Righteous prohibitions

Dear President Trump,

Following on from yesterday’s letter about history and privilege and how we are finally getting some traction with new, corrective history, today was pretty much a banner day.

First, earlier today the US House passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act 410-4, making lynching a federal hate crime (for the record these four men voted against it: Louie Gohmert (TX), Thomas Massie (KY), Ted Yoho (FL), and Justin Amash (MI.)) after 200 attempts stretching back to 1900 (between the House and the Senate). The Senate has already passed a similar resolution so it looks hopeful that it’ll pass there too. Since it’s an election year and it would be political suicide, I’m sure you’ll sign it even if you have to do some sort of coded penance to atone for what the “very fine” white supremacist segment of your base will see as a betrayal.

And, I think we all need to sit with the fact, the shitty, shitty fact, that it is now 2020 and Black people have been trying to get versions of this Act passed for 120 years, during which time well over 4,000 Black people were lynched and their murderers were virtually never held to account. And we also need to sit with the equally shitty fact that the lack of action on it wasn’t out of ignorance of the issue – no, it was raised 200 different times – the facts were clear. Rather, it was repeatedly quashed out of malice and the same racist “states’ rights” argument that the Southern states used to defend slavery and justify the Civil War.

So finally, we are about to see the federal government step up and say that states do not have the right not to prosecute lynchings as hate crimes. Even though it’s more than 120 years too late and classic lynchings of Black people reportedly no longer happen, it’s still an important corrective that is making new history.

Second, today in Washington State the House and then the Senate passed a law prohibiting people who injure or kill LGBTQ individuals from invoking the “panic defense,” a legal strategy claiming that the defendant was in a state of violent temporary insanity because of unwanted same-sex sexual advances when they committed assault or murder. Apparently the defense strategy hasn’t been used in Washington state much, but it’s still another good corrective piece of new history (our Governor is set to sign it into law soon) and Washington joins 10 other states in rejecting that asinine excuse.

I think we should use the same legislative principle prohibiting the “panic defense” and apply it to police who kill unarmed people and in particular, people of color, so that we can stop with the “I feared for my life so I shot him 17 times in the back, your honor” arguments that are just so much bullshit. Yes, people get scared and people tend to react impulsively when they are scared, but law enforcement officers sign on for scary work and should have the wherewithal to assess situations without interference from the racial bias that leaves hundreds of unarmed people of color dead every year. I know this idea isn’t likely to get much traction any time soon, but it would be a sensible, righteous contemporary complement to the Emmett Till Antilynching Act and we should not wait another 120 years to finally correct this horrible aspect of our collective history.

May we all be safe to exist.
May we be happy to advance laws that are just and fair.
May we keep pushing for healthier ways of being in community.
May we see that peace comes about through mutual respect and compassion.

Tracy Simpson

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