Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Brunch To Kill For

John Cardillo, Florida businessman and former New York City police officer, posted a picture that was described as "deliberately provocative but wasn't meant as an actual threat."

Because, you know, this is a perfectly rational response to having one's breakfast interrupted.
Here's some context - Cardillo is photographed pointing a gun at the camera and telling people to move along because he's enjoying his breakfast. This is in reaction to #blackbrunch, a protest movement in which African-American protesters interrupt meals at upscale restaurants - "claim[ing] space in areas that are predominantly non-black."
Now, in Cardillo's defense, I find this a pretty eye-roll worthy form of protest myself. And I'm already a firm believer in the idea that public protest is the last resort of the politically powerless. I'm not convinced that the mainstream culture will lend any of their political clout just because someone decides to have a chant-in in a steakhouse somewhere.

But what Cardillo doesn't seem to understand is that the very idea that pointing a handgun at people who are simply being legally obnoxious is part of the whole situation being protested. I've had meals interrupted by dimwits before - it never occurred to me that if only I had a handgun, I'd show them how annoyed I was. In what world are firearms anything close to a proportionate response to having brunch disrupted? A world where the people being disruptive are black, apparently.

And that what lies at the heart of this whole thing. Cardillo is ex-NYPD, and he feels that the #blackbrunch protesters weren't sufficiently vocal about the shootings of NYPD officers. So he takes a picture of himself that places the viewer in the position of staring down the barrel of a gun. But he doesn't mean it as threatening. He just wants to provoke people with the idea that if they interrupted HIS breakfast, he just might consider that a shooting offense. Because apparently, that ranks up there with other reasons to shoot people.

The problem that people have with the killings of people like Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin (Remember him?) isn't simply that they were killed - it's specifically that they were killed while doing things that one wouldn't otherwise think rose to the level of a capital offense. Regardless of what one thinks of selling loose cigarettes, disobeying the directives of a police officer or walking around at night in a hoodie, these aren't the sorts of things that we normally understand should be met with lethal force, but were in the case of Black men.

Cardillo's irritation is understandable. Whether or not he takes the anger of people at police officers (and the NYPD) personally, I can sympathize with his feeling that police are being picked on while the literal crimes of others are being ignored by protesters who cannot, or will not understand. But the means of expressing that - by implying that protests should be met with lethal force simply confirms the very mindset that created the protests in the first place - that some of us live in a nation where being killed by members of the majority over trivialities is a realistic threat. Whether that's due to animosity, fear or thoughtlessness doesn't make it any less frightening or random. Especially in a nation with a history of sanctioning murder specifically as a means of enforcing a set of asymmetrical social mores. A history, I might add, that was a present-day reality for people who are still alive.

Of course, in situations like this, people will often call for a view of a larger picture, looking to portray themselves as unprejudiced or their detractors as biased. But that misses the entire point - that in the moment - it's not about the world as a whole. It's about us as individuals, the people who are like us and the people we like. Because that's who it's always about. Whether he meant to or not, Cardillo decided, in order to be provocative, to telegraph the idea that it was okay for people like him to shoot people like them. Not because they threatened him, but because for them to bother him is so unconscionable that violence just might be warranted. In the middle of a whole series of events that can be honestly interpreted as saying the exact same thing.

Those must have been some really amazing Eggs Benedict.

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