Fifty-four years ago this summer, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were civil rights workers murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Their crime was being members of CORE, and daring to question white supremacy in the time of the Civil Rights Movement. They were what U.S. District Judge William Cox classified as “one n—r, one Jew, and a white man.” These three young men were murdered by the police. How interesting.
In the same American deep South, that residue to racial impunity has not dried up and withered away. It has access to grandchildren and social media. This week, in Louisiana, Matthew Martin used his truck in hatred to hit a local black barber named Sherrell Harris, Jr. As a matter of deeper emotional injury, Matthew Martin, sent Snapchat messages about it, detailing the front end damage to his truck with laughing emojis.
With laughing emojis.
There will be those who will say he didn’t know, who will say he didn’t mean it, he wasn’t racist, and he does have some remorse concerning the man he hit who was only moving debris out of the road. However, I have several questions. If he’s in a pick-up truck, having a higher vantage point of the road, how did he manage to hit him? How did he manage not to see him? When he did see him, why did he decide to hit him, other than he thought he could get away with it?
I know why, and so do you. Matthew Martin hit this man, with his truck, killing him, because he could. The same reason and logic that possessed an officer of the law a half-century earlier to take three young men old enough to be his sons, to stalk them as they were leaving the county by car, snatch them out of said car, and murder them, burying them in the quiet of the Mississippi earth — because he could. Black lives will never matter to people who do not see us, or anyone that is not white, because we are seen as the enemy and to be eliminated by means necessary.
I am aware the tool, weapon, and propaganda of social media did not exist in 1964. However, the fathers of the Matthew Martins did. They are the ones who make and perpetuate the idea that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization, civil rights are a myth, and to take the life or livelihood of someone who is not white is not a crime. Which leads me to give more credence to the quote by Toni Morrison, “If you can only be tall when someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.”
White people have a severe problem, and it is slowly becoming more apparent it is a viral contagion. The fact he would Snapchat this event — and when the police of this parish are confronted by the demand for charges be brought against this man, they are hung up on — let’s me know the same racism-fueled arrogance which allowed the police to organize a murder of civil rights workers in neighboring Mississippi and lie about it under cover of the law, is the same racism-fueled arrogance which allowed, emboldened Matthew to plow his car into another human being. Because he was taught not to see someone black as a human being.
Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft is noted to be appalled at the attitude of Mr. Martin, but his attitude and racial slur constituted no crime. This is the craziest part of this entire situation. The same law, respect for law, which allowed the murder of three men to be an open secret, is the same law, rule of law that says and defends what this man said and admitted on Snapchat.
There must be an accountability and personal responsibility in this situation. He hit and killed a man with his truck and when he asked what he hit, he said ‘some n—r’. No. He was someone’s brother, son and friend. This is the dehumanizing nature of racism — it robs you humanity, of empathy, logic, and reason. It reinforces everything false about the human experience, fortifies fears and weaponizes anxiety to the point you desire to take the life of someone because they are different–which means you aren’t in control.
I want justice for Sherrell Harris, Jr. I want justice in whatever capacity allotted in this situation. I want his life to be remembered as more than the hashtag #Justice4Rell and viral articles. I want black lives to matter to non-black people. Then I remember the words of Plato: “True justice is not found in this world.”