Black America and the burden of the perfect victim

But when individuals arrive in the court of public opinion, or in a court of law, the burden of being a perfect victim in order to receive justice is impossibly heavy. It doesn’t allow for human fallibility. Is there any information from your past that could make you look bad? Any photo that, taken out of context, could portray you as someone you don’t recognize?

Most of us have something in our pasts we would not want revealed. And for black Americans, those facts too often are used to suggest that victims of injustice don’t deserve justice, because they weren’t some sort of credit to their race. In a nation where police often approach black communities with a dragnet, stopping and frisking everyone, marking as many black men as possible with a record, it would be hard to find a black male who looks like an angel.

But it doesn’t matter whether Brown was an angel. He was young and growing and human, and he made mistakes. That’s okay. The real question is not: Was Brown a good kid? The real question is: How are police officers supposed to treat citizens? California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, has put it well: “Our penal code was not created just to protect Snow White.”