The Outlook

This isn't for the sensitive

How Race Slowed the Investigation of a Double Homicide

I love crime shows, especially crime docs like Forensic Files and Cold Case Files.  Lately I’ve been watching a show on Netflix called Crime 360.  In this reality show, cameras follow the investigation of homicides that are solved in part by using technology that allows crime techs to “freeze” a crime scene just as it is at the time of discovery for use later if detectives need to see the scene for some purpose after clean-up at the actual site has occurred.

Over the course of 2 seasons, the show was filmed in Richmond, VA; Indianapolis, IN; Rochester, NY and Cleveland, OH.  I’ve been watching for several days now, about an episode a day, and I quickly realized that approximately 90-95% of the victims were of color (mostly black) and with the exception of the episode I’m about to discuss, 100% of the perps were of color (mostly black).  All of the victims have been male and young and “in that life” as well as the perps.  To a certain degree I believe I’ve continued to watch this show just to see how many black men are killing other black men and how much of that a television show would air.

You have to wonder how many homicide investigations they filmed and how they chose to air the ones they chose to air.  Two episodes I watched back-to-back were almost completely opposite in every way, except for the city they were filmed in; both were in Indianapolis.

In the first episode we come up on a homicide of a young black male.  It appears that a shootout between two groups of people occurred and the victim was shot during that time.  He managed to run to a back alley where he collapsed and died.  The investigation went just as several others had gone: the lead investigator rounded up any possible witnesses and questioned them, came up with a list of suspects, and continued to use physical and forensic evidence to help him guide where he looked for more information until finally he was able to determine who shot the victim.

In the second episode, we come upon a double homicide of 2 older white males.  Both are retired professionals and we learn (needlessly, I think) that they are gay (homophobia actually runs a bit rampant in this show, but that’s a topic for another post).  Just like the prior episode and most of the others, the lead detective gathers witnesses and uses evidence to figure out where to go next in his search.

Both episodes end with the arrests of the suspect(s) but one takes a bit longer than the other to solve and I believe it has to do with race.

In the first episode a bystander is quickly brought downtown under serious suspicion of involvement.  It is believed that because he was standing close to the victim’s body when investigators and police arrived on the scene that he may have had something to do with the shooting.  The “person of interest,” a black male, gives a very plausible story that he and his friend (the victim) had been at a park earlier in the day.  He says that he and his friend and some of his friend’s friends left the area about the same time, but in different directions.  He says suddenly he hears shots and he takes of running.  He returns when the fire ceases and finds his friend in the middle of a group of people, dead on the ground.  The investigator is very suspicious of this story and reluctant to let the witness go, though he ultimately has to because he has no reason to hold him.

In the second episode, two men enter the victims’ home because one of them, a supposed close friend  of the roommates, realizes he has not seen them in several weeks.  This individual serves as an early witness who is also brought down to the station to give information to police.  He, a white male, is not seen as a person of interest.  He explains that he realized he hadn’t seen his friends in a few weeks and asked another neighbor to accompany him into the house.  They found a back window that was half open and used it to enter the home where the witness discovered the bodies.  He also adds that interestingly, a few days prior to this discovery, he got an anonymous message on his phone (it is never clarified whether this was voice or text) to retrieve one of the victims’ vans from a store parking lot.  He explains further that the men never lent their vehicles to other people and so investigators assume that whoever took the van killed the men.  They thank the witness and he is allowed to go.

I’m not a terribly suspicious person.  In fact, I’m much more liable to believe someone than to not believe them if we don’t have any history or I don’t have any real tangible reason not to.  I typically would just rather believe you than go through the trouble of suspecting you, but that second witness?  Oh he sounded to me like he was lying from the word go.  Everything just seemed so… planned.  This half-open window, and especially this van!  My mind was boggled as to why the investigators didn’t seem the least bit suspicious that this man got some random message on his phone to go retrieve a van that was a crucial piece of evidence!  I mean who in their right mind wants to get away with a crime and directs someone to something that could convict them?  I also wondered why no one asked the witness to produce the message so they could follow up.

