s emissaries as well as right wing commentators to explain away the needless, senseless death of a young man who hadn’t yet come of age.  The Daily Caller, Hannity the Calamity, Glen Beck, et al., are all falling over themselves to point out the “scary” pictures of Trayvon Martin in hoodies, Trayvon Martin with tattoos, Trayvon Martin giving the finger in his Twitter page photo, as if any of this had anything to do with the young man’s death.  It’s as disgusting as it is creepy.

How many more will have to fall victim of the Big Scary Black Man syndrome before we realize that we continue to have a problem with race in this country?  How many more?

© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.


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The Big Scary Black Man Narrative — 3 Comments

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