In a nest made of a pretty little river, a dozen or so golf courses and several lakes that are best kept secrets, the place of my becoming exists. For twelve years, I lived two minutes outside of Sanford, Florida. For the twenty three years before that, I lived about thirty minutes away.
Sanford has a quaint, little downtown where there’s a lovely library carpeted with that weird brown material that was so popular in the 80s. When Nuha started preschool, I would take Yusuf to this library for children’s programs. Sometimes, we would visit a park nearby and I would push him on a swing until it was time for a snack. Sanford is a sweet, unassuming town. It doesn’t really stand out in any real way — save the fact that it is so unremarkably unremarkable.
It’s cute. It’s simple. It’s just… Sanford.
I got a ticket about four years ago for speeding. I elected to take the driving course so I wouldn’t have to get the points on my license. I had to go to the courthouse to pay the ticket and show my driving course certificate. The security guards are friendly and will make jokes with you if you appear game, as I often do. The staff there is professional and courteous. The courthouse has the usual mix of the mundane and exciting that a courthouse can offer. It wasn’t really busy. It’s a nice courthouse. You probably have one like it in your town. It, like the community it serves, is generally unremarkable.
But today, Sanford is not unremarkable.
It is spotlighted. For some, it has become the staging ground for battle. It’s become emblematic of everything that is right or wrong about our society. It has become the place where people point and say, “See, this is what we mean when we say that the world is this way or that way…” In a short time, something I knew as unremarkable has become quite remarkable in what I think is a very unfortunate way.
I spent a lot of time on Facebook tonight. I noticed comments about riots. About dead children. About self defense and self loathing. About prayers for peace for this side or that. The new, remarkable Sanford had made what is normally my unremarkable Facebook wall a very remarkable place, too.
“Nice job, Florida.”
“Well, don’t go to Florida if you’re wearing a hoodie!”
Hey, Americans of Facebook? Violence, racism, discrimination, bias… these are not the province of the newly remarkable Sanford, Florida. This is our national problem. We own it… as a nation — no exceptions. Everyday, people in this country are deemed threatening because of their appearance, their name, or their culture. They are dirty because they are poor. They are violent because they are black. They are angry because they are Muslim. They are racist because they are white. They are deviant because they are gay.
These ideas and words are crimes against you and me. They are not so apparent as a grown man operating within the context of some irrational application of an ill conceived law provoking a child to violence and then killing that child as reprisal. But they are crimes, nonetheless, of which we are all victims and perpetrators.
They are the crimes that divide us. They are not as quick to kill as a bullet to the chest, but they do kill. They kill slowly and their death toll is in the thousands. And they cannot be prosecuted in a court of law.
And here’s the real clincher: the perpetrators of these crimes are almost always acquitted because the jury is too sympathetic or apathetic to convict.
You acquit. I acquit. We acquit each other when we look the other way when a remark is made about “those people” and why they are “that way.” We acquit each other when we accept the idea that “race is not an issue.”
I want to tell you all, for your own good, stop saying that. If you think race isn’t an issue, then race is most definitely an issue for you. When you pretend something does not exist, you give it power. That’s why Harry said “Voldemort” instead of “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Be Harry. You cannot destroy that which you think does not exist. You cannot heal a sickness if you refuse to believe that you are sick. You deny a sickness, though, and it only grows.
A trial in Sanford? That is, at least, some accountability. It’s a few moments when someone says, “Well, let’s try to figure out what went wrong here.” So maybe they don’t figure it out and some bogus verdict sends us all in a tizzy …just long enough so we get distracted from the many acquittals we dole out on a daily basis.
We then focus on the big remarkable event which is just really the outcome of all the acquittals we dole out in the unremarkable moments in our lives.
Someone pleaded today, “What can I do?”
I’ll tell you.
Hold yourself accountable for the tiny ways in which you might be making this problem bigger. You’re not a racist, of course. I’m not either. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t unconsciously harbor sentiments which are so deeply ingrained with racist ideology that it is no longer visible to us. I think, too, and this is going to be controversial… we have to let go of relativism when it comes to tolerance and acceptance. Be unrelenting. Be ever vigilant. But, of course, be kind.
Look at what you believe — observe yourself, your words and your ideas in the context of humankind’s very necessary journey to a peaceful existence. Our continued existence is fully determined by our ability to take a stand in the service of our preservation.
One remarkable acquittal is enough.
Let’s not acquit ourselves, too.