Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of violence and sexual violence.
I didn't want him to be Black.
Last Tuesday, a gunman entered the Brooklyn, New York, subway system and opened fire 33 times. The man set off tear gas grenades and shot 10 people, five of which were students on their way to school.
Though no one was killed, 10 suffered non-fatal injuries. The entire subway system was closed out of fear of further attacks, and a 30-hour-long manhunt started. At the end of it, police had their prime suspect in custody: a 62-year-old Black man.
I don't know what I wanted the shooter to be — what race, age, background or otherwise, but a part of me felt a deep pain upon finding out they were Black.
Have no doubt — I abhor his actions and hope our judicial system brings him to justice to honor those injured and the many more left traumatized. He isn't owed any sympathy, nor does he deserve any.
The feeling I had when I read the news wasn't sympathy, but pity. It's a feeling I don't want to have, but it freezes my stomach whenever I hear that a perpetrator of evil is Black. It's the nagging voice saying they should've known better, they should've thought about how their actions make all Black people look. I can't help but think these people's actions are going to be used to justify the anti-Black thoughts and beliefs of people looking for a scapegoat.
Of course, these thoughts are unfair and illogical. No one should be expected to act as a representative for their race, and no one is more prone to violence based on their race. Nonetheless, these thoughts persist.
There are plenty of stories of Black people who were evil. Stories about murderers and rapists and criminals. Even Black celebrities like Bill Cosby or R. Kelly, both known sex offenders, illicit this intense pity and frustration.
It gets to a core disparity of living as a Black person in America — the two different realities Black people have to live in. I want this shooter, and all people who do evil, to be tried and put behind bars, but I also know that our justice system is actively racist. I want the shooter to live the rest of his life in a cell, but I also want our prison system to actually rehabilitate inmates instead of outright punishing them. I want criminals off the streets, but I know the definition of "criminal" changes on the whim of the justice system.
When a high-profile case like this centers a Black person, this pity of mine is going to be there, because I know how this country has treated Black people for crimes they assumed they did, whether they actually did anything wrong or not. Again, I don't aim to create sympathy for this man or cast doubt on his guilt, but I can't ignore this tension.
This is a country where the lynching of Black people was massively ignored by the justice system. This is the same country that imprisons Black people at disproportionately massive rates compared to their white counterparts.
This is the same country where Black people serve longer sentences for the same crime committed by white people. When an atrocious criminal is Black, how can I ignore what they might face in our justice system? I want this shooter tried to the fullest extent of the law, but I also know there was never any doubt about it. Because he's Black, he's already guilty.
This gunman was, by all known accounts, a terrible person. Reports show he was a virulent misogynist, racist and often used Nazi rhetoric, calling for a race war. On a now-deleted Youtube channel, he regularly uploaded videos describing his desire for more mass shootings to take place in America.
This attack was premeditated by a man so racist and sexist that he was willing to kill others to put his putrid beliefs into action. He doesn't deserve the pity I have for him. But he's Black, and I can't ignore that.