The system never points the finger at itself

Woke up this morning with the cat sitting on my chest purring.  When I got up I saw that the cat had vomited twice in the living room overnight.  Then I watched Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney and everything was ok.

I

xxxTentacion died.  Opinion was divided at school between sadness at his death and disgust at his actions in life.  I had never heard of him.  So I read about him.  I’d be in the disgusted camp.  Thanks to reading about him I have now read one of the most foul things I have ever had the displeasure of reading.  I don’t feel like repeating it here but it involves xxxTentacion explaining what he would like to do to your younger sister.  I can see most things with nuance but I have an un-nuanced response to that tweet: it is the kind of thing you just can’t say and even if you think it you need to get some help.  I don’t mean that as a throwaway comment; I mean – please seek actual help.

I guess I would say that his lyrics often represent how someone who is angry and unhappy and young and powerless tries to show that they have power through violence, and sex: violent dominant sex.

II

I watched The Staircase on Netflix.  It’s a true crime thing.  A documentary about a man called Michael Peterson who was found guilty of killing his wife, but who maintains that she died accidentally after falling down a staircase at their house.  The weight of the footage is from the documentary film crew that Peterson himself hired of Peterson and his lawyers talking about the case, preparing the case, and being in the courtroom.  It is unclear if it was an assault or an accident.

It is a good documentary.  On the other hand it isn’t.  The filmmakers have achieved some objectivity, but it is always important to remember who they have access to and who they don’t.  One of the victim’s sisters has almost the final word and it is clear exactly how devastating the whole process has been for her.  Not just the murder/accident, but the fact of the film crew itself.  Inviting them into the case, as Peterson did, was a big invasion of privacy for everyone connected to the case and especially those who were not on Peterson’s side.  Watching the jocular conversations between Peterson, his legal team, and his family must have been galling.  To put it mildly.

III

The story of Kalief Browder features towards the end of the documentary about the criminal justice system in America called The 13th.  I happened to be re-watching this documentary for school and Kalief’s story hit home hard this time.

At one point in The Staircase Mike Peterson observes how expensive it is to get justice in America.  Peterson posts bail twice in the documentary.  Both amounts are six figure sums.  The second time he posts $300,000 while “indigent”.  I may not understand what this word means, but someone who is truly indigent should not be able to post bail of $300,000.  When Kalief was arrested for stealing a backpack (which he didn’t steal) his bail was four figures but he couldn’t pay it so he was held in jail.

Because Peterson could afford bail and lawyers he spent his time preparing for his case hanging out at home with his family and friends reading and drinking wine.  It took a couple of years to go to trial.

Kalief refused to accept a plea deal and insisted on going to trial.  He spent almost three years in prison waiting for his trial during which time he was assaulted multiple times by inmates and guards and attempted suicide.  After almost three years in prison all charges were dropped and he was released.

Two years later he killed himself.

White people like me like long courtroom shows.  I enjoyed Making a Murderer and the Trial of OJ.  I even watched every season of The Good Wife.  The problem is – and it was The 13th that pointed this out – in America 97% of people in prison take the plea and never go to trial.  97%.

Which made me realise something.  When I watch The Staircase, Making a Murderer, The Good Wife or The Trial of OJ I am watching something that happens 3% of the time.  I am watching, in short, propaganda to reassure me that there actually is a justice system and that somehow I hadn’t noticed that all these shows are about the wealthy and or white folk.  In fact I don’t think I have ever seen a long, nuanced multi part series about a poor black man accused of a crime.  Considering that 40% of prison population in the USA are black men this seems like it might be deliberate.

Racist, actually.  Like, no one wants to watch a long documentary about a poor black man because the white audience will assume he’s probably guilty and there will be no delicious ambiguity to savour, or speeches about Shakespeare.

IV

Which brings me back to xxxTentacion in a weird loop.  I have no time for the messages he propagated but I remain uneasy about condemning him without widening the circle of blame.  A stream of angry, young black men who – feeling powerless – pursue power in whatever way they can, come from somewhere.  They come from a society that perpetuates poverty and injustice among its poor, which are disproportionately coloured, and from a culture that celebrates and rewards music and bravado that is designed to shock and offend.

V

When I had cleaned up the cat vomit in the living room, and made myself breakfast, and sat around for a while thinking about the meaning of life, I went and told Eleanor to have a shower.  She was sitting on the couch watching a youtube video and I saw on the inside of her wrist that someone had drawn, with biro, xxxTentacion.

What’s that?

It’s a rapper.

Why is it there?

My friend drew it on everyone’s wrists yesterday.

The day before two Year 9 students had walked past me at school playing xxxTentacion’s song Look at Me.

I’m like bitch, who is your mans?, aye
Can’t keep my dick in my pants, aye

After that the lyrics get a lot worse.

Eleanor is in Year 7.  What the fuck is the matter with people?

When you have your shower can you wash that off please?

Sure.

She washed his name of his wrist.  Down the drain.  But people are still jumping at parties to his song.  And the society that creates it all grinds another generation in to dust.