In 2008, a comic book hit stands called Genius. It was about a 17-year-old black girl from South Central named Destiny who happened to be born a military strategy savant. Like Alexander the Great, Patton, Genghis Khan, Hannibal. Off-the-charts brilliant. And she was fed up with the way the police would treat her and anyone who looked like her. So she united LA’s gangs and went to war.
When we first came up with the idea — by we, I mean my cowriter Adam Freeman and, later, our artist Afua Richardson — it was purest fiction. Inspired by things as disparate as Public Enemy songs and old LA riot footage and white supremacist documentaries, we put out a single issue of Genius to test the waters. Finding them warm and inviting, we went to work producing a five-issue miniseries to complete Destiny’s story. It took six years to finish, but we were able to release those five issues weekly in August 2014.
And last August was when Ferguson blew up. Images from our comic book — of police in full riot gear following tanks into residential American neighborhoods — looked exactly like the images on the TV screen. The world was on fire and I had a comic book about a world on fire to sell.
The way I explained it, to both other people and myself, was that there are certain things that are True, with a capital “t”. And those things are True independent of when they happen: it was as true yesterday as it will be true tomorrow. America has never, with open eyes, wrestled with its foundational history devaluing the lives of black people. This country was built on the black backs of a slave labor force, people who were considered to be worth 3/5ths as much as everyone else. That same blood that’s mixed into the mortar of America is still on its hands and it manifests itself in ways that are both small (you’ll almost never see a procedural TV show where they’re investigating the death of an African American) and big (the number of black people killed by the police in 2014 alone is greater than the number of black people killed during the 9/11 attacks).
And rather than deal with it head on, we try and ignore that it ever happened, that there is endemic, systemic racism baked in to our economic and judicial systems. There was always a time bomb just waiting to rain fire on the streets, it was just a matter of when the clock would run out.
If you ever visit Berlin, you are constantly reminded about the Holocaust. They know what they did and they own up to it. What’s more, the world will never let them forget it and nor should they. America, on the other hand, would rather you not realize that you could talk to someone today who has, in their lifetime, met a person who was bought and sold as property.
This week, it was Baltimore’s turn to explode, the fuse to this racial-tension powder keg being set off by the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of his arresting officers. And, again, American cops were squaring off against the (mostly) black people they are (allegedly) sworn to serve and protect.
There were even reports that the gangs who run in and around Baltimore were putting aside their differences and working together; my friend John Rogers hipped me to this tweet:
…and my blood curdled. Because this, precisely this, is what we put in a comic book six years ago.
If this is what it’s like being able to predict the future, it’s a gift I don’t want. This, all of this, is a thing I don’t want to be right about.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com. His friends occasionally call him Nostradumbass.