Turns out that in the first case, the witness was telling the truth and had nothing at all to do with the shooting.  However in the second case the witness who’s less-than-probably story we believed turned out not only to be involved, but to be the perpetrator.  After a tip from another neighbor, the investigators determine he had a fairly intense rap sheet himself, including aggravated robbery.  Because it took so long to unearth evidence that he had not been completely forthright and also had his own criminal past, he had time to leave the city and make it cross-country before they found him.  I couldn’t help but ponder how differently that might have gone had he been a black man.

I’ve seen enough of these to tell you that police are generally suspicious people and with good reason. Several times I thought a witness was being truthful only to find that with just a few more pointed questions, their stories unraveled.  But almost all of those witnesses have been black and they’ve had information on black suspects involved in black murders.  I think it makes sense to wonder why a witness with questionable information wasn’t made a person of interest much sooner than in this case.

I’m not at all accusing the investigator of this “white” crime of racism.  I surely don’t have enough evidence, having never seen him work a “black” case.  He might just be a little inept in the investigating department, but I do think race is at least one piece of why one witness was questioned more harshly and much longer than another who turned out to be a suspect.

What do you think?  Am I off base?  The interesting thing here is perception.  As a person who is forced to pay attention to and think about how race works in our society, every day these things stand out to me a little more.  I think one could cloak this in class instead of race as many are apt to do, I think others could out and out deny that race plays any part.  Perhaps, some might say, the black witness was treated more harshly because of his own history.  All of these theories, including mine, have an equal chance of being true but I stand behind what I’ve said.  The black witness was treated much more skeptically than the white one and it had everything to do with the race of the two.

December 23, 2011 Posted by | Race, TV Shows, Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

Blackness and Education

What happens to a person’s racial identity when they attend private school? How many black points do you lose when you jump the lane and decide to attend school with the rich white kids who’s parents own things larger than homes and cars? Depending upon who you ask, you might actually lose your soul or at least cease to be black.

Many parents want to get their kids out of failing public schools and into prestigious private schools because they worry their children won’t be able to get into good colleges and they in turn worry how that will effect their lives. Meanwhile, it seems the only thing other parents are worried about is how “black” (or not black) their child will seem if they are afforded the same opportunity.

In a recent issue of The Crisis (a magazine published by the NAACP) I found an article on black parents who are weighing the pros and cons of sending their children to private school. We’re introduced to a handful of families including a mother who makes an hour-long commute so that her child can attend a specific public school. She says,

“I think it was a hard-fought battle back in the 19th century when freed slaves were the first to demand free and public education to all people, and it was a long-fought battle to get those schools integrated. I thought it would just be like a snub to our ancestors.”

This same mother attended a private school herself and the article suggests that her poor experience with private school also influences her choice.

I attended a prestigious private school, myself. I begged my mom not to send me there and she promised me that if at the end of 2 years I still hated the school, she would allow me to re-enroll at my public school. After 2 weeks, I was in love with the school. I’ve had some amazing experiences and some of my closest friends I met there. I don’t begrudge a parent’s right to choose where their child is educated. What I do wonder about is letting one’s own experiences color their expectations for someone else. While I would love it if my child(ren) wanted to go to my high school alma mater I wouldn’t force them. In the same vein, I don’t think it’s fair for this mother to not allow her child to experience private schooling because she had a bad experience.

What really stands out to me, though, is the emphasis on the question about how a child deals with their blackness in a predominantly white setting. One family has a child prodigy and though they can’t afford to send their children to private school they also note that

the school’s lack of socio-economic diversity prompted them to question whether the institution’s values matched their own.

There’s also the couple who visited private schools searching for one to send their 3 children to who say some of their visits,

“also reinforced when I saw the Black students with ‘the look.’ It really looked like a part of their soul was missing. It’s a look I’ve seen, like, ‘I’m here, but I’m kind of not.’ I see that as a price to pay.”

There’s this idea floating around that being black in a predominantly white setting automatically means you lose some blackness. I know because I hear it in the way people ask questions about my time in private schooling (both high school and college). I can’t define blackness. Most people can’t define blackness. So if we can’t define it, at what point are we capable of determining someone is losing it?

