The Continued Irrelevance of Black Life by Karen Maniraho

After a 15-month trial and a jury deliberation that left many on the edge of their seats, a verdict was finally reached on the Florida killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn. Dunn was charged with four counts of attempted murder and a mistrial was declared on a first-degree murder charge for the death of Davis. 

That verdict hurt. As a compassionate person living in America, it hurt. As someone that believes in justice being served to innocent grieving families, it hurt more. And as a black person living in America, it hurt most. The context and color of a young black male’s skin translated to enough ammunition for a white man to feel disrespected and threatened yet again.

Jordan Davis was a good kid. As was Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jonathan Ferrell, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo; the list of good black men and women that have died unfortunately goes on and people in the black community know why. It is not enough to boil down these deaths to “Stand Your Ground” laws or gun laws or the useless, circular race reversal imaginations of “if the races had been reversed,” x” would have happened.” Rather, it is clear to us that the justice system is not yet adequately prepared to uphold the value of black life before the law.

No matter how good of a student, friend, man, or citizen, a black person, particularly a black male is, we are reminded that our characters can’t protect us from unfair death. And in death, no matter how much we attempt to canonize our lives, our legacies can’t afford us justice.

I’m tired of expecting disappointment with these cases. I’m tired of it feeling like the victim is the one on trial in these cases. I’m tired of black parents fearing their kids won’t come back home to them because of realities like this. Today would have been Jordan Davis’ 19th birthday; I’m tired of birthdays being missed and replaced by funeral anniversaries. I’m tired of black parents having to restrain talking publicly about how good their sons were until after an unjust verdict is reached concerning their son’s death. I’m tired of watching black parents having to pray for the killers of their children because having faith in the justice system will never be enough.

I am not alone in my pain. Talk to a black male and see how it feels to live while black in America. Ask the black mothers and fathers grieving with the Davis family, how it feels to not be able to fully protect their children from the harm of a country that sees race before character. Ask black youth living in predominantly white communities how it feels when their anger about black deaths is characterized as “dramatic,” “misplaced”, or ” overreactions.”

These high profile, racially charged cases capture the attention of so many Americans largely because it is easy to make up your mind when these events get trivialized as a “good black child” left dead because of a “bad white man” or when they are trivialized as a “loud music trial” or when the story is summed up by hoodies and skittles.

But living while black in America means grappling with the fact that our skin color or the coded perceptions of our identity could be reason enough for our demise and justice will most likely be denied to us. And with each verdict, a great majority of Americans remain with an insufficient vocabulary to discuss the daily and institutional effects of systemic racism that black Americans live and die with every day.

We cannot apologize for the pain of our community and our continued crushed hopes in the justice system. Davis’ case shows us that the justice system is not yet the place to discuss race relations but unfortunately for now, it seems that it’s all we’ve got. In the meantime, we will not remain quiet against injustice. As Ron Davis, the father of the slain Jordan Davis said, “…My son will not be just another day at the office.’ You won’t kill my son and be stoic.” 

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