Sitting at my computer I got a notification on my phone. I opened it and said, “Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Found Dead in His Home.” The moment was surreal. Kind of like the moment I learned Natalie Cole had died. For me it just came out of nowhere. Mouth wide opened I took my phone to where my wife was sitting and just showed her the screen. She hesitated as well with a look of, “like for real?”
The next thing I told her that as the members of the GOP find out what we just learned, they will be scrambling as hard as they ever have in order to come up with a talking point about the open position on the court that President Obama has 11 months to fill. “Make no mistake. There are emergency meetings and conference calls being set up we sit here to orchestrate a plan. For them the timing couldn’t be worse. They are going to block whomever he nominates.
Within minutes my wife and I went to dinner. By the time we started to eat I saw that Mitch McConnell had demanded that the POTUS not nominate anyone in Scalia’s seat and that if he did, they would block the nomination. By the time the GOP debate in South Carolina began, the message had been repeated a thousand times. I started posting my own views on social media.
You know how after every mass shooting republicans never want to talk about gun control? They say things like, “We haven’t even had the funerals yet and here you are trying to politicize this tragic experience.” It’s not like they ever want to talk about it regardless of how much time goes by. But I digress. I expressed that the man’s body isn’t even cold yet and here they are politicizing his death. I expressed that right wing conservatives don’t care anything about Scalia. They only care about what he stood for and what he represented. They cared that he reinforced their beliefs and helped solidify laws that crushed black people, poor people, gay people, and women. Their court appointed ace in the hole, their god who brought vengeance on anything that wasn’t rich, Christian and Caucasian was suddenly and without warning taken. And now just a few hours from him being put in a morgue, the right wing establishment is devouring their god like he’s high priced steak and lobster.
In the midst of this I became fascinated with my own response to finding out Scalia was dead. Unlike Natalie Cole death, I wasn’t at all sad. I felt some kind of joy about it. I’ve had a secret list of 3 people who I’ve said to myself, ” I won’t wish death upon them. But if they die, I won’t be mad.” Scalia happened to be on that list. And no I won’t write the others. 98% of me rejoiced that this tyrant of a man won’t be able to ruin anymore lives, or do any more damage than he’s done beyond previous judgments that the rest of us will have to live with. 2% of me felt kinda bad for the 98%. Because I am a person who is full of love and compassion, it seemed a tad bit unsettling that I rejoiced. I could never see Scalia, a man who loved himself perhaps more than any other Supreme Court judge in history actually retiring. Death was the only way out.
As I posted short commentaries on Scalia’s court decisions and the GOP’s hateful responses to Obama’s presidency once again, I waited for reactions from people who may agree or disagree with my observations and opinions. I wondered especially if any of my African-American friends were experiencing the same inward duality that I was. Black folk in general are raised not to celebrate ones death. No matter how evil that person is or was. My guess is that’s related our faith and history in Christianity. It hasn’t been often in my lifetime that a significant oppressive figure had passed on. I know well the history of assassinations against progressives. I know of state sponsored murders of people who fought for freedom for me and those who look like me. But when was the last time a figure whose name is so polarizing for black people been so suddenly and permanently removed… even naturally?
I sent text messages to a few friends of mine. “Dude, Scalia is dead!” One wrote back, “I see. Sad.” I responded, “Sad for who? Not us!” He responded that loss of live is loss of life. He did not agree with Scalia judicially or politically. We exchanged a few more sentences and phrases. But one of the things I mentioned is that if I did not grieve for Osama Bin Laden when he met his end, how could I grieve a man who has spent his life’s work attempting to destroy every piece of equality and progress we’ve fought to achieve? It was only a couple months ago when Scalia said in open court that black people needed to go to lesser and slower schools because we were too stupid to function in the ‘big ones.’
As custom, it’s natural to speak good of any figure who holds such a prestigious position. People have described him as brilliant, colorful, a legal giant. I wouldn’t use those words. But I’m not the only one.
Tim Wise put it this way: While I revel in the death of no one, I cannot abide the hagiographic nonsense that is presently being offered by persons across the spectrum about how Scalia was “passionate” and brilliant, ad infinitum. There is nothing brilliant about putrescence, nothing insightful and worthwhile about venality posing as insight. To say that there is nothing unconstitutional about executing innocent people (as he did in fact say), or that it’s OK to imprison persons for “gay sex,” among other things, is never the work of a genius no matter the big words and poetic flair with which they might say it. Those opinions are evil, vile and worthy of utter derision. They are not the work of a genius, but a fetid little man whose moral calibration slouched towards those of Torquemada and the Inquisitors. I feel for his family and mourn their personal loss. And that is the extent of my mourning, as it is the only type of which one such as this is deserving.
Perhaps some may think my Bin Laden comparison was a stretch. Though I could argue judicial terrorism on blacks, women, gays and poor people, I can bring it closer to home. If I lived during The Civil War, would I mourn the death of Robert E. Lee? How about Jefferson Davis? These people fought to keep my people in bondage. If Scalia had the wherewith while he was here, whose to say he wouldn’t bring back slavery? I can easily see him saying, “If the Founding Fathers wanted slavery to end, they would have indicated this in the text. Since they didn’t, I don’t see anything unconstitutional about it remaining in tact.”
I discussed some of this on social media with a very well respected minister Traci Blackmon. She is as progressive and courageous as Christians go. She expressed via her Facebook page; “Tonight I offer prayers for the family of Justice Scalia. He was not a friend to me or my people. But he is still God’s child.” As I write this it has 430 likes. Some talked about his children and the devastation they must be feeling. Others were less than sympathetic. One person’s response in particular touched on my earlier thoughts: “Yes I know. I felt guilty and unChristian like to have no sadness in his passing, almost a glimmer of happiness. I checked myself and voiced it. But there it is.” Another responded, “What an example of God’s grace. Thank you for helping me check my own internal feelings. I did not wish him ill, but I am delighted he’s no longer on the bench. I pray that our next justice will have more compassion and understanding.”
Ahhh see where I’m coming from? What is to say the original sentiments were wrong? Is it possible that it’s natural to delight in the death of your oppressor and not at all unrighteous? If it is righteous, would I care to pray for the family now that he’s dead? Does it matter what his family thought of his work? Did the Jews say prayers for Adolph Hitler’s family members after he died? Did my Christian parents and grandparents believe it properly pious to pray for the family of Alabama Governor George Wallace after he died? I understand that THEY were not the ones siccing vicious attack dogs on us and spraying us with water hoses while authorizing police to savagely beat us in the public streets.
Where exactly is the line of demarcation? As I told Traci, I just don’t know. Proverbs 11:10 says, When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.
Regardless, I know what the right wing establishment feel. Not only will they hold Scalia up as a hero of epic proportions, they want to do everything in their power to replace him with one just like him if not worse. Someone who hates me, my wife, my mother, my kids, my grand kids. Hoping and praying that this doesn’t happen is not something I am conflicted about at all.