Absurdity is no longer absurd; it is our ongoing normal.
The notion of absurdity was the life work of French philosopher Albert Camus. For Camus, absurdity within the human condition is the polarities between the desire for meaning and the universe’s silent, cold response.
We saw absurdity play itself out with the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. But to rely solely on the narrative of white police officers shooting an unarmed Black man with only a few seconds of inflammatory video at our disposal, we risk becoming absurdity’s unwitting allies.
The video that captured the shooting of Blake should be permanently etched into our minds. As uncomfortable as it may be, given that the recent horrific death of George Floyd still commands much of our bandwidth. But that cannot be the excuse to not hold this latest tragedy in our collective memory banks.
We must do this not for the purposes of assigning blame, but rather to come to terms with who we are. Whether it occurs in states that traditionally vote blue or red, none are immune.
Regardless of our position on such issues, absurdity orchestrates the events. The certainty of our position is based on our irrefutable belief that our square peg fits neatly within the contours of the octagonal box.
Imagine there was a tragic car accident at a busy intersection. On one corner stood a police officer; on another corner a priest; on another, an attorney; and on the other there was a doctor. Each saw the accident as it occurred, but if we asked them what happened, would their stories match?
Chances are their versions would vary because of the differing corners and the context influencing how each saw the accident.
The video of Blake’s shooting forced me to undergo a similar exercise.
As a former pastor, my heart pains for our being drawn into an arena for something that should have been avoided. It should not be required of us to hold the shooting of Blake in our minds. Were it not for absurdity, his name would not be part of the national conversation.
Tragically, this is a seminal moment that every member of his immediate family must carry from his mother to his children, who were eyewitnesses to the absurdity.
As an African American male watching the video, I was in disbelief at the sight of Blake walking away from the police, who already had their guns drawn. Like watching a horror film utilizing a predictable trope, I was compelled to yell at the screen: “DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON THE POLICE!”
The situation, for whatever reason, had escalated; when police are seemingly on hair trigger, walking away is never the best option. But does walking away from the police justify lethal force?
Imagine had Blake stayed, can we say with absolute certainty the situation would have been avoided? Reasonable persons would most likely offer in the affirmative. As a Black man, the best I can offer is perhaps. How might George Floyd, Breonna Taylor or Philando Castile answer the aforementioned question?
Therein lies reason for the distrust and anger of many who take to the streets. There is no guarantee that the methods traditionally applied to deescalate a situation with law enforcement are applicable to African Americans.
I must also examine this scenario through the lens of an American citizen. It’s quite possible, in spite of the video, that law enforcement did nothing wrong. That may be the most tragic scenario.
But to reach that conclusion there is much that the video does not reveal.
Why were guns drawn on Blake? Though preliminary reports said he was unarmed and not the subject of why the police were initially called, it was later reported there was a knife in his car. Does that make a difference?
Through my untrained lens, these are questions for which I offer no definitive answer. I do know there is a consistent pattern where such scenarios play out for those of a darker hue that does not appear commensurate with white brothers and sisters.
If this is what we have become, and the evidence strongly suggests it is, I, like civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, must question America.
Is this America where Dylann Roof, after massacring nine people in church, could get a cheeseburger after being apprehended, but Jacob Blake gets seven bullets at point-blank range for walking away?
No matter how one adjudicates this scenario, there has been a long train of undeniable usurpations of human dignity, making us collectively unable to engage in objective judicious inquiry. For a nation committed to liberty and equality, it is the height of absurdity.
Albert Camus, are you listening?
The Rev. Byron Williams (email@example.com), a writer and the host of “The Public Morality” on WSNC 90.5, lives in Winston-Salem.
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