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02-Jul-2016 05:18

The Eric Garner case in particular brought to mind Spike Lee's 1989 Do the Right Thing (in fact, Lee himself has made this connection--caution, disturbing footage).

At the climax of this film, the character Radio Raheem is choked to death by NYPD as the police are attempting to quell a potential riot.

But I would like us to look at Radio Raheem's death with a sense of disbelief because it should feel antiquated--much as I now look at the antisemitism of the Nazis as peculiar and entirely disconnected from my understanding of the world. I don't have the solution, but I do have a suggestion. My response is not meant glibly, nor is it meant as a passive panacea--the imperative to 'do' is vital here.

Just as in the film, I can't tell you what the right thing is, but I would like to encourage you to decide what that right thing can be.

I realized today that in an ideal world, I would like for this film to no longer be viewed as an exploration of contemporary society (it is twenty-five years old), but instead as a historical document.

This statement is meant with no disrespect to Spike Lee; the most persistent theme in the film is the ambiguity that lies at the heart of everyday life, and how complex it can be to determine what the right thing is, much less do it.

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Of course, we have seen this kind of thing before: the Trayvon Martin case is undoubtedly fresh in many minds (even if that crime was not committed by a vetted police officer, although George Zimmerman was a de facto one) and there is little reason to think that the situation will change any time soon.

Like most people, I have been struck dumb not knowing what to say and paralyzed not knowing what to do.