friend emails a photograph of Michael Mcllveen,
murdered, say the papers, by a gang of "loyalists."
I look at this boy and wonder what he was like.
Did he enjoy football, a good sing-a-long, nights
out with his friends? Did he have a girlfriend?
What were his hopes and dreams? Was he planning
to attend college? Did he want to be a teacher,
a doctor, lawyer, writer, perhaps a politician?
What wonderful gifts might this fifteen-year-old
boy have given the world, if only he'd managed to
survive the hatred that took his life?
I look at Michael and see an American kid a long
time ago. He's standing on a street corner with
his friends, when gang of angry men appear carrying
clubs, chains, and knives." "We want to
kill some white mother f
er," they scream.
The kid tries to run but stumbles and they smash
their clubs over his head, shred his winter jacket
with their knives, stab him in the face, and shatter
his teeth. He awakens in the emergency ward surrounded
by friends vowing revenge. They will find the people
who attacked me. They will make those animals pay.
They will kill them.
Looking at a photograph of a kid who lived and died
in Belfast, N. Ireland, I experience the terror
he must have felt, knowing that his attackers were
determined to murder him. I also recall that while
recovering from the attempt on my life, I decided
not to take revenge. Why, I asked myself, attack
people whose ancestors had been enslaved for centuries?
Why assault people who'd been burned out of their
homes, lynched, raped, robbed, tormented, and tortured
by bigots and racists? I realized the men who assaulted
me weren't just trying to kill an unarmed white
man; they were attacking police brutality, poverty,
menial jobs, endless insults and humiliations, relentless
Who were the people who attacked Michael Mcllveen?
Had they suffered from discrimination, poverty,
and brutality for hundreds of years? Were they victims
of a racist system that had destroyed generations
of their family? According to the news accounts
of this attack, the perpetrators were "loyalists,"
but what does that possibly mean? Is it possible
to be loyal to hatred and violence? Would any rational
person admit that they are "loyal" to
the act of murder?
I am aware that residents of N. Ireland do not agree
on whether that part of the world belongs to Ireland
or Britain. And I have seen first-hand the terrible
scars people on both sides of the sectarian divide
carry from thirty-five years of warfare. Still,
I fail to understand what motivates people to maim
and kill innocent kids like Michael Mcllveen. To
what cause, to what belief system, and to what future
are the people who commit such brutal crimes "loyal?"
The men who attacked me so many years ago had no
right to do that. But I came to understand their
hatred for a race of people that, nearly one hundred
years after the Emancipation Proclamation, continued
to treat them like slaves. Once they were caught,
these hoodlums did not claim to be acting out of
some bizarre loyalty to God and country. They did
not argue that they were trying to express their
devotion to some great cause. They hated white people
because we hated them. Simple and frightening as
I cannot understand why anyone would call gang bangers
who attack innocent people "loyalists."
In the United States, we have a special category
for crimes committed solely because of the victim's
skin color, religion, or sexual preference. These
assaults are called "hate crimes." It
makes no difference whether the attackers are democrats,
republicans, communists, or anarchists. It doesn't
matter whether their skin is white, black, or brown.
No one really cares whether people who commit hate
crimes call themselves Christians, Muslims, Hindus,
or Jews. Yes, there might be mitigating circumstances-poverty,
addiction, mental illness-but the courts would refuse
to listen, even for a moment, to a defendant who
argued that their violent actions were motivated
by "loyalty" to some grand ideal.
Throughout the world, human beings are killing one
another in order to express their loyalty to some
particular cause. In some places, oppressed people
are forced to pick up the gun. But attacking an
unarmed kid on the streets of Belfast is the work
of cowards, not courageous freedom fighters who
know the difference between a just cause and gratuitous