Fuck you. Fuck your humanity. Fuck your children. Fuck your life.
That is the cruel, loud echo black people hear reverberating out of America’s criminal-injustice system every day when police officers get away with shooting, choking, raping and slamming the life out of our bodies. If we’re lucky, our deaths trend on Twitter and evoke outrage. Then comes the exploitive media spectacle of black mothers wailing before television cameras capturing the agony overwhelming their tear-streaked faces. GoFundMe pages go live to raise funds for families who can’t afford funeral expenses.
Protests, if you’re a black man, may follow; we’d be fooling ourselves to suggest that our people march for black women with the same energy and vigor they show for black men. Generally, black people killed by cops barely register in the national press. Their passings, with the exception of loved ones and the coroner who tags their toes at the morgue, go by as if they never lived at all.
That’s a painful reality to live with as a black person in America.
The weight of it all can numb our spirits and harden our hearts. Living in a society that hates you that much can make you hate it back. White supremacy brings out the worst in the criminal-injustice system, but it can also harden black people to the point of stealing our compassion, including for white people who are killed by the same white supremacist police state.
That’s why I empathize with some black people who say, “Fuck Justine Damond.”
I understand the frustration in Son of Baldwin’s recent piece when he said the following:
I’m going to say this and I mean — down to my subatomic particles — what I say. And I actually don’t care what anyone might think about it:
I don’t give a FUCK about Justine Damond and what happened to her.
I don’t give a fuck because most white people didn’t give a fuck when police murdered seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones as she lay on a couch, sleeping. What most white people — and some black people — did was blame Aiyana’s family.
I don’t give a fuck because a black woman (or a Native woman) in the identical situation Justine was in wouldn’t garner support or sympathy from most white people. No. What most white people would do is look for reasons that might justify why the police officer “had” to kill the black woman.
Most white people rely on this idea that black people, in situations where white people are in pain, are only ever to be soothing and understanding; only ever to be Mammy or Uncle Remus; only ever to extend condolences; only ever to embody loyalty; only ever to offer the empathy and sympathy that most white people purposely and haughtily deny when the situation is reversed — almost as if most white people still see us as their property.
For some people, his words sounds harsh. After all, Damond (whose last name was actually Ruszczyk, since she hadn’t yet married, but who referred to herself by her fiance’s last name) was indeed a victim who, like many black people before her, called the police for help and ended up dead. Neither she nor her family deserves scorn. They deserve justice, prayer and any support that people wish to offer. What is also hurtful is to see white society extend the kind of heartfelt regret to Damond’s family that it has never extended to us.
Son of Baldwin isn’t alone in his feelings, and there is a lot of truth in his words. Look at how Damond’s death is being handled already.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges wrote in a blog post that the shooting “should not have happened.” The city’s police chief resigned. Damond’s family lawyer, who also worked with the family of Philando Castile to get a settlement in his death in Falcon Heights, Minn., last year, said that Damond was “the most innocent victim” of a cop shooting he had ever seen. Fox 26 Houston even posted an emotional message on its Facebook page memorializing her death.
Many black people resent that she is receiving such heartfelt reactions because we never get them. Media outlets were too busy investigating Sandra Bland’s criminal past to post Facebook posts recognizing the tragedy of her death. Police chiefs don’t get fired when black people are harmed, and mayors rarely—if ever—jump ahead of police investigations to say that a black person’s death at the hands of one of their cops should not have happened. And we’re never considered the “innocent victim.”
Damond is receiving compassion, and rightfully so. But what about us? Why can’t society hurt for us as it does for Damond? The answer is simple: America has told black Americans, “Fuck you since 1619 Jamestown” because our black skin does not register in white America’s psyche as worthy of mourning.
That hurts. A lot.
Some of us express that hurt with indifference. Others harden to the world around us and economize our feelings. God may tell us to love indiscriminately, but our human condition sometimes tells us not to give a damn about white people who, historically, have not opened their hearts to us. It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. Black Americans are a heartbroken people, and some of us no longer have the capacity to express grief beyond our race. That’s not black people’s fault. That’s what unchecked white supremacy can do to its victims.
There will be those who will say, “We can’t be as heartless as our oppressors,” or “Fighting for justice shouldn’t be based on race.” I disagree. Before black people can extend compassion to people outside of our race, I find it imperative that we heal spiritually first. We owe no one our empathy. No matter how much we suffer, we are expected to dig deeper into our humanity to feel for those who cannot feel for us until they are hurt.
So while there are some who want to criticize black folks for responding coldly to Damond’s death, I’d challenge them to indict the white supremacist society that created the conditions for such reactions. When I hear people say, “Fuck you, Justine Damond,” I hear hurt and pain. If there is anything we can pull out of this cold indifference, it is that white America must realize that its coldness toward us in our most delicate moments can be directed right back at them. When people say, “Fuck Justine Damond,” I am certain they aren’t condemning her personally. I take it as them saying, “Fuck what Justine Damond’s death represents.”
Damond, in all of her white innocence, represents humanity. Our blackness, somehow, does not.
Most black people do not expect justice to be served if cops kill us. But Damond, her blue eyes, blond hair and milky white skin radiating on every photo meticulously selected by media outlets for public consumption, her criminal background yet to be interrogated, stands a great chance if you ask black people.
Her lawyer is right: She is “the most innocent victim.”
Not because of the facts of the case. But because she is a white woman whose white femininity will resonate with jurors and the public in ways that it never will in the case of Charleena Lyles. That hurts. And it hurts so bad that the pain manifests itself in ways that can be seen as cruel. But I do not indict black people who say “Fuck Justine Damond.” I indict white supremacy. No matter how cruel it sounds, I will never indict black people for expressing their hurt in a white supremacist society. Black people have little agency in this world, so I will not interrogate their feelings, one of the few things that can’t be taken from them, without expressing compassion for why they feel as they do.
Some of us do not have the capacity or the desire to use our platforms to express outrage for a white woman who will very likely get every advantage white society can offer her in death that we rarely receive in life. And that is OK. There is also room to reflect on the cold reactions to Damond’s death. Though, during that critique, we must be mindful not to immediately dismiss the diversity of our own humanity in the process.