Unsolved Mysteries - No Ride Home | Unwarranted Race-Baiting and Southern Stereotyping

Unsolved Mysteries, Alonzo Brooks, and a tragedy hijacked by baseless racism-paranoia

Sigh. If you've ever read or heard anything I've had to say in regards to how racism-paranoia is robbing humanity of all rationality, you can undoubtedly guess several of my opinions on this particular episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

Cue: Broken Record.

 The episode in question is entitled No Ride Home and it follows the disappearance of a young black man named Alonzo Brooks. In La Cygne, Kansas, in 2004, Brooks went missing either after or during a massive party full of 16-22ish year-olds. Supposedly, at some point during this shindig, Alonzo had a brief altercation with someone(s) who may or may not have used some racial epithets. There are no specifics about this, however, just rumor (yet, again, I've had to edit the Wikipedia article that was claiming this as fact). Things deescalated — if they ever even occurred at all — and no fight ended up happening. It was supposedly just an exchange of words.

But then, the next day, Alonzo was nowhere to be found. What happened?

A search took place. Alonzo's hat and shoes ended up being found off the side of the highway, spread apart from each other. But still, no sign of Alonzo. Due to the rumors about racial slurs being slung around, the FBI briefly got involved. There were several more police searches done around the surrounding property that, also, all came up short. Then, about a month later, Alonzo's family and friends conducted a search of their own. They ended up finding his lifeless corpse in a creek, within just about an hour of initiating their search.

The biggest questions here seem to be:

  1. How did his shoes and hat get so separated from his body?
  2. Why didn't the police searches uncover the body, whereas the family and friends found him so quickly?

Cue everyone being absolutely positive that this was without question a hate crime that ended in murder.

Comments from the TV Time app

My patience with stuff is wavering

Now, don't get me wrong. Could Alonzo Brooks's death have possibly been a result of murder? Sure, of course.

And if it was, could that murder have possibly been race-related? Again, sure. Hate crimes sometimes happen.

But why, for the love of Thor, do we always instantly (with such inexplicable confidence) jump to these conclusions when there's insufficient evidence to do so?

Especially in a case such as this where the following types of information are available to us:
  • The medical examiner said that there was no sign of violence on the body.
  • No sign of gunshots, stab wounds, or sharp force injury.
  • There was no sign of any of this on his clothes, either.
  • He had no broken bones.
  • He didn't appear to be beaten up.
  • The medical examiner said that the condition of his body was consistent with one that's been in a creek for 30 days.
  • Alonzo still had his jewelry on him and a wallet full of money (and, contrary to what his mother tells us, these items can dry and remain intact, especially considering they were confined in a wallet at the time).
  • No one saw a hate crime being committed.
  • No one, that we know of, actually saw any violence committed.
  • The series itself gives us perfectly feasible explanations as to why the body may not have been instantly found (video included below).
  • And every rumor about an altercation at the party, racial slurs being slung about, Alonzo getting in trouble for flirting with a white girl, Alonzo getting into a fistfight (which neither his body nor clothes showed evidence of), et cetera, are all completely vague and unverified (i.e., they're, thus far, only rumors and hearsay). Which, frankly, is a bit surprising, considering the number of people said to be at this get-together.
While it's perfectly fine to leave open the possibility of murder, how isn't it equally possible (and arguably more likely) that the Alonzo, who was said to be very intoxicated, simply wandered off in the middle of the night, tossed off his hat and shoes, and ended up getting in the creek where he accidentally drowned? 

Other than personal incredulity, there's thus far no evidence that contradicts this from being the case. And, more importantly, there's no evidence suggesting there was a murder. Or that there was any foul play whatsoever, for that matter. 

So where does people's confidence come from? This surety that not only was this a homicide, but it was a racially motivated homicide?

As for the family, I can understand how they may jump to these conclusions (as I've spoken about in a previous Unsolved Mysteries rant post). They aren't neutral observers. They're grieving. They're emotional. They want more concrete answers and understandably don't want to accept that such a tragedy could have been the result of such a pointless and avoidable accident.

But what's our excuse for thinking like this?

My best guess is emotional reasoning induced from a compelling narrative; our pre-established assumptions and paranoia in regards to racism; and from our judgment being clouded by the sympathy we feel after hearing (and too quickly accepting) the opinions of the aforementioned grieving friends and family (although, this latter would, as well, fall under that blanket of "emotional reasoning").

Ironically, much of this also appears to boil down to pre-established prejudice against white people in the south. And the stereotype that they're largely comprised of racist "hillbillies". Thus, expectations are already primed and ready to assume the worst of them.

