Point 2 • The Dark Cinema of Black Death
For the last six years of my life, I’ve worn dark glasses nearly everywhere. Even at the movies. I am standing, waiting for the ticket attendant to lift the velvet rope and let my friend Darren and me in to see Iron Man 3, when our excited chatter is broken by an invasive shrill voice, piercing the bubble; he is white and not with us. He inserts himself into our space because he can, and sees no issue with it.
“Dude,” he points his finger into my temple aiming at my glasses, “are those 3D?” My shoulders expand with annoyance when I turn to face him. “They are my glasses.” I am curt. That was a definite period. But he presses with more question marks, “How’re you gonna see the movie? Can you even see anything when it’s that dark?” My friend Darren rescues him with a comically deep inhale that he exhales with a protracted “aaaaaaannnnnnyway…”
But my answer, if I had acknowledged his questions, would have been this: “I see through my lenses not in them. Once your lens becomes a part of you, you can look at anything through it comfortably.”
America has been staring through its darkness so long it has grown comfortable with it. History glances over the atrocities of victors, we are expected to intuit their shame without the benefit of details; but the triumphs of the nation are rendered in 5K OLED glory. America can comfortably watch the state-sanctioned murder of Black people as long as it’s blurry dash cam footage or handheld with jiggly screens and unintended jump cuts.
I don’t wear my glasses at the computer, so there was no lens to shield my eyes as I read through the various accounts of Kenneka’s death. They seared under the white glow of the repetitive tear sheets. Her innocent smile and sweet countenance burned into my head as I stared, unbelieving at my screen. Staring at her name. Then her initials. I murmur them under my breath. Something about them is sticking like a kernel in the back of my tooth and I can’t go any further until I dislodge it. I repeat the letters and her name over and over like I am in a trance. KJ… Kenneka Jenkins, KJ… KJ… Kenneka Jenkins. I am looking for a key for the lock, a clue to make sense of the senseless.
The people investigating the crime seem content to let the senselessness stand as a sensible answer. They are less Columbo and more Mulder; positing supernatural theories to explain unnatural deaths. Amidst the swirl of question-marks they put forth a solid declaration – this was a self-inflicted accident. Period. Even when the victim is handcuffed with their hands behind their back, a gunshot wound to the chest and no powder burns on their hands, even when they are hanged by the neck from an impossible height, even when their body shows up, in a freezer in an unused part of a hotel – it’s inexplicable, fantastic, horrific and impossible.
But we are to suspend disbelief so that the plot can move forward. That’s how cinema works. You have to want to believe. The truth is out there. But really, it is in here, beating feverishly in our chest. The questions will forever be questions – but we know what we know. We know that white people love a good show and will commit unspeakable horrors in the name of it. We know Black death has entertained them for generations.
The creeping white horror isn’t just the morbid acts of the monsters but the passive observation of the ghouls – the ones who didn’t cut off fingers at the lynching, but ate finger sandwiches as others did. The ghouls make the horror possible. The passive acceptance of the ghouls makes unbearable atrocities seem reasonable.
Last year, in St. Petersburg Florida Dominique Battle, Ashaunti Butler, and Laniya Miller died when the car they were in sank slowly into a 15-foot pond. They died screaming. Their families didn’t get to write the epitaphs. The state and the media co-created the narrative about how car theft was an epidemic in St. Petersburg, and how the three girls had 7 arrests between them for car theft and attempted burglary, and that on this 8th attempt “they died”– passive voice – they were eulogized in the media with asterisks. The history did not detail the tragedy of their death, but all the circumstances surrounding it; all save one – that they could have been saved.
Later we learned from dashcam footage that two deputies were on the scene as the car began sinking. They heard the girls screaming. One deputy is heard saying “I can hear them screaming we gotta get them out,” – the other says, “Man, they’re gone.” The first appeals “No I can hear them screaming, they’re not dead” The second officer waits for a beat while the car sinks to murky depths and the girls drown, “They are now,” he replies, “They’re 6-7. They’re done.” You can see past anything once you’ve grown accustomed to it. These officers had been celebrated as heroes. History is written by the victors.