Yesterday, AlternativeNation.net correspondent Dustin ‘Whip’ Halter was able to ask Alice In Chains’ singer/guitarist William Duvall a couple of questions via Duvall’s Facebook. Here are Dustin’s questions and Duvall’s answers. It should be noted that Duvall responded in multiple Facebook posts.
Halter: “When I was 14 years old I was accosted, attacked by 4 black MEN on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (no less) for no other reason than the fact that I was white. I was punched, kicked, STOMPED– who knows what else because I blacked out after the stomping. This was never made a national case. I didn’t protest, hell, there wasn’t even an article in the city paper. And this is why (or a large majority of why) I have zero pity on the “plight,” of a people that think they are all innocent, falsely accused, and condescended upon without reason. SO while the penalty for the actions of some is severe, the penalties for MOST is none and karma has a way of working that out– and that goes for all races, genders, creeds, and especially the ones that think they don’t deserve it. I agree completely, while individuals shouldn’t be boiled down to one thing because of their race or sexual orientation, etc., statistics don’t lie, nor is it racist, sexist, or otherwise to use them, OR to take them into account when you’ve got nothing else to go by.
Do I want justice for the broken bones, brain damage, and emotional pain that I was subjected to some 17 years ago AND still suffering from today? I’ll never get what I deserve and it’s never going to happen anyway, so why rile a bunch of people up, potentially bring about the destruction of the homes and businesses of innocent people, and risk the lives of our public servants all for me? Plus.. black on white crime isn’t really that interesting, so I’ve found. I love Alice in Chains, but the intended (and even unintended) reaction from this little nugget really turns my stomach, William Duvall. We all have a cross to bear, but it doesn’t mean you have to go hang yourself on it. Also, sorry my first comment on your page is this one because I have so much love, admiration, and respect for you for helping keep my favorite band in this world going. All social BS aside– you are beyond awesome at your job.”
Duvall: “I am truly sorry for what happened to you. And you seem to be a thoughtful person. But your analysis of the big picture completely discounts the entire history of this country. In so doing, it discounts how that history, now hundreds of years long, DIRECTLY impacts what is going on today. The thousands of people demonstrating across this nation right now are not doing so over nothing (anymore than they were 50 years ago or 100 years ago, when they were also berated with cries of “race-baiting” and “crying over nothing”). This is a SYSTEMIC problem. It is centuries old. There are plenty of sources and statistics I could cite to illustrate this. But, beyond all the numbers and the rhetoric, there is this simple immutable reality: You have to IMAGINE a world where you, your father, or your son could be choked to death by 6 police officers on national television and there is not even an INDICTMENT brought. I have to LIVE in it.
Halter: “I appreciate your empathy, William Duvall, I honestly do. The fact is, though, I grew up in a town where blacks loathed whites, beat them up without provocation, and destroyed the once-beautiful town that my parents inherited from theirs. When I was about 9 or 10 in the late 80’s my question to my mother was, “why do black people hate us so much?” The black and white population ONLY began to bond when an influx of Mexicans came for the many nursery/landscaping jobs in the area. Suddenly the hate, the spittings, the beatings, were all directed towards the illegal immigrants and Joe White was suddenly good enough to give a nod and “sup, homie.” I’m talking about a mostly low-middle class suburban town. Now I can walk down the street without being too worried about being jumped because it’s MLK day or what have you, but what of the new guys? And I KNOW that not all black Americans are this way. Not all are violent. But my eyes have seen things that are unseeable. I’ve been a victim of angry, hateful black men and literally had a learning disability beaten INTO me.
For me, I can say that the fears that whites have of blacks are warranted. Once I get to know you it’s a different story entirely– I’m not a blatant racist. But when I’m walking down a Philadelphia street alone and approaching Joe Black on the corner, I’m going to puff up like a damn blowfish and get to stepping like Carl Lewis. I know you’re talking about the police here and I’m just talking white/black relations in general, but white people have a side in this that isn’t just oppress, oppress, oppress. I can’t change what your father or his father went through, Will. We both can, though, raise our children to be kind and respectful to all colors. I really do believe that kind of life is on the horizon, or at least one close to it. There are still a lot of grandmas filling their grandchildren’s heads with bad ideas out there right now and I understand why, but time is going to be the ultimate healer in this, Will. We both know that change cannot be forced. Thanks for the reply, dude, and again, all “social” stuff aside I have a multitude of respect, love, and admiration for you.”
