Column: Black women know, there are fewer and fewer reasons to have faith in the system

Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, right, listens to a news conference in Louisville, Ky., on Friday.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

There’s a story many of us tell ourselves in this country. That no matter how unfair things might be at a given moment, if we’re informed and engaged and vote consistently for the politicians who represent the interests of the majority of Americans, eventually we will be governed by laws and policies that reflect those interests. That the arc of the moral universe is long, and so on and so forth.

I fear this last week has been a harbinger of the chaos to come if a majority of the American people stop believing in this story.

When people — understandably — have so little faith in our system of government to be fair that they resort to vigilante justice. Like the protesters Thursday night in Hollywood who, rather than wait for the police officers who were supposed to be protecting them, piled into the back of a pickup truck and chased down the driver of a Prius who had edged through the crowd.


A man who got out of the truck tried to yank the driver out of the Prius. Others started beating the car with a flagpole and a skateboard, smashing the windshield.

“It wasn’t traveling at a fast speed — it was inching forward, trying to get past, and that upset people,” Christian Monterrosa, a freelance photojournalist who was following the protest, told my colleagues.

Minutes earlier, another dark-colored pickup truck had hit another protester at high speed, sending her flying backward. Inexplicably — or perhaps predictably — neither driver was immediately arrested.

That we are here not just as a state but as a country should come as no surprise to anyone. Least of all to Black women.

Tamika Palmer perhaps put it best in a statement read Friday, two days after a grand jury refused to indict the officers who killed her daughter, Breonna Taylor, during a police raid reeking of reckless incompetence in Louisville, Ky.

“I was reassured Wednesday of why I have no faith in the legal system,” Bianca Austin, Taylor’s aunt, read during a news conference, as a teary-eyed Palmer looked on. “The police and law were not made to protect us Black and brown women.”


This is something Black people — and particularly those of us who are Black women — have long understood to be true. And yet, for some reason that even I don’t entirely understand, we still try to work within the system, pushing it and prodding it, in hopes of achieving a measure of justice.

Consider, for example, that the founders of Black Lives Matter are Black women. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee and another Black woman, cited the movement they created as being pivotal to the ongoing fight for police reform.

“I actually believe, as a former prosecutor, that Black Lives Matter has been the most significant agent for change within the criminal justice system because it has been a counterforce to the force within the system that is so grounded in status quo and in its own traditions,” she said Friday during an appearance at the NAACP’s annual convention.

She, of course, also urged everyone to vote. And, indeed, we all should.

But as I write this in my father’s basement in the suburbs of Cleveland — the city where I grew up and where the first presidential debate will take place in a few days — I can’t help but wonder what happens if Harris and Joe Biden don’t win the election. Or they do win, and President Trump, as he keeps vaguely threatening, refuses to leave peacefully? Or they win, and it emboldens Trump’s supporters to further divide the country in an even more dangerous way?

What then?

On Saturday, Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg mere weeks before election day. Despite her seemingly sincere promises to fairly “apply the law as written” and to set “aside any policy views” that she may hold, Barrett has a record that shows she is an ideologue of the variety favored by conservative Christian evangelicals.

If confirmed, as Senate Republicans have hypocritically vowed to do, she will undoubtedly tilt the U.S. Supreme Court to the far right for decades to come. And this will happen even as America’s increasingly Black, brown and liberal electorate continues to move left by the millions.


A host of civil rights issues and advances, many of them championed by Ginsburg, likely will suddenly be off the table. Widespread access to healthcare during a pandemic that is unequally killing people of color? Probably gone. Affirmative action? You jest. And police reform? Forget about it.

You think there’s no trust in the system now? Wait until a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court is a reality.

Even in my hometown suburb — which is far more diverse than it was when I graduated from high school and where Trump, nevertheless, expects to convince women to vote for him by scaring them about race riots — that kind of shift is likely to be a problem. In the yards I’ve seen, there are far more campaign signs for Biden than for Trump.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday found that 57% of Americans believe the next president should fill Ginsburg’s seat. Over the summer, a Gallup poll found that confidence in police departments had fallen 5 percentage points from the year before, to 48% — the first time in nearly 30 years that it dipped below a majority of Americans.

Take it from this Black woman — this is a recipe for chaos.