Monday, November 16, 2009

The Trial of Watson Black


Watson Black was on his way home from his dry cleaning job when he noticed a police car behind him. Watson, a mentor at the local high school and a member of the the Whitesville Chamber of Commerce was used to obeying law, having never been charged with any offense civil or criminal in his 32 years of life.

Still he knew the danger police posed. His mother had told him since he was a child that he should never believe he could do what whites did and get away with it, if only because whites would point the legal finger at him if anything went wrong.

Even as he drove at the speed limit and stopped well before the corner at the next stop sign, he felt ill at ease. Just three months prior Whitesville police officers pulled over a car driven by a Howard University students, with two classmates and, for some reason that was never fully, explained, two Whitesville police officers had shot fifteen bullets into the students' car before even approaching them or running their license plate numbers.

Although no one could prove it, most local Blacks considered the incident to be yet another color-aroused assassination by police, while whites who were 81% of Whitesville, believed the students must have done something wrong, even if police could not say convincingly what it was. Two of the students had died before they reached the hospital while the third was paralized from the neck down.

The knowledge that Samuel Bill Sye would never walk again burned deep in the hearts of Black people, in a place that whites could not see or conceive. In fact, since that day Whitesville had become a tinderbox awaiting a match, a bolt of thunder or just a cigarette carelessly thrown from the window of a Whitesville squad car.

What distinguished Whitesville from other towns across America was that most of its sons and daughters had found no jobs in the local area and had instead enlisted in the US Armed services, returning home with a few dollars toward college and the best munitions and target practice training that the United States Armed Services could provide.

Encouraged by Alex Oldhead, a fiftyish ex-Black Panther who had seen the group annihilated in the early seventies and only escaped himself because he was doing time for armed robbery, returning veterans from both Gulf wars had obtained gun permits and given each other new Glocks and high-powered rifles as Christmas presents. They established a de facto Blacks-only shooting club, hunted together on weekends and shot bull's eyes on weeknights. Only they knew whose faces their minds' eyes superimposed over the red and white cardboard.

Blacks in Whitesville never talked of their weekend and evening activities with their white co-workers and friends, and no one asked. With gun laws watered down statewide like cheap liquor, there was no firearm they couldn't buy at Wal-Mart, at a weekend flea market or over the Internet. At the age of eleven or twelve, young men and some pig-tailed young girls snuck romantic looks at one another as they decimated targets that seemed miles away from their pre-pubescent fantasies.

Behind Watson Black, the flashing red and blue lights began furiously blinking on and off, for no reason that Watson could comprehend, except his skin color, which in Whitesville was reason enough. Watson pulled his Buick carefully over to the curb, put his hands on the top of the steering wheel and waited what seemed like an eternity for the police officer to exit his car and sidle up behind Watson's driver's side window, with his hand on his sidearm as if he were expecting a shootout.

Watson didn't open the window, though. The electric window button was on the armrest of his door, which he couldn't reach while keeping his hands in the officer's sight. Unwilling to provide any pretext for a catastrophe, Watson thought quickly, keeping his right arm on the steering wheel while only the bottom of his left elbow to pull the little lever toward him that opened the window behind which the police officer was poised.

"Who's car is this?" the officer asked Watson angrily. Taking in the officers tone, but careful not to react in kind, Watson wondered why the officer would ask such a question, when the computer in his squad car had surely provided that information earlier?

"I am Watson Black, officer, and I own this car." The heavyset man in blue snorted something incomprehensible and then asked to see Watson's license and registration. "It's in the glovebox," he responded, "but I also have a licensed firearm in the glovebox."

The Officer stepped back. "Get outta the car! he said." Watson thought to himself that the Second Amendment might have more meaning to Black people if it applied to us as it did to others, but it never had and never would.

As Watson stepped out of car, he found himself flung around like a napsack after school and slammed against the side of his car. Now, thought Watson, color-aroused ideation - including the police's belief that Blacks have no rights which police officers are bound to respect - might well determine whether Watson lived to see his wife and three children again or died at the side of this street, because he had a licensed gun in glove compartment of his car.

This was a moment for which Watson had prepared himself throughout his life, although he had never been charged or tried by the police for anything. He knew that didn't matter, and neither did the college degree that hung on the wall of his livingroom where his children could see it. The officer was twisting Watson's arm with one hand as he pushed to talkie button on his radio, calling for backup.

Watson finally screamed in pain and saw through is periferal vision a blue gun with a red tip that Watson immediately recognized. It was an electric shock gun, a 50,000 volt electrocution device.