Duvall: “Dustin, your story is deep and I appreciate you sharing it because it touches on some of the economic and human nature elements that lie at the heart of this entire conflict.
From what you’re describing, it sounds like you became the minority (or at least less of an overwhelming majority) in your neighborhood and, because of longstanding resentments felt by some of the black people there over what they’ve historically endured, you got scapegoated. That absolutely should not have happened. It was wrong. You were just a kid. You had no understanding of the insane dynamics at play in your neighborhood, let alone in the wider world. Any group of grown men who would gang up to attack a lone 14-year-old obviously have personal problems that go beyond the systemic issue I’m trying to address. Those people are just crazy. Cruelty comes in all colors and my guess is those guys would be bullies regardless of what they looked like and regardless of what was going on in the world. But I can assure you that you’re correct when you say that “not all black Americans are this way.” In fact, most certainly, the vast majority are not. Nevertheless, what happened to you was a shame. You say your story didn’t even warrant a mention in the police blotter. That’s yet a further shame, adding insult to injury. It was like it didn’t matter. It was like YOU didn’t matter.
Brother, all I can say is, I understand. Because that is how most black people in America feel every single day. That is the climate in which we’ve lived and raised our children for centuries, since the founding of this country when, by law, we were considered just 3/5 of a human being with no rights whatsoever, right up until today when I can watch a video of 12-year-old Tamir Rice get blown away by the cops right across the street from his home for playing with a toy gun. That boy wasn’t given the slightest chance. He was dead practically before the police car came to a stop. That’s not just a “crime.” That’s state-sponsored murder. And, for black people, this is nothing new. We have endured our children, particularly our men and boys, being demonized and summarily murdered by the state (or vigilantes protected by the state) for hundreds of years. And for most of that time, with untold thousands killed – shot, lynched, stabbed, burned alive, mutilated, dismembered – there was no news coverage. If it DID make the paper, the killers themselves might be seen in a photograph smiling around the mutilated body like it was a trophy. Either way, the victims were often faceless and nameless. Their true number will never be known. No matter what they were accused of doing, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the evidence (or lack thereof), the explicit understanding was ALWAYS, “They had it coming.” And the killers – even if they admitted it, even if they bragged about it, even if they were photographed smiling over the body – walked away with no consequences. It was like it didn’t matter. It was like WE didn’t matter.”
Duvall: “Now, we have video capturing entire incidences from start to finish and it STILL isn’t enough. In the last few weeks alone, in addition to Tamir Rice, we have John Crawford getting blown away in a Wal-Mart by Beavercreek, OH police. His offense? Talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone while holding a toy gun sold at the store. The video shows him getting shot from behind. He never even saw them coming. He never stood a chance. It was an ambush of a consumer in a store. The guy was a father of two children. His own father and his girlfriend had to listen to him die over the phone. They were forced to wait two weeks to even see the video. There were no charges, no indictment brought by the grand jury against the officers. Then we have Eric Garner getting wrestled to the ground and choked to death by six cops. He’s unarmed and not aggressive toward the officers in any way. Yet he’s put in a chokehold and taken down, gasping for his life. And then he’s dead. His offense? Allegedly selling loose cigarettes. He was a married father of six. Once again, there isn’t even an indictment brought. We’re not talking about Mississippi in 1914. We’re talking about New York City in 2014.
I will say, however, at least now some of these stories take center stage on the national news. That almost never used to happen. It’s an improvement I’ve witnessed first hand. But that comes with a price as well. Because, on TOP of not getting any indictment despite having everything on video, we also have to listen to a cavalcade of media pundits, activists, politicians, cops, ex-cops, medical examiners, and legal analysts interpret and DEBATE WHAT’S IN THE VIDEO. “He was resisting arrest/He wasn’t resisting arrest. It was a chokehold/No, it wasn’t a chokehold. He went for the gun/No, it was a summary execution. He was a hulking menace/No, he was a weakling. The police acted excessively/The police did nothing wrong (and even if they did you can’t blame them).
