The bulging numbers of blacks in America's jails and prisons seem to reinforce the wrong-headed perception that crime and violence in America invariably comes with a young, black male face. The brutal reality is that Waco won't change that. It will be the proverbial one day in, one day out news story.
Jesse Washington was just one black man to die horribly at the hands of white death squads. Between 1882 and 1968 -- 1968! -- there were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the U.S. About a quarter of them were white people, many of whom had been killed for sympathizing with black folks. My father, who was born in 1904 near Paris, Texas, kept in a drawer that newspaper photograph from back when he was a boy of thousands of people gathered as if at a picnic to feast on the torture and hanging of a black man in the center of town. On a journey tracing our roots many years later, my father choked and grew silent as we stood near the spot where it had happened. Yes, it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the news of the Jordanian pilot's horrendous end. ISIS be damned! I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders. Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People like us.
West, Texas might be the latest failure of our commitment to provide the resources to protect our communities and our environment but there is no shortage of similar examples. The BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which continues to destroy sea life, was a product of lax enforcement, infrequent inspection caused by staffing shortages, and an intermingling of personnel between the regulated industry and the federal oversight agency. Generations from now the Gulf of Mexico will still be suffering and people may find it hard to understand what we allowed to happen in order to hold down our tax burden and to let industry create jobs and find energy without government meddling. How many times do we have to see these images and fail to connect cause and effect?