Watson recalled in that split second his last visit to his family doctor, who had informed Watson and his wife Dolores that Watson had an operable heart arythmia which could be cured with surgery, but which could cause his heart to stop beating if he had an accident or suffered a sudden shock. Watson and Dolores were married for ten years with three children in grade school and junior high. A brick faced home with a small in-ground pool in the yard. They had worked to achieve the American dream and now a fat-ass police officer with no reason whatsoever was prepared to take it all from him, with a potentially lethal jolt from an electric gun.

"AW HELL NO," Watson screamed out loud as he freed his right hand from the officer's grasp, spun around determinedly as quickly as he had before involuntarily and shocked the police officer in his red face with the officer's own blue and red gun.

The officer's name was McMann. Charles "Chucky" McMann, who unbenownst to Watson, had a history of police abuse complaints filed against him, one of which involved sex with a nine year old girl beside the highway that led past Dunking doughnuts. Witnesses has seen the dark police car on the side of the road, but none of them were interviewed by the police investigations unit. The girl's mother had taken her to the local hospital for a sexual assault examination, but the police had picked up the evidence and then it promptly disappeared.

"The police aren't perfect" said Chief Pourker on the granite steps of the Police Department, but they risk their lives for you every day. Most whites in Whitesville nodded their assent in unison during the chief's press conference, and Shamiah's abuse report was deep-sixed like a Japanese submarine on Armistice Day. Blacks, meanwhile, sat grim-faced like drivers waiting to pay a toll as predictable as the drive to work.

"Chucky" McCann was on the ground and Watson Black had stepped into an alternate reality, where he was no longer law-abiding in the face of provocation, but instead had "resisted arrest, assaulted an officer and was still in the unlawful possession of public property. The stun gun. Perhaps because of Watson's training in the first Gulf War, to "kill or be killed," or perhaps because of his six-months' training in Iraq to act bravely and decisively in the face of danger, Watson reached down, removed the shaking officer's gun from his holster and shot him squarely in the forehead. The officer had been "neutralized."

Leaving "Chucky" on the pavement, but keeping his radio, sidearm and stun gun, Watson drove deep into the woods, pulled off onto a dirt road and drove without thinking to the cabin where the Firearms Club began its hunts, typically at two or three o'clock in the morning.

Officer down! Officer down! Within fifteen minutes there were twenty squad cars, an ambulance and a line of unmoving traffic stopped at the fatal point where Officer McCann had died. Now, all of the police were red faced, including two Black officers who seemed to have learned to be red-faced by immersion, as part of their six-months' training and years of on-the-job experience, emulating their white counterparts.

Stopped in front of the cabin, breathing deeply in a surreal dream, Watson could feel police searching for him as if each of them was a spider climbing up his arm. But he couldn't imagine the scene in the town in which he was born and where he and so many others would ultimately die.

Police officers, many of whom had also been to Iraq and Afghanistan, were kicking in doors of Black people and dragging men women and children into the street to respond for what they - the Black race - had done to "Chucky". Valentine Broadnax, a librarian in the own library lost two front teeth when an unidentified police officer slammed her face against a cement column, on her own front porch.

Police ran over one Black high school in front of the Whitesville ice skating rink as they charged into the crowd, looking for a man twice or three times as old as any of the children in front of the skating rink. Word spread quickly by cellphone, with photographs of the blood and carnage and then a text message went out whose sender would only be identified months later in court, as a grand jury sought to try those who knew what would happen that night but failed to call police.

A steady stream of cars, many of who's drivers' Sunday best were returned to them Saturday by Watson Black, drove with their lights out toward the hunting cabin. Police were looking for a navy blue Buick and ignored, for the moment this exodus of other cars, escaping in the midst of confusion. Some had their guns in their lockers at the cabin and others drove with their sniper's rifles under their seats or in the trunks of their cars.

Burtha Hadden-Nough was among those driving toward the cabin, but she was thinking of her firearms, and had forgotten half of them as she grabbed her computer list from the printer and headed out into the warm night. Burtha was childless and divorced, living on only because life refused to release her from the pain of her memories.

Her only son, whom she affectionately called "Nattie" although his name was "Nathan" had died three years earlier after a bar fight. He looked at someone's girl, someone looked back dangerously and "Nattie" punched him in the face, after which bedlam reigned for a long moment that lasted sixty seconds. During that moment the police were called and fifteen minutes later they arrived, finding half a dozen Black men shooting pool and filling the air with Marlboro smoke. The police officers, one whose skin was white and another whose skin was brown, like Nathan's demanded to know whose name was "Nathan".

