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"Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." - Performed by Billie Holiday
When the average person thinks of a lynching, the sight of a Black person hanging from a tree is likely the first image to enter their minds.
But there is more than one way to lynch someone.
The act of lynching means: “to put to death by mob action without legal approval or permission.”
We have seen COUNTLESS videos of unarmed Black men and women killed by police who were denied the simple human right to due process.
These are not accidental killings, justifiable homicides, or even warranted uses of force during the course of an arrest. They are cold-blooded murders of Black people for no logical reason other than pure, unadulterated racial bias and deep-seated hatred.
The images of Black bodies swinging eerily from the limbs of trees while crowds of White people gathered as if to watch an afternoon matinee have haunted me my entire life.
As a child the thought that something so horrific and grotesque was routinely inflicted upon people who looked like me was terrifying.
I would comfort myself by thinking nothing that awful could happen to me, my family, or any Black person in this modern-day society.
But when I grew up, I realized not only had things never changed, they had also become more insidious as time passed.
Every time a video of a Black person murdered by police is aired across the media, the world watches. Most in horror, some with triumph.
And once again I’m reminded of the White onlookers in those photos that frightened me as a child.
Their callousness towards what they witnessed now resembled the expressions on the faces of officers who beat Rodney King, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin, and the monster who rested his body weight on the neck of George Floyd as if he were a deer caught for sport for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while he pleaded:
“I can’t breathe.”
The strange fruit hanging from the trees years ago used to be living human beings. But they were reduced to deformed figures and stripped of their dignity as their lives were brutally stolen.
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Alton Sterling, Margaret Mitchell, Kendra James, LaTanya Haggerty, Shreese Francis, Rekia Boyd, and countless others have now become the strange fruit of a new generation.
No longer taking their last breaths hanging from trees, but instead from brutal beatings, multiple gunshots wounds, and chokehold strangulations.
But while the cause of death has changed, one of the most malevolent components of these unconscionable acts remains the same.
The casual onlookers from the past who regarded lynchings like family outings with some even taking home “souvenirs” from the victims still exist.
They have resurfaced in the form of people who say things like:
“Well, what did he DO to deserve that?”
“99% of police officers are good. Just a few bad apples.”
“He was a criminal anyway. He shouldn’t have broken the law.”
These are the people who likely would have viewed lynchings in the past as nothing more than a Black person getting what they deserved.
And that mindset is just as vicious as the White supremacists who tied ropes on trees in anticipation of murder and as lethal as the knee on George Floyd’s neck that ended his life.