Wrong time, wrong place

Originally Appeared in : 9809-4/26/18

He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This statement is often used to describe a victim of a freak accident or a random act of violence. The customer who happens to be at the bank when it is robbed. The jogger who happens to be hit by the car that jumped the curb. The woman at the gas pump who is suddenly carjacked.


This statement troubles me because it is inaccurate, to say the least. Those who are going about their everyday lives who fall victim to tragedy are not in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” They are in the right place and the right time. The perpetrators or the random acts of violence are in the wrong place at the wrong time. This euphemism actually, unwittingly, blames the victims for their fates.


In an ironic, tragic twist, however, a group of people in the United States are finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, through no fault of their own. And, too often, these victims are blamed. However, the blame falls on them not unwittingly but in order to protect a well-entrenched system of discrimination and racism.


Where is the wrong place and when is the wrong time for people of color? A Starbucks when waiting for a friend. A home owner’s door when stopping to ask directions to school.


Grandmother’s backyard at night. These are just three recent incidents in which black men or boys were victims because of the color of their skin. In the first case, two Starbucks customers were arrested because one asked to use the bathroom as they waited for a third to arrive. In the second case, a high school student, lost on his way to school, was shot at by a homeowner. And Stephon Clark, unarmed, was shot by police 20 times. Eight of those bullets killed him in his grandmother’s backyard. The police claim they mistook the cell phone in his hand for a weapon.


These examples are recent ones. We can name others from the past. Trayvon Martin. Philando Castile. Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. And the list goes on.


For Americans of color, going about their everyday lives puts them at risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The experience must be surreal. Living it daily must create an anxiety, a level of threat, beyond my imagination.


To make matters worse, a large number of white people discount or dismiss these experiences. Their default position is to try to find fault with the victims. We’ve seen that played out over and over on the Internet and in the media. In times past, when I have written about racism, I receive responses that cast doubt on the actions of the victims, not the actions of the perpetrators. (This was particularly prevalent when I wrote about the Trayvon Martin murder.)


Or people say, “What about black on black crime?” as if that is some reason to ignore racism. Or people say, “What about reverse racism?” as if it exists. Racism is a system in which the majority oppress the minority through the use of power. While individuals may be prejudiced against a group based on personal biases, systemic racism is intrinsic to society. It is not the result of individual prejudices. So, yes, a black person may be harsh to you because you’re white, but because the system does not oppress white people, you are not the victim of racism.


When those who choose to protest against the injustice are in the public eye, they, too, are, in the eyes of many, in the wrong place at the wrong time. NFL players who kneel during the anthem. Black Lives Matter rallies and protests. Charlottesville counter-protesters. Wrong place, wrong time, and wrong “way” according to many.


These same admonishments were directed to Martin Luther King, Jr., when he led the Civil Rights protests. Ironically and sadly, Dr. King’s legacy has been watered down to make him less controversial. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or he would not have been shot dead.


In our current climate, the sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time extends to immigrants and other minorities, in addition to blacks. Imagine the disorientation of place experienced by Dreamers (DACA recipients) who were granted opportunities in 2012 and whose status is now threatened. Imagine the challenge of wearing a hijab or a turban in an environment where hatred of their religions is stoked. Imagine being a transgender person in the military. Wrong place. Wrong time.


Imagine having to muster courage to simply walk out the door of your home. Imagine if a routine traffic stop could lead to your incarceration, deportation, or death. Imagine if your work place was vulnerable to a raid that could lead to your being separated from your family. Imagine if, when you tried to protest injustice, you risked arrest, violence, or deportation.


Imagine if you were held in a prison or deportation center with no access to bond, either because you are too poor or bond is denied. In a surreal, Kafka-esque experience, you are caught in a web of oppression.


There will be those who cannot imagine this experience, and, as result, they will deny it as real. They will fall back on the standard response: People who obey the law have nothing to fear. But evidence points otherwise.


Christians have only to look at a victim of systemic oppression familiar to us all. Jesus was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had he remained in Nazareth working with wood, he would not have been nailed to it. Had he not aligned himself with the oppressed and weak, he would not have caught the attention of the powerful. Had he only chosen a more appropriate way of protest rather then toppling the tables in the temple, he might have got his point across in a less conspicuous, less offensive way.


Just like the people of today who are being mistreated and oppressed, Jesus was in the right place, in the right time. Those who were not were the people who had the authority and the power to crucify him.


Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at

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