Nathan identified himself and the police led him out the front door, a moment after which a shot rang out. When Nathan's cousin and Burtha's only nephew stepped outside, he saw Nathan lying on the ground, face down, with a raucous hole in his back and a pool of blood spreading out horizontally on the sidewalk beneath and around him. He ran to Nathan even as police order him to stay away. A second shot rang out and Nathan's cousin lay twitching on the ground trying to reach his left hand behind him to the place that felt like a branding iron. And then he lay there, his left hand covered in his own blood.

"Fucking monkey niggers!" said Officer "Chucky" McCann, while others from the bar stood back and watched in horror. Most Blacks cry, pray and call Al Sharpton. Burtha, who spent two nights a week and Sunday's in her Baptist Church relied on one phrase from the Bible's First Testament and a proverb: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" but "for everything there is a season. For the four years since the death of her son and the shooting of her nephew, Burtha Hadden-Nough had thought of only one thing: extracting an eye and removing a tooth from the face of "Chuckie" McCann.

As word spread through text messages that law-abiding Watson Black had shot Officer "Chucky" at point blank range and radio stations predicted the death penalty, Burtha transferred her vengefullness toward "Chucky" for gratitude toward Watson Black, "Chucky's all-Black jury of one.

It was well-known. Police didn't fear prosecutors, trial courts, judges or juries because police all worked in a system designed to protect whites and police, whatever their skin color, from abstract notions of justice that did not apply, in any case, to the Black people they followed and hounded each day. Even for brown-skinned police, a badge and gun were an assurance of impunity when they pulled up behind another brown-skinned driver, putting their right hands on their leather gun holsters.

Certainly Burtha wasn't paid very much, and not nearly as much as the white women she had trained to run to the city's insurance office, but she had earned something that, to her, was far more useful: the names and addresses of each police officer in whitesville and all of the names and addresses of the husbands, wives and children on their insurance policies.

When she arrived at the cabin, they all reviewed family insurance lists together and then groups of two each took a page and headed out to the address at the top of the data page. Everyone knows who Nat Turner was but few in this century have his attitude. Whitesville Blacks were different, perhaps because they had learned to kill, or perhaps because they had returned home to be treated as "the enemy" had been in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

By early the next morning the news was international. The FBI announced that the terrorists who had committed these crimes were "cowardly" and the three dozen police officers who had been targeted in the line of duty were heroes who had given their lives for (white) America in the line of duty. The television screens across America were filled with little blond children and teenagers, as well as some Blacks, with their names and ages floating across the page as the details of their lives were recounted and some of their more distant relatives where interviewed.

All told, 36 police officers and 95 additional family members in 49 locations, from toddlers to high school pom pom girls and college students had been methodically assassinated. Television helicopters from the local ABC station and from across American showed the houses, of police officers - houses in which, unlike the Black masses, the officers and their families had always felt safe as bear cub in the mother's den.

Now, safety was shattered not just for the police officers of Whitesville, but for whole police forces and families across the United States of America. How could they do their jobs, the newspapers wondered, if every pretextual car stop could end in guerrilla attacks on police officers and their families?

President Obama promised solemnly that those responsible would be brought to justice, that the events in Whitesville were unrelated to skin color, but were the work of an anti-government para-military cell, most of whose members had served in the US Armed Forces.

The para-military cell had reconvened at the cabin, making yet another unthinkable determination that their lives would be remembered for resistance even after their bodies were dead. Whites would not immediately understand (they never did), but they would "understand it better by and by".

They set out on a back road that led to the largest local shopping center and parked in front of the arches that marked the front entrance. Coincidentally, it was Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when shoppers overrun shopping centers like roaches from a swinging rotten potato sack.

75 members of the hunting club entered beneath the arches and spread out across the doorway inside. And then they began to let loose with all they had, knowing that they all would die, but each Nat Turner among them determined leave an indelible historical message of resistance in the face of systemic violence under color of law.

Watson Black was tried on the side of the road by his every recollection of police behavior and by his near-death at the hands of Officer Chucky McCann. He was tried that day in the International Court of Blacks' Patience and Forebearance and the verdict still rings today as it did beside the road on that warm evening in November, when his car was stopped by Officer Chucky McCann, in the city of Whitesville:
Watson Black: The Court finds you IMPATIENT!
The above is a fictional account. Any commonality between police abuses recounted above and those that take place daily in the United States of America are strictly coincidental. Nat Turner is an historical figure.


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