You may not think this man is a criminal. And neither is a Tennessee grand jury

You’d think it was a crime, but last week a grand jury didn’t.

The reference is to the case of one Jared Lafer. He is a white male in his twenties who was driving in Johnson City, Tennessee, last September when he encountered a small group of Black Lives Matter protesters at a crosswalk. According to witnesses, Lafer’s SUV collided with a man named Johnathon Bowers, whereupon Bowers, standing in front of the vehicle, slammed on the hood to get Lafer’s attention. In response, Lafer reportedly accelerated, plowing through the group, leaving Bowers with two broken legs — all captured on cellphone video.

Instead of stopping, Lafer continued on to Bakersville, across the border into North Carolina. There he hired a lawyer and turned himself in two days later. His level of remorse can be judged retrospectively by his social media activity. The Tennessee Holler, a self-described “progressive news site,” grabbed a screenshot of a since-deleted post: a meme of a relieved-looking man with the caption, “If you thought you were hitting a dog, but it turned out to be just a looter. ”

To which someone named “Jared Lafer” responds, “This is AMAZING!” with a smile till you cry emoji. Lafer is also said to have called Black Lives Matter a “Marxist” group.

But the grand jury declined to charge him, finding that despite the video and eyewitnesses, there was insufficient evidence to do so. “This is not about racism,” attorney Mac Meade said. Because of course not. It never is. The attorney, according to WLOS-TVin Asheville, explained that Lafer was simply “doing what he felt was necessary to get out of a situation he felt was dangerous for his family.”

So, just to make sure we all have a picture, he was the one armed with over two tons of motor vehicles while the protesters were armed with placards, peacefully using a crosswalk. But he is the victim. He is the one who was so threatened that he had the right to use potentially deadly force.

As the signs of the times go, this one is neon.

It’s impossible to separate this from a wave of laws recently passed or pending in Republican fiefdoms to protect motorists driving through – or over – protesters. But more broadly, what’s happened here is a reflection of what’s happening in this country, as it begins the process of serious struggle with its heritage of racial oppression – and with the effort to repair its damage – that began in the civil rights years. , leave. We have slipped from that lofty peak of aspiration and idealism into this swampy ground of delusions and lies where many white people now firmly believe they are the real victims of racial oppression, where it is a matter of controversy just to declare that black lives matter, where Jared Lafer roams free.

That process has been going on for decades, but it accelerated under the last president, who coddled white supremacy, giving it a platform and a glow of respect it hadn’t enjoyed since the 1950s. Now his theories are being promoted on cable news and embraced by Republican lawmakers. The motto for years past might as well have been “Make Bigotry Great Again” because that’s what the GOP did.

And this is the price we pay. A white man with outspoken antipathy towards Black Lives Matter protesters drives by them on a crosswalk, injures a man – and flees the scene. You would think that would be a crime. But this is America in 2021.

So you would be mistaken.

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