This may be a reach, and I acknowledge that up front however I don't think it qualifies as such. My focus is on two cases, two southern states, two black-white incidents where African Americans were supposedly subjected to white power and privilege, and two different processes; I'm talking about the Duke Lacrosse Case in North Carolina and the Boot Camp Beating Death of a juvenile in Florida.
Florida, completely controlled by Republicans in the legislature and the Governor's office, has been accused of dragging its feet and denying justice but the Governor stepped in and appointed a special prosecutor in its high profile case. North Carolina, completely controlled by Democrats in the legislature and the Governor's office, has been accused of dragging its feet and denying due process to defendants presumed to be innocent but the Governor has refused to step in and appoint a special prosecutor.
In both cases, there was an immediate move toward a witch hunt and conclusory determinations of guilt from many based on the "apparent" facts of the case. A compare and contrast of the two cases may be nothing more than an exercise in irrelevance but I'm not so sure about that. I think Roger Kimball's latest column has something to do with why the two different approaches aren't a simple irrelevance.
We, as African Americans, demand that Americans (in general) and Democrats (in particular) pander to us. And the Democrats, more often than not, acquiesce in unhelpful ways -- that's what's happening in North Carolina and it's an ugly sight. As is the spotlight beginning to shine on lax enforcement of punishments meted out for ethical lapses by practicing attorneys. This, too, has something to do with Roger Kimball's essay titled, "What Does It Matter?":
[quoting Thomas Jefferson] "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be." Of course, Jefferson was wrong about many things, but was he wrong about this? Again, my skeptical friend would point to our robust economy, our peaceful streets, our contented (or perhaps he means "apathetic") citizen-consumers: if these are the wages of ignorance, why not?
There are several reasons. For one thing, it is by no means clear that Jefferson was wrong. Things are relatively tranquil, and conspicuously prosperous now. But what happens if that changes? What if Americans are called upon really to exert themselves, to face a fundamental challenge to their way of life, their basic values? How can they defend that way of life, those basic values, if they do not know what they are? Adam Smith once observed that "there is a deal of ruin in a nation." That is undoubtedly the case. But how much ruin should we tolerate before embarking on some serious reconstruction?
That is the practical, the utilitarian response to the question "Why does it matter?" But the deeper response has to do with the intrinsic value of political and historical knowledge. Not only does ignorance make us more vulnerable to tyranny, it also makes us less interesting: less spiritually and intellectually vibrant.
The stupefied creatures of Huxley's Brave New World are forbidden to read Shakespeare or other classics. Such works might make them think, which might make them dissatisfied. Instead, their political masters see to it that their every physical craving is exquisitely excited and then artificially sated. Is that happiness? Or is it a version of the "new servitude" that Tocqueville warned about, when he warned about the dangers of "democratic despotism"? "I have always thought," Tocqueville wrote, "that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind . . . might be combined more easily with the outward form of freedom and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people."
It is the responsibility, in part, of our political parties to live up to historical democratic standards themselves and to help the citizenry shoulder stereotypically American concepts of individual responsibility as well. This is where we are presently losing our way not only in the African American community but nationwide.