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By Bertin Magloire Louis | With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

 

Friday, December 28, 2012.

 

In response to President’s Obama comments about the horrendous elementary school shootings that claimed the lives of 26 children and adults in Newtown Connecticut, MSNBC contributor Dr Michael Eric Dyson discussed the violence that Americans usually do not discuss – the violence which claims the lives of young people across America.  On the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC, Dyson stated the following:

 

“But the reality is we’ve become accustomed to believing that little black and brown kids, and poor white kids, in various spots across our landscape are due this kind of violence.  ‘We’re surprised it happened here.  “It’s not supposed to happen [in Newtown]” which means, by implication, that it’s supposed to happen there in Detroit, in Oakland, in California, in L.A. and the like.  And I think that’s the tragedy here. . .”

 

Dyson goes on to say:

 

“And then finally, what’s interesting here is that some of the authority figures who rush to help our brothers and sisters in Newtown [Connecticut], you know the police people who are seen as helpers, in those communities [of poor communities of color and poor white communities] about which we speak, much of the violence, a significant portion of that violence is executed at the behest of a state authority, whether a police person or the like, against those vulnerable people (my emphasis).  And there’s the lack of cultural empathy [for those victims].”

 

While the shooting rampage in Newtown was an unspeakable tragedy, Dyson rightly points out that there is a lack of empathy for the victims of violence that occurs daily in communities of color.  Furthermore, this violence is sometimes at the hands of those who are sworn to protect them: the police.

 

Devin Jolicoeur (main picture) and Police Violence against Black Men in the United States

 

Police violence is one type of state violence that claims the lives of young black men, for example, in the United States.  An excellent example of this which has been lost in recent headlines is the story of my cousin, Claude Devin Jolicoeur III, or Devin as he was called by family and friends.  On December 13th, 2012, the day before the Newtown massacre, officers from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office shot Devin five times outside of his home in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Devin was a 17 year old black male of Haitian descent.  Aspects of the news reports which were published about Devin’s killing follow a familiar pattern of smear and defamation of the black men who are killed by police officers like Patrick Dorismond (another black male of Haitian descent killed by the New York Police Department).   

 

While comparing the Dorismond and Trayvon Martin killings, Mike Amato writes that, “an obscene campaign begins to smear the dead [black] man as yet another thug who had it coming.”  This rings true in the coverage of Devin’s killing and in the actions of the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office.

 

A day after his death an article posted on the Palm Beach Post’s website stated that Devin had a lengthy criminal history.  Another news report from WPTV news stated that Devin and his friend, who he was talking to at the time of the killing, might be linked to the shooting of retired FHP K-9 Drake a few weeks previous (the dog belonged to a Florida Highway Patrol trooper).  Another news report stated that Devin was suspected of being part of a drug deal.  The not so subtle subtext of these reports paints a picture which suggests that Devin’s killing by Palm Beach authorities was justified, as he was just another black thug

 

Devin’s Killing: Where is the Outrage?

 

It seems to me that the kind of trauma that young people are facing, we don’t see them as victims because so often it doesn’t happen in this concentrated way. We think of them as . . . perpetrators. Every time we say “this should not have happened here” it is as though we are saying “it’s not such a big deal that it happens there.” I just want the same level of outrage." – Melissa Harris-Perry

 

Sunjee Louissaint, Devin’s mother, refers to him as her “greatest accomplishment.”    Sunjee and her family moved to West Palm Beach years ago because the warm weather there helps in the management of her sickle cell anemia.  Sunjee witnessed the police hold Devin down and shoot him five times in his chest and gut.  “My son was in high school and knows many kids but his "associates" [as the police and media refer to them] were just his friends since junior high school” said Sunjee.  “My son hates the taste of alcohol and was against drugs and medicines of all kinds. He hates when people smoke anything around him or being around smoke because he was a preemie and has delicate lungs. He used to get bronchitis but he grew out of it. He was an athlete. He was just sitting in front of his own home talking to his friend who was not arrested that night or at all.”

 

The fact that there is no outcry about Devin’s killing reflects the fact that he, and other black men who are killed by police in the United States, continue to experience life in an unequal and segregated fashion.  In other words, this case and others suggests that young black men are viewed as criminal threats and can be treated like second class citizens whose lives can be justifiably extinguished by authorities. 

 

As our country mourns those children and adults who were brutally killed in Newtown, Connecticut, the families of the deceased have police protection.  The phones of Devin’s family have been tapped and they are under constant surveillance by authorities since he was killed.  The families of the Newtown victims have been comforted by a nation that mourns with them.  Devin’s family receives callous comments from authorities that justifiably increase their anger and outrage

 

For example, the day after the killing outside of the home Devin grew up in, Wence Louissaint, Devin’s uncle, questioned a Palm Beach investigator about the allegation that Devin had a gun which forced the officers to shoot him.  The investigator responded “"When a gun comes out it's a deadly force encounter."  "It's not to scare. It's not to intimidate. This isn't movies. We don't shoot guns out of people's hands."  

 

Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, said of her son’s treatment in the media "they killed my son, now they're trying to kill his reputation."  Why does my cousin Devin have to explain himself in death?  Instead, why is there no scrutiny of the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and their actions?  According to the Palm Beach Post, Devin’s death was “the ninth involving local law enforcement this year and the sixth involving a sheriff’s deputy.”  

 

As different articles that have popped since the Newtown tragedy rightly observe, the lives of the Newtown victims, the lives of young black and brown children lost to gun violence, and the lives of children killed from drone attacks in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan by the Obama administration are precious and there should be collective outrage, anger, and justice for these victims.  I am adding Claude Devin Jolicoeur III to this list of victims.  Devin’s life was precious to his mother and to his grief-stricken family and friends. 

 

As Melissa Harris-Perry stated eloquently during her show’s coverage of the Newtown shooting, I, too, want the “same level of outrage” about Devin’s death, more people to express anger about the circumstances which brought about his killing, and justice for Sunjee’s only child.  Because if there is no expression of outrage about this senseless and preventable death, it would mean that some people’s lives are more important than others.  And that is a belief that none of us should accept. 

 

***

 

Bertin M. Louis, Jr. is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a 2012 American Anthropological Association Leadership Fellow.  Dr Louis studies the growth of Protestant forms of Christianity among Haitians in the Bahamas and the United States, which is featured in his forthcoming book with New York University Press: My Soul is in Haiti: Migration and Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the BahamasHe also studies nationalism, citizenship, and statelessness in the Bahamas as they relate to Bahamians of Haitian descent.  Dr. Louis teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in Africana Studies and Cultural Anthropology and he received his PhD in 2008 from the Department of Anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis.

 

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