Open Sesame
Presto chango
Keys to the city
Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse
Keys to the Kingdom
Olly, olly oxen free
Alla peanut butter sandwiches
Up, up, and away
Hocus pocus
Heigh O, Silver
Get ’em up, Scout
Bibbidi-bobbidi Boo

I’m sure there are other words or phrases you may know, often part of children’s games or magic shows.  These are harmless mantras that we believe will let us do magical things or endow us with powers greater than could ever be imagined.  Currently, in this country, there are new magic words, however, routinely invoked in serious, even fatal contexts–I THOUGHT MY LIFE WAS IN DANGER.  This “motto” falls easily off the lips of police people, usually white and male, when they are being accused of or on trial for murdering  another person, usually black and male.  Hearing this phrase moves juries to acquit such individuals in the face of physical evidence that shows the victim to have been carrying a snack from a grocery store or driving with one light bulb burned out or trying to find a gathering to which they are invited.  The phrase convinces juries to ignore overwhelming evidence that a horrendous wrong has been committed.  It relieves police who are trained in all sorts of techniques for defusing situations short of firing their guns.  It also instantly justifies assaulting women or the very young, while yelling words or phrases that carry no “magic” at all, just terror and grave bodily harm to the recipients.

Enough people have written about the increased shooting of black people by law-enforcement officers across the country for us to understand that the horrible phenomenon is related to a long and gory history of criminalizing black people.  So when police officers find themselves in the vicinity of virtually any black person, fear and suspicion are default emotional responses.  The problem turns around their having found the magic words that give them a carte blanche excuse to go directly to the last item on their list of “to do’s” when handling suspicious civilians.  If they have a similar meeting with a white civilian, most of the time, they trust their training and work to defuse the situation.  Because the suspicious character is white, they are not instantly and irretrievably scared.  They do not think their lives are in danger.  There are even instances when the white person in question had a gun or other hurtful weapon and the police still found a way to control and arrest the individual.

Some race theorists speak about how blacks at this point in our long and abusive history have become a caste rather than just a minority member.  They mean that the mere sighting of a member of the group triggers an automatic defensive and aggressive posture, so that no time is taken to look at the particular person in the particular circumstance.  If North American culture has reached such a point, dire outcomes are almost guaranteed.  So the next time an innocuous magic word like “abracadabra” or “presto change” comes into our minds, maybe we could replace it with “I thought my life was in danger.”  Then we might realize just who is being given permission to do what to whom with seeming impunity.