I ran into my fair share of black students who obviously didn’t identify as “black” — not in a stereotypical way, not in a conventional way, not in any way. They avoided us so we avoided them. Many of them had, in fact, gone to private school — but then again, so had I so was the culprit really schooling?

Maybe it was — who’s to say — but the end of it is that we shouldn’t automatically assume that sending a black child to a predominantly white environment will somehow strip them of their blackness. It’s like assuming that if your son spends a lot of time with girls, he will cease to be male (as some people do assume) or that if your wife spends a lot of time with single people she will cease to be married. None of these things are true.

This article is careful never to spell out these assumptions. There’s a constant reference to “diversity” which is a lot of hogwash if you ask me. My experience is that black folks have long been skeptical of other black folks who go to private school because, as the stereotype goes, we become stuffy and stuck up; we forget where we’re from; and we look down our noses at everyone. It’s funny how a stereotyped group can often become the stereotypers.

I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to send your child to a good school. Sometimes a good school is public and sometimes it’s private. I know all parents want what’s best for their kids but I would hope that stereotypes, presumptions and personal fears wouldn’t effect those wants.

Anyway… it’s hard to escape a predominantly white setting in America — it’s just the world we live in.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | News | , , | 4 Comments

Stuff White People Do

I’ve done a guest blog post over at Stuff White People Do. Check it out!

I don’t know if any of you frequent other blogs run by a white person that attempt to do what swpd attempts to do, but I don’t. I don’t because I haven’t found many. Any that I have run across are run by a PoC (or, at least, a person pretending to be a PoC). Blogs like these take on a whole different spin when they are run by a white person. However, I’ve also noticed that such places don’t tend to stick around very long.

When Macon developed a list of rules for commenters, the comment section, as usual, lit itself on fire. One comment in particular from Randy caught my eye. Randy said here:

how is this blog, this whole thing, not just yet another example of a WP being in charge of a space for and about PoCs? however deferential, reverent, polite, well-intentioned, well-informed macon d may be; it’s still a WHITE MAN’S place. because he owns it. he controls it. it’s HIS own weblog. and he-not any black person-can pull the plug whenever it suits him.

how can all you razor-sharp fanon’s out there have faild to confront and critique this (sic)? sorry folks, but it appears that we whites just can’t damn help ourselves from taking over, from dominating, from setting the terms, from RUNNING THE SHOW-however benignly.

you all are constantly in a blither about ambient white supremacy…yet you don’t see it RIGHT HERE.

I actually had been doing a lot of thinking about swpd and how the commenters interact on this blog. I appreciate the work macon puts into it, and Randy’s comment made me ponder other well-meaning, well-intended “spaces” (we’ll use “spaces” to refer to any place, online or real-world, where race relations is the primary topic) that don’t ever quite pan out. The most prevalent sort of spaces are blogs/websites that discuss interracial dating. Many such blog authors quickly find they spend more time defending their opinions than discussing anything of relevancy and ultimately shut down their blogs.

There seems to me to be a presumption white people make that they can singlehandedly change people’s minds, while never really being ready for pushback, and never being ready or prepared to create a space that offers PoCs and white people the opportunity to honestly and openly express their opinions.

It’s a shame this is the case, because as much as I wish that I, a black woman in America, could create a successful space, it would take a lot of work and a lot of passivity (that I’m not prepared to give) on my part.

Why, you ask? Because white people are scared to talk about race with PoCs. Some of that fear is understandable, while a lot of it is absurd. We can’t talk about or come up with ways to combat the problem without white people being honest and open, but above all else present, in the conversation. Unfortunately, the history in our country has led to a situation where more often than not, race conversations begun by PoCs in a PoC space do not attract white people who don’t already at least “get” the problem and will simply echo what we say (and never follow the echos with action).

One thing that was established early on at swpd is that white people are a necessary part of this conversation. In fact, commenter Jara said here:

The responsibility for improving race relations in the U.S., for example, falls on white people’s shoulders because they are the privileged group.

