Like Fish in a Barrel
“Come on pretty lady, step right over here. Take a shot and win a prize.”
August is a hot month, but tonight’s heat feels more like an inferno. The air is sweltering and everyone knows that as temperatures rise black folks commonsense goes down. We escaped the inner-city to attend a carnival; for just a few hours we wanted to hear the roar of roller coasters and the delightful cries of the crowds as compared to the wail of ambulances and the expletive yells of unruly teenagers.
My six year old niece and I broke away from the rest of the family to go on the less adventurous rides like the teacups and the big giant slide. Mostly I went in search of cooler air and to escape a cousin who kept uttering every few minutes, “Dang, y’all nee-grows attract heat!”
Feeling slightly bored, but not yet ready to meet up back with the family my niece and I got drinks and roamed around watching the crowd. Even at 9:30 at night, with the sun long gone down I am still feeling the oppression of that noonday sun. Like an old person I kept commenting on how hot it was and my niece gave me a look of pity that one gives to the insane and the senile. As I sip on my supersized soda, I glanced over to a booth and see a barker beckoning me to come and play his shooting game.
“You look like a sharp shooter, an old dead eye,” he plies me with compliments as I hesitantly move a bit closer. “Look at all the pretty little knick-nacks and paddywacks you can win for that pretty little girl of yours.”
I look down at my niece who’s holding onto and pulling down hard on my hand, thinking the swinging motion can propel me into doing her bidding. “Please Aun-tie, pleeeeasee,” she whines, looking up at me. “Get me that big teddy bear. Get it for me, please.”
“I don’t know how to shoot a gun,” I shrug.
“You say you don’t know how to shoot?” the barker says in a halting rhythmic way, where every other word is hit for emphasis. He then relaxes into his carnival cadence. “It’s easy, I say, it’s easy as shootin’ fish in a barrel. All you have to do is hold your little rifle up here to your shoulder, see, look through the sights, and then squeeze the trigger.” Using the gun he motions the steps for me. He hit a duck with one of his rubbery pellets, knocking it over in the line.
It doesn’t look that hard, so I pay the man three dollars for three shots. I take the gun and move to the center spot. As I raise and look through the sights I see the targets before me. But instead of little bunnies or duckies the targets have a human profile. Actually, they look like the silhouettes of black people. I squeeze my eyes shut and open them again, convinced they are playing tricks on me. But the heads are still there.
“Are you gonna take a shot?” my niece asks. I fire and miss. The shot was far to left, nowhere near the little heads.
“Miss one!” the barker snarls out. “That’s a Genarlow Wilson, right there! Try again little lady, try again.” ************************************************
By all accounts Genarlow Wilson had beaten the odds. The son of a single mother he was an honor student and a track star. Most 17 year olds seniors are getting ready to attend college but Genarlow is having to cope with spending his young adult years serving a ten year sentence for rape and child molestation although the girl he had sex was only two years younger and it was seemingly consensual. But in the state of Georgia the age of consent is 16 and they had the sexual act on tape. The law changed in 2006 but Wilson’s conviction still stands.
“My son was definitely — you know, made bad judgments of character,” said Wilsons’ mother Juanessa Bennett to Democracy Now. ”He definitely was not in his right state of mind. I don’t condone the drinking or the hanging at the — aspect. But it was definitely not nothing that deserved ten years, maybe some kind of rehabilitation or something to teach a lesson, but nothing extreme like this.”
A lot of other people feel the same way and have noted the similarities between this and another Georgia case. Marcus Dixon was also a teen black male who had consensual sex with a girl a few years younger than himself. Are the sex lives of young white males in Georgia examined (and punished) with the same vigor they expend on young black males? ****************************************
“You got two more shots, make it good,” the barker said as I raised the gun again to eye level.
How’m I gone do this? I thought to myself. My niece was sure I could win her the big teddy and was already doing a little bit of a happy dance. I decided to strategize this time and I picked out a head from the beginning of the track. I watched as it slowly moved to the center. When it gets there, I’m gonna shoot it, I thought. Watching the head steadily I squeezed the trigger.
“Oh!” the barker shouted. The shot came closer this time, but still it didn’t hit the mark. “You missed it again –what coulda been! For a buck more I’ll make it six.” ********************************************
What must the students have felt when they arrived at school and saw nooses hanging from the tree? To feel impotent in the face of hate that everyone says was stomped out in the late 60s, but those of darker hues know different. Our skin has memory, passed down through the line. We get that tingling feeling to let us know when we are being threatened, when we are in danger. “…We came through, and I seen something hanging there,” said Jesse Beard. Beard is one of the accused and has yet to be sentenced. “I told Robert. He looked at it. He’s like, “Them nooses right there.” He was getting mad. Everybody was getting — I started getting mad. By the time everybody came, they was trying to cut them down.”His friend and alleged accomplice, Robert Bailey continues the story. “It was in the early morning. I seen them hanging. I’m thinking the KKK, you know, were hanging nooses. They want to hang somebody. Real nooses, the ones you see on TV are the kind of nooses they were, the ones they play in the movies and they were hanging all the people, you know, and the thing dropped, those were the kind of nooses they were. I know it was somebody white that hung the nooses in the tree. You know, I don’t know another way to put it, but, you know, I was disappointed, because, you know, we do little pranks — you know, toilet paper, that’s a prank, you know what I’m saying? Paper all over the square, all the pranks they used to do, that’s pranks. Nooses hanging there — nooses ain’t no prank.”In Jena, Louisiana racial tensions are flying high. Before the fights and before the nooses, there was racial animus between blacks and whites in the town with repeated incidences of violence among the young. The white residences call the nooses a prank and the school superintendent dismissed the incidence. But that wasn’t the only one. The level of justice has always been handed out unevenly between black and white kids. Last fall, a white student pulled a gun out on a group of black students, claiming self defense. The black students wrestle the gun away and report the incidence to the police, only to find themselves charged with assault and robbery of the gun. A few days later the fight between black and white students occurs. A white student is hurt and taken to the hospital with a mild concussion. The black students are charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The Jena 6 face sentences of 22 to 100 years.
