|Photo by Jim Kuhn, "Crime Scene, Do Not Cross" tape at The United States Supreme Court during the January 27, 2007, march on Washington D.C.|
“And it all comes true.
Yes it all comes true.
Like a wheel inside a wheel, it turns on you.
And you ask, what have I done?
What can I do?
What you believe about yourself,
it all comes true.”
— John Mellencamp and George Michael Green
Last night, Doug and I were having a “48 Hours” fest, watching several of the reality crime shows back-to-back. We do this three or four times a year — I have no idea why. Maybe, for me, because it reminds me of the days I was a crime reporter — anyone who’s done that work can tell you, it’s the same all over. Big city, small town, detectives and criminals operate about exactly the same. It feels like going back to an old territory I know, and I can almost feel that small reporter’s notebook in my hand, as I watch. Anyway, Doug and I both lamented that the proportion of poor, black men who find themselves on this show seems too high, and then we nodded sadly. That’s probably pretty consistent with real life. Doug considered that white people’s murders might be less likely to be solved in 48 hours. The burden of proof changes when you’ve got money for an attorney.
And then out of my mouth it came: “What you believe about yourself, it all comes true.”
“I’m never entirely sure what you mean, when you say that,” Doug said.
On the episode we were watching, the age-old crime reveal: a double murder had begun as a “simple” armed robbery. Really, it was no lie, I think it rarely is — when the robbers jumped out of their hiding place, nobody was supposed to be shot. But pow pow pow pow — their guns went off and in an instant, their plans morphed into something else entirely.
“What those men believe about themselves,” I said. “That’s what pulled the triggers. They had one vision in their heads, of how the robbery would go down. Nobody was supposed to get killed, anyway — they saw themselves as armed robbers, not murderers. But unconsciously, they’d written a different story for themselves. Like a wheel inside a wheel …”
I did not get the impression my explanation was all that helpful. If we'd continued, Doug probably would have asked if I was trying to make a statement about “personal responsibility.” Was I saying they had a responsibility, to think of themselves differently? To get a handle on their unconscious selves? That they had some control over the circumstances of poverty and black skin? To which I would have said, Oh noooo. What people believe about themselves has everything to do with what the rest of the world believes about them. I am a huge proponent of personal responsibility, but people have to have better tools than guns, poverty, poor educations and bad expectations, to take it.
But you know, we were watching television, it’s not really time for chit-chat. On we went, to the next episode. Drug deal gone bad. Poor, black man is taken into custody. Detectives are questioning him, getting a little family history, which they hope to use to soften him up, get him to talk. “What about your father?” they asked.
“My father already done been killed.”
Like father, like son, kill and be killed. The story never ends. Maybe until we all create a new belief system about who we are.