Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Tale of Two Shootings: In the Hospital, In the Park

We've discussed how Easy Rawlins, Black Betty, and much of their Los Angeles came to California as part of the 2nd Great Migration. (That's one of Jacob Lawrence's series The Great Migration, one of the high points of 20th century American art.)  This past Sunday's New York Times had a piece by the journalist and historian Isabel Wilkerson that compares the end of two Great Migration stories--the killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 when his family sent him back to the South for a summer vacation, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamar Rice in 2014 in a Cleveland park across the street from his home.
Another reason the article is interesting is its narrative structure: it's a good example of non-fiction writing that uses characters to tell a story with a large historical arc, in under 1800 words (or about two blog posts).  Take a look at the skillful way the two family stories are told.   Another major issue gets us to the second story:  
As in the majority of the 21st-century cases of police shootings in the North, no one was prosecuted in the death of Tamir Rice. Late last December, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed him. Decades ago, in the Jim Crow South, Emmett Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury, but at least they had gone to trial.
The Times also ran a major investigative story about why a Black college student in Houston sought help for a manic episode that was producing delusions and wound up with a bullet in his chest--administered in his hospital room.  He survived, and the story was produced in tandem with an episode of This American Life, "My Damn Mind," in which the victim, Alan Pean, tells much of the story himself.  Both are really good, and ponder issues we've raised about the underlying cultural forces that shape Black freedom and justice (and their absence) in the U.S., fifty years after the formal end of Jim Crow.

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