“The DA is trying to use my son as a scapegoat for these ridiculous charges,” said Marcus Jones, the father of one of the accused. “He knows there’s no proof showing that my son and those other kids were trying to kill that boy. It was a simple high school fight. How can you turn that into attempted murder?“ ******************************************************************************
I was beginning to wonder if the game was rigged against me. Were there certain rules that I should know? No, I thought to myself. You are just a lousy shot. A few people had begun to crowd around me and I was starting to feel a bit self conscious about making another shot (and a complete fool) of myself in front of a crowd.
“You want to buy some more shots, little lady?”
“No,” I said. “I will just take this last one.” This one doesn’t matter, I thought. Even with everyone standing around waiting to see if I will make a wild shot it doesn’t matter. I’m not gonna worry; I’m just gonna shoot.
I aimed. I fired. *********************************************
For a city that is inured to violence these shootings stuck a nerve.
Four young adults who were getting ready to go back to college in just a few weeks were made to kneel before a wall and shot at close range. What kind of animal could do this? Who could kill these cut these children down in their prime?
Rumblings are it was someone who looked just like them and was close in age.* Some think it was a gang initiation. Others think it was a robbery. Police hope to close in on the culprits soon and and the community is coming together to raise a reward.
According to the Black on Black Crime Coalition, although African Americans only make up 12% of the populations we amassed 45% of all murder victim in the US and the majority were killed by other African Americans. Who can we march on for that? Ourselves? Our leaders –what leaders? No one wants to fight a war on all fronts, but unfortunately we are being surrounded and sometimes the enemy looks just like us. To point the finger at ourselves sometimes is not to ignore the greater racism in the outlying communities, but to save black lives. Of course, the fact that African Americans are still battling racism in the 21st century is a shame but for blacks to die senselessly at the hands of another black person should make us all take to the streets and scream in pain.
But then we’d be screaming everyday.
I heard the sound of metal against metal with a little dink sound.
“Did I hit it?” I was incredulous. The head was still standing upright so I couldn’t have hit it.
“No, you just kind of tipped it a little.”
“What do we win?! What do we win?!” My niece was jumping up and down; she heard the tip sound, too.
“You don’t get anything for a tip,” I told her.
“Well, wait a minute,” the barker said. “For playing my game you get this here.” He handed me a neon blue teddy bear that was about five inches tall.
“Yay!” my niece said as he handed her the prize.We walked away from the shooting game. As I set handed the gun off to someone else I look back at the targets and see ducks scurrying across the perimeter, waiting for the next hunter to take a shot. How could I have ever mistaken that shape for anything else? My eyes were tired and I decide it’s time to head back to the rest of the group so we connect hands, walking slowly. In front of us is a group of white teenagers who are cussing up a storm. Soon they see another group of friends and they run over to them, rambunctiously yelling and screaming, making the adults around them frown.
“Are all teenagers bad?” my niece asked. I wanted to say, yes, they are all bad and need to get beat on the regular. But looking at her I see the future before me and instead I answer, “No, they aren’t. Some just need more home training than others.”
I look at the white kids and the white adults around them. What if it were black teens behaving this way, how would they react? Would they sic security on them or could they see that they are just teens with no one to guide them? I think of what it’s like back inside the city where even the youngest of ghetto children aren’t even getting ready for bed, not on a hot night like this. I see these anonymous children’s future before me, too: once youngsters who were adored and fawned over, once they reached puberty they became things to fear. They are seen as untamed and feral. All the boys are seen as thugs and all the girls are veritable hoochies; they all wear the same uniform so how are we to know who’s who? How are the police to know? Why do we expect others to see the best in us when we don’t see (or expect) the best in ourselves?
The night is hot and the heat isn’t dropping. I wonder what it’s like back inside the city. When I get home and turn on the news will I hear about another dead young brother in the street? What prize do you get with that? Is the fact that its nearing 100 degrees a good enough defense to hold up in court?
I look up into the sky and see a million stars that I never see in a city sky. The street lights and a host of other things obscure their view. I take a moment to hold the sky in and know for one moment I could see the dark firmament in all its vastness. For one moment there was clarity.
*On 9Aug07 two suspects were arrested in the Newark murders.