And then there is always the routine attempt by some to wage character assassination on the dead boy or man (or his family). Unless it can be proven that he was nothing but an angel-kissed choirboy every split-second of his life (as if any teenaged boy is), then he must have been a freakishly strong Super-Thug who made his killer “fear for his life” and therefore “He had it coming” like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. Can you understand, given the history and context behind these episodes, the endless replays of basically this same scenario over hundreds of years, why we might have more than a little difficulty believing an Officer Darren Wilson or a vigilante George Zimmerman, particularly when they both emerge from their supposedly death-defying struggle with these “demonic Super-Thugs” with barely a hint of a scratch or a bruise?
Cases like these don’t happen in a vacuum. They are supported by a long tradition of history and practice, not just in terms of police but the entire legal and penal system. This has been status quo for black people since our arrival on this continent. Can you understand how that might create simultaneous currents of hopelessness, fear, anger, and outrage?”
Duvall: But if we say or do anything in protest or opposition, we’re told by some people, “What the hell are you crying about?! There’s no problem here! Racism is over! YOU’VE GOT IT GOOD NOW!! How can you even say there’s still racism?! America just elected a black president! Twice!! Quit playing the race card! Quit being ‘divisive’! Hell, a lot of you have it better than me and I’m white! Quit preaching hate! YOU’RE JUST MAKING EVERYTHING WORSE!!
In reading your reply to me, I stand even more by my initial assessment that you’re a thoughtful guy. I really appreciate your candor about your reflexive fear of “Joe Black.” That’s more honesty than most people are willing to share. And, given what you say in your story, your fears seem understandable. My guess is the guys who attacked you were transferring some of their trauma, both personal AND systemic, onto you. It was completely wrong. But that’s what happens with trauma and violence. It begets more trauma and violence. My hope is that you can take your feelings of fear, anger, and resentment over the attacks you suffered, both physical and psychological – those “unseeable” things you saw, the feeling that you were being demonized, under constant suspicion no matter what you did (or didn’t do), the dread and looming danger of further abuse and bodily threat that could visit you any second (provoked or not), the overall feeling that you didn’t matter, and the stress of having to swallow those feelings every minute of every day just to survive and move forward with your life – and imagine how millions of black people have felt, generation after generation, for hundreds of years.
You also describe a lower middle class neighborhood with what sounds like increasingly scarce economic opportunity. That really gets to the root of ALL these problems. When people see the pie shrinking and find themselves fighting for crumbs, that creates a bedrock foundation for scapegoating. You said that the tension between the black and white people in your neighborhood only lessened when the Latinos moved in and suddenly there was a new scapegoat against whom you could both unite. That really sums up our species, doesn’t it? Terribly sad, but true. And, again, you can trace it back not only to the beginnings of this country but the beginnings of humanity itself. Just like violence and trauma, scapegoating begets more scapegoating. We’ve got over 500 years of documented history of that on this continent alone. Dehumanization of an entire group of people always has an economic agenda attached to it.
The first diary entries of Columbus’s sailors show complete fascination, even envy, toward the Indians. The sailors describe their awe not only at the native people’s physical beauty but also their entire civilization and their intuitive sense of harmony with one another and the earth. But when it came time to make the grab for gold, the beautiful, fascinating, intuitive Indians suddenly became “savages.” In the pursuit of wealth, it became okay to mutilate, rape, and murder.
A little over a hundred years later came the African slave trade. Despite the sophistication and grandeur of that continent’s many ancient kingdoms, including Egypt, which was the light of the world for several millennia and still captures the imagination of many today, the justification for the slavery of Africans, whose free labor literally built the American economy, was that all black people were savages. They were considered animals who wouldn’t even know what to do with themselves if they weren’t slaves. But going back even further, long before America, we know that slavery was commonplace in countries and empires all over the world. In fact, many of the slaves who were brought over to America were purchased by the Europeans from other Africans. They were often defeated captives of various tribal and territorial wars. And, if they survived the journey to America (which many didn’t), once they arrived the abuse was so severe that, even while hating their condition, many slaves themselves helped perpetuate it – assisting in the abuse of other slaves, helping chase down runaways, ratting out potential rebels, etc. They did this to survive. Some even justified the institution in their own minds. You describe having a learning disability “beaten into” you. Once again, in sharing your own experience, you articulate the condition of millions of black people. And, once again, scapegoating begets scapegoating.”
