I'm almost certain that my heart stopped, when University of Texas quarterback Vince Young scored the game-winning touchdown in the far right corner of the end zone, in the Rose Bowl against the USC Trojans, with 26 seconds left on the clock. My chest burst in the same way as the confetti Young stood under like a mythical gladiator while the clock ran out. We knew then that something special had ended. The team, marshalled by the charisma of Pete Carroll, brutality of Lindale White and superhuman agility of Reggie Bush, would become only a lovesome memory. I did a 9 year tour of duty as a running back in high school and college during this era, so watching Reggie Bush in particular, was beyond gratifying to say the least. He personified the phrase “a man playing amongst boys.” Bush got drafted by the Saints and has maintained a mix of vagabondage and sporadic lightning in his career in the NFL. In 2007 Bush fans like myself in the USC horde, prayed for a player that could fill his cleats. No one expected it to come so soon. Joe McKnight, a 6 foot 190lb jack-of-all-positions from John Curtis High School was delivered from his Southern hometown of Terrytown, Louisiana to us. I remember being in a crowded dorm room during the middle of my own training camp, huddled over a laptop struggling to buffer video of a viral highlight, showing a youthful McKnight sashaying through the USC defense during springball. It was confirmation of football prophecy.
The university, nestled a stone’s throw away from Compton, would be blessed with yet another unicorn. Mcknight’s career didn’t quite arrest us with the folklore of Bush’s, still, he accosted the NCAA with chest-bracing plays from time to time, earning his way onto an NFL roster. This all came to mind bundled in anger when I learned that McKnight had been gunned down in cold blood and his killer was freed without charges in less than 48 hours. That a hometown hero had died in a manner likened to antebellum America was enraging, but the man behind the smoking gun moving in and out of the hands of the authorities so easily, raised my arm hairs.
Joe Mcknight’s murder chronicled yet another year of the stifling lack of accountability for white men when their violence claims Black/Brown victims. Witnesses reported seeing the suspect, Robert Glasser, and Mcknight in a heated exchange that climaxed with four bullets entering the Trojan Alumnus. With a case still under investigation, it would be clumsy to not juxtapose the last 5 minutes of his life, and the following 48 hours of Glasser’s, in respect to how the U.S. Justice system invests in a false perception of criminality. Between the time Glasser employed his 40 caliber handgun on a crowded highway at approximately 3PM in Terrytown, Louisiana and the next afternoon, he had been processed then released without a single charge. Glasser spent four days unshackled before being arrested for felony manslaughter on December 6, 2016.
In America, Black/Brown people have a long and ghastly relationship with speed. Pace can dictate whether or not lives are pulverized or mothers get to see their children digest a home-cooked meal. It is speed, backed by the sinister bail infrastructure, that kidnapped Kalief Browder, casting him into a labrynth of torture within 18 hours and his subsequent suicide. It was the swift aim of Officer Timothy Loehman’s sidearm at Tamir Elijah Rice that flattened him in less than three seconds. Time however, was afforded to Dylan Roof to enjoy a burger and fries, after he calmly massacred 9 churchgoers at Bethel AME in Charleston, North Carolina. And with the Stand Your Ground Law anchoring the alibi of Robert Glasser, of having to make the mercurial decision to use deadly force, he could possibly never, spend “time”, in prison. Sheriff Newell Normand rallied against notions that Mcknight’s race played a part in his demise, heaving, “This isn’t about race. Not a single witness to this day said there was one racial slur uttered during the course of these events. Unfortunately, a life was lost. But you want to know something, folks? Two people engaged in bad behavior that day. Why? I don’t know.” Normand’s reprimands echo a lethal post-racial infrastructure of thought, that reduces systemic racism to slurs. Still, Joe Mcknight spending his last “moments” with life seeping from his body, with an armed enraged white man above him, is no abstraction from our history, that is a fact. To presume that a Black man dying in seconds, and a white man walking chargeless for four subsequent days is some sort of outlier, would be maladroit. For his family, Mcknight will be remembered as a ruptured branch, gone too soon. For Baton Rouge States Attorney’s office, he is a troubled chapter in Louisiana’s racial catalog. In the eyes of those like myself, who only knew Mcknight from causing stadiums to erupt in jubilance, he is another Black body, without time.