PS - I keep wanting to write about how I came across as racist/elitist myself in the tv interview when what I was trying to point out were the layers of racism and what role they played in the investigation. It's hard to find an entry point into the conversation - even if it's mostly a conversation in my head. I am inclined to jump in justifying and clarifying what I meant but another part of me has to acknowledge that as a white, suburban, privileged girl, I am not likely to be incredibly perceptive of all the nuances of racism no matter how much I try or how "good" my intentions are. So. In the part that got on the air I said (seemingly out of the blue),
I just don't think that even then, things were like that. I think a black man in our neighborhood might have just as easily have been overlooked because he was clearly a handyman, a worker man. I don't think it would have been particularly noteworthy.I don't know whether it's because they chopped it or because I didn't articulate it well in the first place, but I certainly didn't mean to come across in a "Let them eat cake" kind of way. Here is more of what I was trying to get to: Yes, it was a white neighborhood. Yes, it is true no one reported a black man in the area. But the police chain of "logic" that followed was disastrously flawed by racism. To them - that there was no report of an alarming black man meant there could have been no black man around at all and therefore their black suspect should not be scrutinized despite other indicators that he could very well be the perpetrator.
Do you see how insidious this way of thinking is? It seems obvious to me that it is as racist to exclude as it is to target a suspect based solely/predominantly on skin color, but it played out in twisty ways. There were any number of good, honest reasons a black man could have been been in an area where he couldn't, at the time, have lived. I believe my parents and neighbors would have (in the absence of suspicious behavior) given an unknown man the benefit of the doubt, no matter his skin tone. I don't believe - even given the level of segregation at the time - that black skin in and of itself would have triggered the fear and assumptions of criminality the police presumed. The kind of racism that was ascribed to the people in the area wasn't necessarily there, but nevertheless it became the basis for police action and non-action.
It seems probable now that over 30 years ago an unlikely, white boy was suspected and wrongly persecuted while a suspicious black man went unscrutinized again and again and again. It would ABSOLUTELY have been racist and terrible to have had it happen the other way around - which I'm sure it has time and again elsewhere, elsewhen. But I can only speak to the case I know.
I'd like to say, too, that I don't think this was a case of "reverse" racism - if such a term ever applies - even if in this instance, the one who benefitted was black and the one targeted, white. Racism is racism. It is prejudice+power. The white cops had the prejudice and the power and it distorted their investigation, blinded them to other possibilities, and robbed them of a needed clarity. I don't believe I am wrong, naive or alone in longing for a "colorblind" system of law and order.
The last piece of the interview juxtaposed two of my statements, that in conjunction made no sense. I am quoted as saying
The cynical part of me feels like they just picked somebody who was unprotected and they targeted him. … They really believed they knew who did it.Here's the full ramble: one side of me believes that since the police had no suspects (that fit their filtered expectations), they targeted the most (socially, economically, and politically) vulnerable person they could find close by. And then they pushed and pushed trying to make that piece fit into the puzzle. My more compassionate side recognizes the tremendous limitations and pressures the police faced and I try to give them credit for believing they had the real criminal. Ambivalence doesn't come across well in a tiny sound clip. Lesson learned. One of many lessons I have learned in this process.
I don't know if the man in custody now, the one being scrutinized decades after he should have been, had anything to do with anything. It seems likely given the reports of his DNA at the crime scene, but I'll let a court of law decide that. His being white, black or green won't bring my friend back to life or allow a 40-something year old man to relive his teenage years, this time without everyone believing him to be a rapist/murderer. A clear conviction could be considered justice - but would even that have the power to bring peace with it? I have to hope that there could be peace found in solving the mystery of my childhood friend's disappearance. But I also have to believe that peace and redemption are possible no matter the revelations (or possible lack thereof) at this point. Thanks to all for the encouraging words and kind thoughts.
I should go back and make my PS the main post, but it'll have to stand as is. I'm getting on with my day now that I have all of that out of my head!
Peace, peace, peace.