As a community, we are at a crossroads. Now that State’s Attorney Julia Rietz has revealed her choice not to pursue criminal charges against Officer Norbits or Police Chief R.T. Finney for the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington, it won’t be long before we are told that we should move on, that now is a time for healing — resolution even. I disagree. When a community sustains the kind of trauma ours did on October 9, 2009, and then is forced to re-experience that trauma with Rietz’s announcement last Tuesday, it is unreasonable to expect that we immediately begin reconciling our losses. Not yet, anyway.
I’ll point out here that the community that has been affected by Rietz’s announcement is not confined to Mr. Carrington’s neighborhood, or to people who identify with his racial or ethnic makeup. The community I refer to consists, at the very least, of those who have even a minimal investment in the C-U community. All of us suffered a loss when Kiwane was killed. And no, I don’t just mean that all of us lost one of our own community members, although we did. I mean that those of us who see Carrington’s death as being related to race and class have lost that much faith in our city and in our police department, and that loss has indefinitely had an effect on those who do not recognize any racial connection whatsoever by virtue of the ideological rift it has caused.
Those who see this as being a racially-motivated crime against a young black man will not be hard pressed to recite examples of widespread institutionalized racism ranging back through our town’s long history (however, if you are, I’d strongly recommend listening to this Youth Media Workshop Presentation and reading about the Brady Smith case). This history of racial transgressions is itself a history of loss, one that reverberates in Rietz’s decision, regardless of whether it was made in good faith.
The framework for this scenario is already embedded in our culture. Assuming police officers’ actions were justified, the multi-jurisdictional task force’s investigation was thorough and Rietz’s decision was made based on the facts and not political factors, this situation still hearkens back to unresolved racial and social discord historically prevalent in our community. Those who hear the reverberations of this strife in Rietz’s decision will respond with indignation and rage over what they see as a miscarriage of justice and those who do not hear it will react defensively or scornfully and the two sides will be divided. This social disconnect, this breakdown in our community, is what makes the prospect of “moving on” or “healing” impossible at this point.
Like a physical wound, we must address the infection before applying the bandage. Indeed, the temptation to move on in spite of our unhealed wounds, if acted upon, will have its consequences. In fact, we have seen these consequences before — they are printed on our maps. C-U is a balkanized, ghettoized community, demographically identifiable on either side of University Avenue, politically identifiable on either side of Wright Street and these physical divisions are as much a product of our thinking as they are its cause. This is to say that we are products of our environment as much as we are its creators, which means that these geographical and ideologically divisions are not natural, nor are they impossible to overcome.
Before we move on, we must be willing to engage with one another, to discuss our painful history instead of blindly moving past it with no lessons learned. By pushing these issues to the margins over time, we have made them a central issue in our struggle to truly unite as a community. In order to recover from the incredible trauma we as a community experienced in October, yesterday and throughout our history, the last thing we should do is mute our anger, our outrage and our confusion. Now is the time for us, as a community, to communicate with one another openly and honestly. Now is the time to not move on, for once. Then the healing can start.
To read an article that deals with some specific inconsistencies in Rietz’s report, click here