Kaieteur News-In her 1995 article, “Inviolability and Privacy: The Castle, the Sanctuary and the Body”, published in the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, Linda C. McClain explores the use of “a trilogy of terms – the castle, the sanctuary, and the body – to illuminate different loci of inviolability and to show how notions of sacredness and sanctity undergird the legal protection of inviolability.” McClain explores the concept, including its limitations, of the human body as the central site from which emanate concepts of personhood, privacy and personal property. Rightly so, much of McClain’s deliberations on the illusion of inviolability of the human body focuses upon the limits placed by the law on the sacred inviolability of the female body.
As she concludes, “I have argued that inviolability is a core, even sacred, value in law and jurisprudence.
I have focused upon privacy jurisprudence and used the trilogy of castle, sanctuary, and body to illustrate the idea and imagery of inviolability.
I have used these images to suggest that protecting one location of inviolability, for example, the home as castle, may have to yield to protecting another, a woman’s body.”
The glaring gap in McClain’s analysis is of course the concept of race within that theoretical framework.
The nexus between the law and the violation of the female body as citadel was of national importance just a few years before her article’s publication, during the 1991 congressional testimony of Anita Hill who had alleged sexual harassment against then Supreme Court nominee, and since then Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas.
More importantly, the glaring omission of race as point of even intersectional focus in her article is highlighted by the fact the article’s publication is bracketed by two seminal events in American history, the 1991 brutal police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles and the 1997 police beating and sexual assault of Abner Louima in New York, both Black men.
Brutal and too often fatal police violence against Black men in America has continued relatively unabated ever since, finding eventual pushback several years ago in the now global but still US-focused Black Lives Matter movement. As Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Eugene Robinson, writes in his Washington Post column yesterday, citing more recent examples, “So many times, that simple acknowledgment of humanity has apparently been too much to ask.
The police officers who killed Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so many other Black men either were acquitted of wrongdoing or never even charged.”
That column was in response to what should be, and what both is and isn’t, the central topic of this editorial, buried so many paragraphs deep, which is yesterday’s guilty verdict by jury against former Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States police officer, Derek Chauvin.
In a unanimous verdict delivered after about ten hours of deliberation, Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, the man he – during an ‘arrest’ for something so frivolous it needs not mentioning here – murdered when he knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 15 seconds on May 25 of last year.
Almost three decades after the violations of King and Louima, the calm, casual way in which Chauvin knelt with his knee – one of the hardest parts of the human body, and the most dangerous in martial combat – on the neck of a subdued George Floyd was the perfect encapsulation of the perpetual phenomenon in America in which the Black body, the Black male body in particular has never truly enjoyed true sanctity as a personal citadel in the eyes of the state.
The Black male body in America remains what must be described in clearly self-contradictory, but indisputably accurate, terms, as a violable fortress, more particularly in its encounters with what is ironically law enforcement.
In the end, what it may take in America to arrive at a place where the casual violence and the casual violability are sufficiently mitigated is what the late Toni Morrison describes in her introduction to her 1992 collection of literary criticism, ‘Playing in the Dark’, “an attractive, fruitful and provocative critical project, unencumbered by dreams of subversion or rallying gestures at fortress walls.”
Still, America has a long way to go to get to that place.
On April 11 of this year, a little less than a year to the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, even as the Derek Chauvin trial was going on just ten miles away, another Minnesota police officer, Kim Potter, during a routine traffic stop, shot and killed 21-year-old Daunte Wright, claiming that she mistook her service pistol for her taser.
The New York Times story on Wright’s killing reveals a tragic connection between Wright and Floyd: “At a news conference outside a Minneapolis courthouse on Tuesday, his mother was joined by Courteney Ross, the girlfriend of George Floyd, who was one of Mr. Wright’s former teachers.”
As Eugene Robinson himself said in an interview immediately after the verdict was read out, “It is more of a beginning or a signpost than an end. We haven’t reached our destination on the racial reckoning we have to have in this country.”
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