The Trouble With Facts A Story About Race in America Part one.
“Look, just let the facts speak for themselves,” the man said. “If you’re looking for the truth, it’s in there. Over half the murders in America today are carried out by less than 7% of the population, and that population just happens to be black males.”
“So, you believe that black men are inherently more violent than white men?” I asked.
“I’m not making any statements, I’m just looking at the numbers, man, the facts,” he said.
In my mind, that thought rolled hard, it burned, deep. It cut into my soul and laid me bare. I wanted to walk away, shut the door on it, make it be something different, but there it was and the numbers all agreed, but this could not be the whole story. It wasn’t possible. I knew black men, and women. I saw them, they weren’t what he was saying, there was something he wasn’t seeing, and I needed to know. But how?
I wanted to speak to this, to tell him he was wrong, as I knew, somewhere in my gut that he was, that these statistics were proving a point, but the wrong one. I wanted to shout at him, punch him, make him take it back and look at it from another angle, but I knew I was powerless to do that. As a white man, I sat with this story and I thought about it, but I had no idea how to tell it.
I could see the struggle, and recognize that a big, deep part of the meaning of these numbers came from a place this man did not have any idea about. It came from a place where hope was a luxury and survival meant breaking the law from time to time. These numbers represented kids, and men and women, who had been robbed of their chance before they even got a start. The faces behind them looked stoic and cold, eyes hooded with jade and just open enough to stay safe, shielding them from as much of the hate as they could afford to shut out.
These eyes looked out from behind bars, on their grandmother's windows, and their school classrooms, and in all too many cases, the cages they were locked in far too early, and way too often. More than thirteen times more often than their white counterparts.
This man had no clue that 95% of all felony convictions were reached in an interrogation room, with a DA quoting stats about convictions on crimes like this, that didn't represent the reality of a justice system that worked. That these cases were plead out, not because of guilt, but because the 5% the DA chose to slam dunk in court made him look undefeated. Because, the rest, were all convictions, based on the belief in these unknowing minds, that they faced certain hell of a much longer duration if they didn't just confess.
And there, backing them up, in a rumpled suit, was an exhausted public defender, knowing that the effort he could make would never equal what the state would throw at this young victim. That at best, he might win enough sympathy to equal the DA's deal, but not beat it. And there was no way he could even stick around long enough for a jury trial that held any meaning at all. He had twelve more cases just today, so he looks at his young client and the client's aunt, or grandmother, whoever had been able to get a few hours off to come and sit in this stuffy room, and he tells them to take it.
There, one more number added to that man's count, and I knew that, but how could I say it in a way that meant anything? How could I convince the predominantly white voters that this was even happening, let alone that they were responsible for it? All I knew was I had to try.