As I was taking my shower one evening, my thoughts drifted to the film Captain America: Civil War, and its fantastic airport battle scene. But my attention went to one moment in particular, namely when Bucky and T’Challa were locked in conflict during the airport battle. Bucky says to T’Challa: “I didn’t kill your father!”, to which T’Challa responds: “Then why did you run?”
This exchange got me thinking; T’Challa’s question is one that is commonly uttered by (usually white) people in response to police shootings of unarmed black men in which the man runs away from the police, despite not having done anything wrong. People tend to attempt to justify the shooting by questioning the victim’s motives for running, often saying things like “If he wasn’t guilty of something, then why did he run? What was he afraid of?”
Well, think about why Bucky ran. This is a man who has done a lot of terrible things in his life but had no control over his actions. He was trying to stay off the radar, to live some semblance of a normal life and cope with his past and suddenly, his face is all over global news, and he’s being framed for a crime he knows he didn’t commit. Despite him knowing he’s innocent, he knows his past. He knows that authorities have no reason to believe he’s been set up, given his history. There’s precedent there. He has no reason to believe he will be treated fairly in police custody.
In the case of unarmed black men, they know there is a history of unfair and unjust treatment of black people by law enforcement. They know they’ve done nothing wrong, but they know their history. They know what can happen to a black man in police custody, so, despite being innocent, they run.
And here we come back to T’Challa’s question. “Why did you run?” Because he was afraid. Bucky was afraid of what could happen. Despite knowing he was innocent, he ran anyway. And that’s why black men run.
I thought it was an interesting real life parallel that I missed at the time and it’s even more interesting due to the juxtaposition of T’Challa, a black man, asking that question of Bucky, a white man. I wonder if that was intentional, because if it was, it was brilliant. The audience (predominantly white) naturally empathizes with Bucky, as they should, and by switching the roles, white people find themselves (perhaps for the first time) on the other side of that question, challenging them to find it within themselves to empathize with black men the next time they hear of one running from the police despite being innocent. It’s not some sort of latent, unconscious guilt.
The fight or flight response is inherent to all of us and we are all susceptible to it, and being confronted by a person with a gun, remaining calm and not succumbing to that urge is much harder than it seems. I can only hope this resonated with audiences. It’s a long shot, but it would go a long way in helping people understand why we choose to run, even when we know we’ve done nothing wrong.