“The mass of ordinary Germans did know about the evolving terror of Hitler’s Holocaust, according to a new research study. They knew concentration camps were full of Jewish people who were stigmatised as sub-human and race-defilers. They knew that these, like other groups and minorities, were being killed out of hand.
They knew that Adolf Hitler had repeatedly forecast the extermination of every Jew on German soil. They knew these details because they had read about them.”
“Tell me, Tarrou, are you capable of dying for love?’
‘I couldn’t say, but I hardly think so–as I am now.’
‘You see. But you’re capable of dying for an idea; one can see that right away. Well, personally, I’ve seen enough of people who die for an idea. I don’t believe in heroism; I know it’s easy and I’ve learned it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves.’”
—Albert Camus, The Plague
On January 14th Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. was in mortal danger. He didn’t know it of course, couldn’t sense the odds and probabilities stacking against him. He may have never glimpsed his ancestors draw closer or the slow chill of Death creep across the floor. He was in his home, totally at ease and listening to music. How could he have known from this moment on he had no future?
As I sit under the Florida sun and stretch out on tourist-free sands I can’t help but think about Gregory. Was he relaxing as I am? What did he think of his neighbors? If “justice” finally came after 500 years would it mean anything to a man stolen forever from his children?
It’s 98 degrees and Floridians are heading towards water. My wife and I are at a beach so hidden I dare not speak its name, an undisturbed stretch of the legendary A1A. Most folks drive past it, seeing nothing but sea grapes and palmettos. That’s part of the appeal. On top of that the nearest gas station cooks chicken gizzards and homemade empanadas. You can score a six-pack of Landshark there for $4.99. There are no hotels and public drunkeness is a way of life.
Cheap booze. Beautiful views. Nature in abundance and a carefree attitude that flies in the face of the nine-to-five. For a moment the world drips away. We forget anything else exists.
But on the horizon the world waits, among the clouds slowly rolling in. For Gregory it knocked right on his door.
We’re All In This Together
Gregory was on disability leave from a Coca-Cola warehouse. He probably figured if he wasn’t going to be working he might as well enjoy himself. He turned on some music, had a few drinks, and relaxed in the small sliver of paradise he’d carved out for his self and his family.
Gregory has a fiancee, Monique Davis. They have three children together.
There is a knock at the door. Innocuous. Gregory doesn’t know it but somebody from the school across the street has called in a noise complaint. Gregory goes to the garage door, where the sound is coming from, and opens it to see who it is.
It’s the police.
Gregory closes the door. He may have wanted to grab his wallet, change his clothes. Maybe turn down the music. The police, after all, were responding to a noise complaint.
He didn’t realize he’d committed a grave error: even alone, inside your own home, it is a fatal condition to be black in America. At this moment, though he never knew it, there was no future for Gregory.
Christopher Newman, a white Florida sheriff’s deputy, shot him three times through that door. This killed him. Every dream, every hope, every project that Gregory put off was lost like rain puddles under the Florida sun. Officer Newman would claim Gregory pointed a gun at him. A gun was indeed found on Newman.
Unloaded. In his back pocket.
Odd thing for a dead man, falling back from being shot, to have the muscle memory to unload his gun and tuck it safely in his back pocket. Even odder the placement–no gun owner carries a pistol in their back pocket. You can’t draw it worth a damn in that position. Why would you sit on your gun anyway?
We know Gregory was executed for no reason. We know the cops maintain a system of white supremacy and brutal exploitation. This isn’t a story about a Black man being lynched by the police. That is as common as swimsuits at Cocoa Beach. This is a story about what came after, when “the people” have to decide if he deserved to die.
Four years ago a grand jury declined to indict Officer Newman, the usual response. Grand juries, often made up of the same “revolutionary” class destined to overthrow capitalism, frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials who kill their fellow workers.
Gregory’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Newman and his boss, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara. The hope was if “the people” weren’t willing to put a cop in prison for murder, perhaps they were at least willing to provide a small amount of resources for his widow and children. This wouldn’t harm officer Newman or the Sheriff at all: research from Joanna Schwartz of UCLA Law School found that governments, not individual officers, paid 99.98 percent of damages in the case of wrongful death.
The case finally came to a close just recently. The jury deliberated for 10 hours.