“…a man’s life’s no more than to say ‘One.’ ”
Hamlet, act V, sc. 1
During the recent Memorial Day week-end in Chicago, eight people were killed, and at least 57 more wounded.
For somewhat folkloristically funereal reasons, it is a tradition to count the murdered, the shot and the wounded during this quintessential American holiday. Which may lead the uninformed to think that crime increases during this special week-end, while abating afterwards.
This is not so, at least statistically. In fact, in June 2016, from the beginning of the month to date (Jun 9, 2016), 17 people were shot and killed, and 76 shot and wounded. Since the beginning of the year, Chicago has seen 277 homicides, of which 246 by shooting, plus 1374 people shot and wounded.
Most of the crimes occur in specific African-American or Latino areas. Actually, ‘African-American’ is a euphemism, creating a favorable wind in the tempestuous sea of popular perception. The term contributes to obfuscate and hide racial discrimination, while helping to forget slavery. Or rather, to forget that in our own historical yesterday, six hundred and fifty thousand died to preserve the pleasure and profit, deriving from denying the humanity of our fellow human beings. Hopefully, most agree that there is noting wrong in being ‘Black’, and that changing names doesn’t change reality, much as “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (1)
Another method to alter the social perception of what amounts to mass-crime is to attribute its causes to ‘gangs’, or ‘drugs’ – as if gangs were weeds sprouting spontaneously from the earth, and drugs an unavoidable collateral of gangs. In turn, both are attributed to poverty, which, in the protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism, is an individual’s fault and therefore a sin.
From here onwards the Bible takes over, along with its Calvinistic interpretation. Namely, that though we mortals cannot guess where we will end-up in the afterlife, God gives us some clues. Specifically, becoming rich is a sign of God’s anointment, and the assurance of an enjoyable position in the next world.
It’s almost a mirror image of the ‘revolving door’ phenomenon with Congress, where war-mongering congressmen, on leaving office, become extremely well-paid executives of large arm-manufacturing combines. If respect for words were an established practice, we could say to each of the ‘revolving door’ bellicose congressmen, “Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade.” (2)
Conversely, being poor is a sign of God’s displeasure with predictable and unpleasant after-life consequences. All this makes of God the Supreme Capitalist, smiling complacently on the propounders and practitioners of neo-liberal philosophy.
However, the Catholic God is not much different. The displeasure of the Catholic hierarchy with Liberation Theology, and the recurrent official embrace of right-wing dictatorships in South America and elsewhere tell the proverbial tale.
Which also explains the US’ lust for wars and armaments, and “military exercises” at the cost of billions – or, rather than costs, the profit of billions for the God-anointed few. And, since it is historically proven that war is one, if not the most profitable of ventures, even war acquires a peculiar holiness of its own.
Therefore, while the current massive exercises (nicknamed “Anaconda”), are conducted at Russia’s border, the heart of every American is supposed to swell with confidence, and filled with glee at the consternation of the overwhelmed enemies. Men of the media and of political understanding, are persuaded that we shall now see, in a few days, the ambassadors of Russia supplicating for pity.
But I digress. This is not the place for a social analysis or for even attempting to address the issues of crime, racism, poverty and their interconnection. Still, I think it may be interesting to observe the phenomenon of mass-crime from a somewhat different perspective – namely, how the authorities approach the solution, or at least how they handle the problem.
By far the most popular solution is to increase the police force, focusing its effort in the more crime-prone areas. We could call the subject areas ghettos, but that is somewhat misleading. ‘Ghetto’ suggests a run-down, ugly looking assembly of houses or tenements, in the style of early XXth century industrial New York. That these areas exist there is no question, especially in cities where the manufacturing industry has disappeared. However, in some other cities, there are areas that, though not ostentatiously wealthy, do not show the stigmata of poverty and decay.
In turn, this suggests that there are at least two types of ghettos, the visible ghetto, which, for simplicity we can call the ghetto of the street, and another, perhaps more insidious, the ghetto of the mind.
The increase in police force, clearly addresses the ghetto of the street. We can broadly assign this solution to the category ‘Law and Order’ of Nixonian memory. It would appear the simplest and most effective practice, but for two – let’s call them – side-effects, intertwined and complementary.
The recipients of the ‘law and order’ medicine hate its deliverers, the police. In turn, the hatred tends to be reciprocated by the police, which, not infrequently behaves criminally. This becomes known only in extraordinary cases, but it is more common than the regime media cares to admit.
In Chicago – Obama’s stomping ground and where the mayor, Rahm Emanuel is an Obama protégé’- typical is the case of a 17-year old unarmed Black boy shot and killed by police in 2014, while he was crossing the street. The official police report stated that the boy, Laquon McDonald, had ‘stared at police’ for a mile, was jaywalking and pointed a gun at them. As chance would have it, there was a video proving the report a mockery.
The video was kept hidden for one year – the state eventually released it and paid 5 million $ to the family of the victim. The victim, presumably already dead, was hit by a total of 16 bullets. Here is the video,
There have been other similar cases, not only in Chicago, as you know. The point is that the ‘Law and Order’ solution, inevitable in some instances, does little or nothing to address the much deeper issue of the ‘ghetto of the mind.’
To the extent that it may be considered an effort to address the problem, the University of Michigan funded and conducted a study whose findings are ridiculously obvious, but whose conclusions are more significant – without, perhaps, the knowledge of the researchers.