It’s become my opinion that we need more spaces created by white people where we can have these open and honest race conversations so that one day we make enough progress where who creates and controls the space doesn’t matter. Some of us may consider this a necessary evil, while others of us take it at face value and go. Either way, there aren’t a lot of white people who are ready to take the flack (some deserved, some not) they receive for attempting such a thing. Wonder what type of flack I’m talking about? Most swpd comment sections will show you.

Anyone who is a part of a real race conversation, especially with people from different perspectives, and actively searches for ways to lessen racism’s effects and to ultimately eradicate it altogether, is helping to blaze new trails. To do so via the internet with relative strangers is an area that has yet to be fully examined, and so it takes a lot of trial and error.

It’s easy to want to be a part of the solution, to feel like you do things that others might benefit from knowing about; it’s harder than it looks, however, to share those things about such a contentious topic. Too often well-meaning white people set out to help, but end up with their feelings hurt and their tails between their legs. I hope that as we all have a hand in writing the how-to book on handling race relations, more people step up and are willing to create more spaces for these conversations to happen.

There seems to be an assumption that if white folks would simply do as they’re told, everything would be fine. I see such sentiments expressed on this blog regularly; however, the fact is this is a learning experience for all of us. White people need to be ready to use the privilege they’ve enjoyed for hundreds of years to fix the problems it has created. I firmly believe that it is the job of the PoC community to point out the cracks, and that it’s the white community’s job to fill them in, even if that means losing things they’ve become accustomed to (I use a crude analogy, but I think simple and crude is better than complicated and palatable).

Randy made some valid points (that he later expounded upon). One of them is the irony that swpd may in fact be everything we all say we don’t want. A space like swpd isn’t perfect, but it is a good example of what I mean when I say the white people fix the cracks PoCs point out. In almost every post, there’s one commenter who trips the wire and the alarms start blaring, and someone lets them know that they are exemplifying exactly what shouldn’t be done. More white people need to be willing to “be that kid” (as I like to say). More white people need to be willing to take the criticism to not only learn from themselves, but also to teach others.

There are things PoCs should do, but this blog isn’t called “stuff people of color do.”

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 4 Comments

Race in a Post-Racial Society

I really like J. Smooth. You should check him out (Google him, baby) and subscribe to his youtube videos. My man is the truth.

I like his comments on how Asher’s Twitter misstep is an interesting look in where we are, right now.

For anyone who has not yet been told, we are, contrary to initial reports, NOT in a post-racial society. I actually don’t think we’ll ever be in a post racial society; race is too much a part of who we are and what our history is. I don’t know that that’s a good thing, but I can’t say for sure that it’s a bad thing. In any case, it seems to me that a lot of people are waiting for us to get to a place with, essentially, no boundaries, like J.Smooth was talking about. Where we no longer have to care how our words sound to other people.

I presume it’s easy to wish for that, especially when you often find yourself in awkward situations. Just this afternoon, a co-worker of mine was trying to describe the black paint that her boyfriend sometimes wears under his eyes (the athletic black paint football players use). She misspoke and said “black face.” I knew she misspoke and I knew that’s not what he really wore, but the whole room paused and everyone turned to look at me. This idea that it would be, the lone black person, who decided if it was ok to let it slide or if there needed to be more. Everyone in that room knew it was an honest mistake, but it was up to me to decide for sure.

We’re never going to live in a society where race is truly not an issue. I think we shouldn’t even be working towards that. I believe we should be working towards doing away with the ignorance that makes race a problem. The ignorance that allows stores to send their employees to follow black people around stores, or allows Hispanics to be beat up and killed because they’re presumed to be illegal immigrants.

Our black president doesn’t change the fact that we have serious issues. What having a black president hopefully does is open up dialogue. I think we should get to a place where people aren’t afraid to speak their mind, no matter what, but also understand that there are still boundaries and lines we don’t cross. I’ve never understood why a white person would want “permission” to say the n-word, or why someone would want to be able to tell a race joke in mixed company and everyone find it funny. We should live in a society where that’s not what people want.

How about we find a place where we acknowledge race and how it brings us together and makes us excitingly different?

May 11, 2009 Posted by | Ramblings, Thank-you racist people | , | 1 Comment