Duvall: “Even today, some black people will say and do things that, in the opinion of many other black people, contribute to and validate the demonization aimed at us by the larger society. To get back to the police issue, we’ve got black cops who will admit they are afraid of other black men. In the Eric Garner video, we see a black female officer standing in the background who was apparently the supervising sergeant. She’s just standing there watching this man get killed. That’s just one example of many equal or worse ones. It’s not just white officers acting out across color lines. And whenever the police are questioned or challenged about a particular action, particularly one involving them using lethal force, more often than not, we see that blue trumps black or white. It becomes officers on one side, citizens on the other. This despite the fact that there are black cops who say THEY’RE afraid of being criminally profiled (and possibly killed) by other cops when they’re out of uniform.
We have a serious problem. The victims’ families are not making this up. The thousands of people out there demonstrating in the streets all over this country are not making it up. All the athletes and artists voicing their support, including myself, aren’t making this up. When the Mayor of New York City gives a press conference on television with his family and says he’s afraid for his bi-racial son’s life with regard to the police, he’s not making it up.
As you can see (and have experienced yourself), these issues are incredibly complicated: Cruelty comes in all colors. Color is often secondary to Economics. Racism is merely one rationale to justify cruelty. But we’ve still got to deal with the fallout and ripple effects of both.
Like I said in my statement the other day, we’ve made some tremendous strides as a nation. In terms of race relations, this is a better America than the one in which my parents grew up. But that’s only because black AND white people all over this country stood up, admitted there was a problem, and forced the issue toward change. We fought a civil war over slavery. Then it was another 100 YEARS before I could so much as sit at the same lunch counter or drink from the same water fountain as you in the very city from which I write to you now. We’re talking about the 1960s. That’s within my lifetime!! And, even then, it took a complete social upheaval just to effect such basic changes. People – both black and white – had to get beaten, jailed, and KILLED just to make those simple things happen. And what were those people getting beaten, jailed, and killed being told back then? “What the hell are you crying about?! There’s no problem here! Slavery’s been over for a 100 years! WHY CAN’T YOU ALL JUST GET OVER IT?! YOU’VE GOT IT GOOD NOW! Hell, some of you have it better than me and I’m white! All your RACE-BAITING isn’t going to solve anything! You’re just making trouble! Quit preaching hatred! YOU’RE JUST MAKING THINGS WORSE!!”
See a pattern here?”
Duvall: “Some have tried to characterize what I’m saying as a diatribe against all police officers. It most certainly is not. I’ve had members of my family and good friends who have served on the police force. They have a tough job, one that I certainly would not want to do. I’ve had positive encounters with police all over this world. Nobody appreciates good policing more than me. Good cops are heroes. Some have tried to characterize what I’m saying as a diatribe against all white people or all white males. Just think about that for a second. Look at the band I’m in now. Look at every band I’ve been in over the course of more than 30 years playing music. Look at my audience. My own family is full of white, black, brown, and bi-racial people. My inner circle of closest friends splits right down the middle black and white. All I know is the rainbow and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I don’t have any easy answers. I don’t think they exist. All I know is I want to leave this world a better place than I found it, like my parents and grandparents did for my generation. This is not about ME. As I’ve said many times, I’m doing better than most. This is about ALL of us – black, white, brown, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, male, female, LGBT, etc. Because we all suffer under a system that seems to value the lives of one group of people over another. And this is mostly about the children coming after us. I see a national conversation taking place about an historical injustice that resonates with my own life experience. I’ve been waiting, along with millions of other people, to have this conversation for a VERY long time. I believe we may have reached a point to finally effect some meaningful positive change. I spoke up because there was no way I could remain silent.
I know this was long but I just had to say it. I hope you’ll read it in the spirit with which it was intended.
I want to thank you again for this exchange. It’s been meaningful for me and I hope it has been for you as well. I wish you peace and continued personal recovery on your life’s journey.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.”