The findings are that “Growing Up in a Bad Neighborhood Does More Harm Than We Thought.” (which is almost like stating, with a glow of importance, that “a great cause of the night is lack of the sun.” (3)
The study involved holding a lottery among residents of a ‘bad neighborhood’. Those favored by the lottery would be given vouchers, enabling them to move and live in a better neighborhood. Interestingly, only 25% of people eligible for the lottery applied. The study found that the children of the lottery winners had a 9% greater probability to be employed and went on to have annual earnings 16% higher than those belonging to the families who remained.
Even taking these numbers at face value, a 9% higher probability to be employed does not seem particularly exciting, nor do the 16% greater earnings. What is more meaningful, I think, is that the only criterion applied to measure the success of the ‘experiment’ was that, on average, the winners made a little more money than the losers.
That the ‘pivot to money’ is the primary, when not the exclusive, measure of success in neo-liberal philosophy, is known to all. What is more disheartening, though interesting, is the complete and utter unimportance given to the conditions that generate the ghetto of the mind.
Therefore it is no wonder that the ‘solutions’ to the so-called race problem consist, as usual, of patches and appearances. (“So may the outward shows be least themselves: The world is still deceived with ornament.” (4))
Starting with creating a specious wealthy Black class. Their members, including the strategically elected Black president, in speech and action strive to act as un-Negro as possible, denying the racial and material foundation of their lives, and accepting the class and racial status in ways remarkably oblique. So that the casual observer could conclude that no difficulty ever existed for them, and, by extension, to their kin in color.
To the point that a Black president was instrumental in killing an African man, Gheddafi, who, in policy and practice, demonstrated the will, the capacity and the genuine desire to unify the African nation. A unity in a spirit of resurgence and renaissance, compared to the historical colonial status and to the current destruction, chaos and colonial occupation via finance capital. Though with grinding teeth, even the neo-liberal political movers and organizers of the Libyan slaughter, cannot deny that the Libyans had the highest standard of living in the continent, before the Americans brought them democracy.
At home, however, the essential bleakness of black life in America, (as a whole), is that the Black nation has not been allowed to catch the full spirit of Western civilization. They live in it but are not of it.
As it has been observed before and can be observed today in the spirit and the practice of politics, (foreign and domestic), America is arrogant because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid. It insists in seeing the world in terms of good and bad, holy and evil, high and low, white and black. It is frightened by history, processes and necessity other than the desire for dominance as a way of defence.
It is equally frightened by facts and reshapes them in the most ridiculous fashion, unaware and even proud of the ridicule. It bans or destroys those whom it cannot understand, excludes those (Americans) who think and act differently, and justifies the whole with a self-draped mantle of righteousness.
Returning to the main theme, if America were ever to seriously examine its real relation to the Blacks, it would find itself doing much more than concentrating on race. For the essentially anti-black attitude at large represents but a small part – though significant – of the moral attitude of the nation.
The tragically spectacular police executions, of which Laquon McDonald is an example, convey a precise message in a language impossible to misunderstand – the native land of the Blacks is not their own. And when they, acting upon impulses shared with Whites, try to assert a claim to their birthright, Whites retaliate with terror – be it Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, or the jaywalking Laquon McDonald.
Which is why the ghetto of the mind imprisons their dwellers with the invisible walls of the surroundings, pitiless, beyond piercing and beyond hope.
Sundry neo-con lackeys point out that many killings and crimes by Blacks are committed against other Blacks. Indeed, some (or many) Blacks solve the problem of being black by transferring their hatred of themselves to others with the same colored skin and fighting them.
There is irony in the plight of the Black man in America. He lives in isolation while those who condemn him seek the basest goals as prescribed by their ideology. As if – as shown in the study referred to above – statistically earning 16% more than his brethren would end a Black man’s isolation.
As writer Richard Wright observed, perhaps it would be possible for the Black American to become reconciled to his plight, if he could be made to believe that his sufferings occurred for some remote, high, sacrificial end. But sharing the culture that condemns him, he sees that a lust for trash is what binds the nation to his claims, and this “sets storms to rolling in his soul.”
His acts of insurgence are his desperate answer to those who twist the environment, so that he cannot fully share the spirit of his native land. The state considers insurgence a treason. But we are left to wonder, with the Laquon McDonalds of this world, who is committing treason, McDonald or the state.
The Black mind in America has been directed into a kind of No Man’s Land, whose physical counterpart is the ghetto. And those who like to think and meditate about these matters, may ask themselves if there is anything more corroding to the soul of man than the idea of racial discrimination.
Even relative poverty or lack of wealth may be endured while associated with dignity and reputation, but will always be shunned when lack of riches is accompanied with the ignominy and contempt associated with racism.
Besides, beyond the silly lotteries and sillier statistics compiled by researchers from prestigious universities, there is the problem of human unity, exacerbated in America by the currently imposed neo-liberal philosophy.
It is actually a ferocious ideology, which is practically nameless. We can call it neo-liberal, neo-liberalism, neo-capitalism, but for the average man it means nothing. For him that ideology is perceived as the actual reality. Therefore, it is not recognized for what it is, the imposition on all of the will of a few. Consequently, we are forced to live in a world where antagonism and hostility are the defining characteristics of human relations, where citizens (black and white), are consumers, disheartened and caged (Zombie-like) in an unnatural captivity, where the market is the only possible democracy.
Nevertheless, a sense of human unity is more important than bread, perhaps more important than physical living itself. For, without a common bond uniting men, without the continuous current of shared thought and feeling circulating through the social system, much like the blood flows through the body, there could be no living worthy of being called human.
As Hamlet said, “What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.” (5) With the proviso that, unbeknown to many humans, many so-called animals are more human than many so-called men.
*1 Romeo and Juliet
*2 Measure for Measure
*3 As You Like It
*4 Merchant of Venice
In the play (opening quote). Horatio advises Hamlet that shortly the king will know what happened in England to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.