He was angry. Angry that the men responsible for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, two young black men killed in separate police-involved deaths, would not stand trial before a jury.
Yet he began to feel hope rise in him.
“When I was looking for that picture to illustrate what I was getting at, I found the perfect one. A beautiful, young, white woman, with long dark hair and determined eyes filled with tears staring directly into the camera. Her mouth was covered with duct tape that read ‘I CAN’T BREATHE,’” Capehart said.
What touched Capehart was the reaction he got. A silver lining did exist.
“The reaction to that piece by my white colleagues and readers moved me as much as they were touched by what I had written … their tear-filled empathy showed me that we as a country had taken a big leap forward,” Capehart said.
Capehart, a Post opinion writer and MSNBC contributor, relayed that story when he spoke last Thursday at Michigan State University as part of the “Slavery to Freedom” lecture series sponsored by College of Osteopathic Medicine for Black History Month.
Capehart recalled the various videos of police-involved killing of African-Americans for the most “mundane things.”
“We watched them killed because of a broken taillight, selling CDs outside of a convenience store, selling loose cigarettes, playing in a park with a toy gun, shopping in a Wal-Mart, driving a car with a missing license plate, worshiping in church, a routine traffic stop and as we all know and as we have all seen, a routine traffic stop when you’re an African- American is never routine.”
Capehart then recalled the title of fellow Washington Post contributor Stacey Patton’s article “In America, black children don’t get to be children,” demonstrating, he said, that this is “nothing new” to African-Americans, and that they must live with a set of limitations unimaginable to most U.S. citizens.
And yet, Capehart asserted, “the country has rallied around African-Americans.”
Capehart saw as positive the public’s embrace of such films as “12 Years a Slave,” which won the Academy Award for best movie in 2013, and this year’s “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on writings by James Baldwin, and last year’s TV remake of “Roots.”
“I’m not naive enough to think that everyone is more empathetic and understanding of their fellow American’s history and what plagues them in present day, but I am hopeful,” Capehart said.
Capehart marked the 2014 Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., as a turning point in the narrative of police involved killings of unarmed African Americans across the country. The “potent symbol” that Brown’s death became could not be diminished, he said. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became a “rallying cry.”
Capehart acknowledged that the facts don’t support the chant, but he said, “What was in that DOJ report does not diminish the importance of the real issues unearthed in Ferguson by Brown’s death. Nor did it discredit what became the larger Black Lives Matter movement.”
As for Donald Trump, Capehart said he found hope in Puerto Rico, where he was vacationing during the inauguration.
“My jaundiced view of progressives was obliterated. Even in San Juan a march made its way to where our hotel was … even in San Juan people were protesting against Donald Trump,” said Capehart to applause.
Capehart encouraged the audience to pay attention to local news and remain vigilant to ensure that progress is maintained without lapses due to “Trump fatigue.”
Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart will be a guest on “City Pulse on the Air” at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on 89 FM The Impact. The show can also be heard at www.lansingcitypulse.com.