Jacob Lawrence

Vaudeville, 1951, egg tempera on hardboard with pencil, 30 x 20” approx. (76.2 x 50.8cm), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, United States

Two men. Names?  Troy Davis and Lawrence Russell Brewer. The one you know really well. The other, not so much. The first one might or might not have committed murder. The second one absolutely committed one of the most cruel and inhuman murders in American history. Two men. Black dude, white supremacist dude.

God is never subtle.

The dirty little secret about human beings is that the more they evolve, the meaner they get. Because in the real world, meanness works. You sit in the cafe while the goons at that table over there talk loud and nasty right in front of the chicken-eaters with their kids in their Sunday best, and people glare, but they are careful not to glare too hard. Because those are mean ones over there, up for trouble. We, the civilized types, we resent that, yes we do. Get enough of us together though, and we take care of some business.

Migration of the Negro #15, 1941, casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18” (30.48 x 45.72 cm), The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

We, the civilized, do not trust these barbarian types who drag men three miles behind a truck with a twenty-four-and-a-half foot logging chain then dump their road-killed remains between a black church and cemetery. That’s a hate crime, Mr. Brewer, because you acted out of hate and now we hate you in our righteous fury, and we are going to settle that score and the people will cheer. And we used to be sure of you, too, Mr. Davis, back before the retracted testimony when you seemed to be just another street thug with a blood lust for every kind of cop and all the opportunity in the world not to pull the trigger, but you hated him so much. And we hated you in our righteous fury, and we were going to settle that score, too, and the people would cheer.

But something happened in between. Doubt crept in, and it’s doubt that our system hates most of all. It goes out of its way to squelch the very concept of doubt right there in the courtroom. In front of God and everybody a formal declaration is made that there is no reasonable doubt. None. And the system trucks along. It just keeps a rumbling.


The Undertakers Do a Good Business, 1943, gouache on paper, 29 x 21” approx. (73.68 x 53.34cm), Portland Art Museum, Portland Oregon, Helen Thurston Ayer Fund


I think we should stop killing people. We are just way too good at it. We might want to wake up a little, too. We should ask ourselves: who is served by constantly riling us up? Is it paranoid to think we are all being kept busy and distracted by our little hatesy-fugues? Is it paranoid to feel used?

To hell with it.

I like being paranoid. I like trying to imagine who it is that can afford to invest so much energy and resource in making sure I hate that guy over there, sitting next to you.

Or maybe…you.

Yep, paranoia is very fashionable; it’s the new black and white.

      Spring Plowing, 1942, tempera on composition board, 19.5 x 23.75” (49.53 x 60.33cm)



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5 Responses to Jacob Lawrence

  1. cathy says:

    You spent the morning thinking and writing about something important. I spent it thinking about advertising. You need to do more of what you do, and me less.

    Also, you were late posting today … I was getting worried. I think I’m paranoid.

  2. CMStewart says:

    I read a lot about the Davis case in the last year, and signed all the petitions. I was surprised when they didn’t change their minds.

    I knew less about the Brewer case, but I knew enough. I believe sometimes the lesser of two evils is the only choice available. Executing Brewer didn’t erase what he did. Continuing to incarcerate him wouldn’t have either.

    Bureaucratic accounting is prestidigitation, and not all lives are equally valuable. I guess that’s the core belief difference between my camp and the live-at-all-costs camp. I don’t hate Brewer. If I did, I would be too exhausted to live my own life.

    Where were the capital punishment protestors fighting for Brewer’s life? I guess he wasn’t a good enough poster child. But, by the standards of international amnesty sentiment, he and other high-profile death row murderers, rapists, and torturers are infinitely better than the children being bombed every day, across the sea, in a land we’ll never know, in a reality we refuse to acknowledge.

    • foxpudding says:

      I don’t believe in live-at-all-costs. I don’t believe in anything at-all-costs. But folks here in Texas are a little too bullish. When Hutchison challenged Perry for the governorship last go round, she thought the fact that he had knowingly allowed an innocent man to be executed would work against him. She was astonished to find that people here felt the opposite. As one focus group fellow said, “Anybody can kill a guilty man. It takes real balls to let an innocent one go to the chair.” I may not have that quote word for word, but it is near enough to make no difference.

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