Lynchings, Draggings, and Strange Fruit

Last night it seemed as if most of us were Troy Davis. We all asked who will break the bonds of oppression in our land – the land of the free. We all sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, We all listened to Billie’s “Strange Fruit”.

We saw in Mr. Davis a symbol and a man. An innocent black person charged and executed for the mere fact of the color of his skin. And those who had never before given much of a thought to the fairness of the criminal system began to loudly render doubts and tear off old allegiances.

Howard University students protesting

Sometimes we sat in front of the White House lawn with duct tape over our mouths and black power fists raised, symbolizing the power of a unified people that are shut up in a society that does not appreciate all its members. Sometimes we lit candles and knelt in humble petition to a greater Force of Love.

Last night, we all felt one with this man, this soul in Georgia. But how many of us cared for the soul of a white supremacist in Texas who’s heart was so full of evil that he dragged a black man for miles from behind his truck until the victim, James Byrd, Jr., was virtually shredded? Shredded and bloody and bruised and left for dead, like our innocent imagination.

How many of us were Dick Gregory last night? Gregory, the famed boundaries-pushing comedian and civil rights activist attended Jasper County, where Lawrence Brewster was killed by the state of Texas last night, to commit a hunger fast over the moral crime of capital punishment.

When do the State qualify to kill somebody and the government qualify to kill somebody and it’s all right? It’s never all right to kill somebody intentionally. There are people who kill people. They are not the State. They are not the government. I don’t pay taxes to them.

The heart of Lawrence Brewster and the heart of the men and women who convicted Troy Davis to die are not so different. They are motivated by violence and blood lust. And that is what is in much of our collective DNA in America. It is an evil that must be addressed and rooted out.

America will not be free as a society until we recognize that violence is evil in all its forms. State-sanctioned violence does not make the violence sacred. It demoralizes the state. The state that aggregates and cooperates in wars promotes and aggregates violence both abroad and at home. Citizens learn through the action, language and symbols of their state (and those that the state endorses) that when there are difficulties or differences with others, then the primary solution to the “problem” is through violence. When the Other is too difficult or asserts her power or humanity to the detriment of our profit motives and bottom lines, she is no longer a human who shares flesh and blood with us, who breathes in the same air and drinks the same water as us, but a lesser creature to be dealt with in extreme and severe brutality. Because, we assure ourselves, that is the only language such sub-humans understand: The whip; the bomb; the tank; the grenade.

This is what happens when souls and bodies are reduced to figures and numbers.

When entire people groups are labeled savage, uncivilized, barbaric, terrorist by another people group that is really no better. This is what happens when our response to being attacked is to wage war on those who attacked you, and those that live in proximity to those that attacked you. And those who look like those who attack you. And those who are not joining your efforts in attacking those who look like those who attacked you can also be expected to attack. Because, in our society, we are the true, the good, the virtuous, the right.

But are we truly?

What kind of strange fruit hangs from our trees?

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