I went to Florida once. It was back in 2009, and I was exhibiting a research summary at a conference in Orlando. Because I was travelling partially on my own dime, and because I was too young to rent a car, I ended up staying at a hotel that was far away from the convention centre and took public transit to the exhibition hall. Living as I have in cities like Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton, I was immediately struck by how brown the busses were. It was as though all of the lower-income people who had to get places, but didn’t make enough money at those places to afford a car, were black and/or Latin@. Everyone I met in a service position was dark-skinned, all of the management staff were white. Without exception. It was a surreal experience for me.
It would take a couple of years for me to finally wrap my head around what I had seen. It wasn’t an illusion or a clustering effect or just a weird coincidence – Florida was a seriously fucking racist place:
Walton Henry Butler, 59, was arrested by Gulf County Sheriff’s deputies on Monday night for shooting 32-year-old Everett Gant, who is black, in the head with a .22 caliber rifle.
According to a charging affidavit obtained by The Star, Butler had referred to Pamela Rogers’ child and other children at his apartment complex with racial slurs. Gant was shot between the eyes when he went to Butler’s apartment to confront him over the remarks, the documents said. Butler allegedly closed his sliding glass door and left Gant bleeding on ground outside.
The suspect contacted 911 and had finished his dinner before Gulf County Sheriff Joe Nugent arrived. Nugent recalled that Butler appeared “inconvenienced” by the arrest, saying that “he had only shot a n*gger.” “He was brought to the investigation unit where he was interviewed and basically admitted to shooting the victim and said he shot a, used a racial slur, and said that is what he shot and acted like it was not like a big deal or anything to him,” Nugent told WJHG.
This happened. A guy went to go confront his neighbour, justifiably upset (but amazingly unarmed) over the open use of racially-demeaning slurs directed at children. In response to this, instead of apologizing or attempting to explain himself, Walton Henry Butler shot Mr. Gant between the eyes and went back inside to finish his dinner. His explanation? It was just a nigger.
This, incidentally, is why it’s not okay for your white buddies to use the word, or to make jokes about it, or to decide to tell black folks that it’s “just a word” and that we shouldn’t “choose (choose!) to get offended by it”. Nigger is not just a mean word. Nigger is what the guy with his finger on the trigger (or on the nightstick, or on the gavel, or on the job application form) thinks to himself right before he decides to destroy a black life. Nigger is the denial of black personhood. It is the ultimate expression of the idea not only that black people are inferior, but that they (we) don’t even qualify for the basic decency of not getting shot in the head and left to die while you finish your Hungry Man.
And all for the crime of standing up for the right of some children to live free of the deranged invective of a hateful homicidal asshole.
But hey, at least Butler only killed one person, right?
In the debate over new laws meant to curb voter fraud in places like Florida, Democrats always charge that Republicans are trying to suppress the vote of liberal voting blocs like blacks and young people, while Republicans just laugh at such ludicrous and offensive accusations. That is, every Republican except for Florida’s former Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, who, scorned by his party and in deep legal trouble, blew the lid off what he claims was a systemic effort to suppress the black vote. In a 630-page deposition recorded over two days in late May, Greer, who is on trial for corruption charges, unloaded a litany of charges against the “whack-a-do, right-wing crazies” in his party, including the effort to suppress the black vote.
In the deposition, released to the press yesterday, Greer mentioned a December 2009 meeting with party officials. “I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting,” he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. He also said party officials discussed how “minority outreach programs were not fit for the Republican Party,” according to the AP.
The comments, if true (he is facing felony corruption charges and has an interest in scorning his party), would confirm what critics have long suspected. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is currently facing inquiries from the Justice Department and pressure from civil rights groups over his purging of voter rolls in the state, an effort that critics say has disproportionately targeted minorities and other Democratic voters. One group suing the state claims up to 87 percent of the voters purged from the rolls so far have been people of color, though other estimates place that number far lower. Scott has defended the purge, even though he was erroneously listed as dead himself on the rolls in 2006.
As Vanity Fair noted in a big 2004 story on the Sunshine State’s voting problems, “Florida is a state with a history of disenfranchising blacks.” In the state’s notoriously botched 2000 election, the state sent a list of 50,000 alleged ex-felons to the counties, instructing them to purge those names from their rolls. But it turned out that list included 20,000 innocent people, 54 percent of whom were black, the magazine reported. Just 15 percent of the state’s population is black. There were also reports that polling stations in black neighborhoods were understaffed, leading to long lines that kept some people from voting that year. The NAACP and ACLU sued the state over that purge. A Gallup poll in December of 2000 found that 68 percent of African-Americans nationally felt black voters were less likely to have their votes counted fairly in Florida.
Racism in the mind of a single murderous psychopath is dangerous. Racism in the minds of a political party so run through with avarice and arrogance as the Republicans is an absolute disaster. And while this is not just happening in Florida, it finds its ideological home there. A place where Stand Your Ground laws are disproportionately killing black and brown men, recently highlighted by the case of the odious George Zimmerman. A place where the rule of law comes second to demonizing and punishing the poor.
And, apparently, a place where the white man rules with one hand over the ballot box, and the other with a gun pointed at your face. And the word “nigger” on his lips.
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