Being from a small, southern, bible-belt town, myself, it's a prejudice that I'm more than familiar with. TV and film have been pushing the stereotype for so long, in fact, that I intentionally began working to change my accent when I was just in middle school. Being a little cable-boy, TV had made me self-conscious about the way I spoke due to the constant jokes about how people from my area (and areas like mine) were illiterate, backward-thinking, bible-thumping, inbred yokels. And, yes, racists. This was often accompanied by a sadly accurate imitation of the accent used by me and my family.

Add "is racist", "is Christian", "is inbred", and "is Conservative" onto this, and we have the full scope of the actual bigotry at play here

The hypocrisy is quite noticeable when you take a moment to think about it.

We've become so accustomed to only associating harmful stereotypes to African Americans, women, and homosexuals that we've seemed to have forgotten that it's the actual act of stereotyping, in general, that's dangerous. Regardless of who that stereotype is about. Incidentally, you also see this type of stereotyping occurring with police lately. Look on any vandalized wall where a BLM riot/protest has occurred and it should only take a matter of minutes before you see the acronym ACAB (which stands for All Cops Are Bastards).

Peaceful Protesters

Don't get me wrong, of course. I'm all for the occasional joke or playing on a stereotype in the name of "it's all in good fun" humor. But, nevertheless, we should remain vigilant in our awareness that these types of stereotypes have the potential to be harmful if they're taken seriously or become so widespread as to be accepted as facts by the masses. That, after all, was part of the problem with bigotry against blacks, Asians, Jews, homosexuals, and women. This notion that white people from small country towns are somehow inherently racist is no different (whether or not the stereotype originated in a historical reality). 

While I can't speak for all towns, I do find it to be a highly dubious allegation overall. And I'm, personally, aware of how these types of untrue allegations can run rampant when it comes to small rural areas. So much so that even the residents, themselves, begin arguing amonst one another about whether their area is racist or not. 

While looking up comments about this Alonzo Brooks case from the actual people from the town of La Cygne, where Alonzo's death took place, you can see that it appears to be no different there.

This commenter from the town obviously seems to agree that Alonzo was murdered but, as you can see, they appear to disagree with the notion that the area is as racists as others claim. (As an irrelevant side note, by the way, this type of poor spelling and grammar, I believe, may be a result of those accents I was speaking about earlier. I've always noticed a similar issue with the residents of my town, when it comes to writing.)

But stereotypes are strong and difficult to shake. Especially when everyone continues to reinforce the idea as being true. Which, sadly, I feel this episode of Unsolved Mysteries contributes to and exemplifies.

But what about the actual black people in the town who say that racism is still a problem in the area? I hear you asking.

Perhaps it is, I don't know. But, to my mind, if anyone was going to have a potentially biased perspective, it would be the people who are being repeatedly told they're in danger of racists. As we should continuously remind ourselves, there are always other potential factors at play. And, in this circumstance, I feel that racism paranoia could be a reasonably likely alternative explanation for their claims.

There's one part of this episode, for example, where the victim's brother is driving around a white area and says that he can "feel" everyone looking at him because he's black. And he assures us that he knows this is true because, well… he just knows it.

Astonishingly, this is the type of evidence that people find to be convincing.

And while we can't say for certain that his suspicions aren't warranted, we equally can't say that they are. If we repeatedly tell people monsters are out to get them, then it shouldn't come as a surprise when they're especially paranoid about monsters being out to get them.

Incidentally, I recently began watching the Roanoke season of American Horror Story, and on the very first episode I saw a pretty good example of this type of paranoia. It's even accompanied by some classic hillbilly stereotyping.

(By the way, as for this Confederate flag stuff; while I don't care if people get rid of them or not, I should note that most of these southerners don't appear to associate those things with racism; or even the Civil War, in general. Many simply like the aesthetic of them and associate them with being "rebellious" and "country". Again, I'm not saying this in support of the flag but, rather, in defense of the allegations made against the individuals who do support this flag.)

As another example: Do you remember that classic episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street? It's one of my favorites of the series. And it's a perfect embodiment of how this paranoia works.

The Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

The episode was about the paranoia surrounding a neighborhood-wide blackout. In the course of the episode, somebody suggests an alien invasion being the cause of the blackouts, and that one of the neighbors may be an alien. Before we know it, everyone is being accused as being an alien. People are repeatedly being stuck with the burden of proving they aren't an alien. Every bad thing that happens in the town is being attributed to aliens. People are terrified of aliens. It's complete anti-alien hysteria. Meanwhile, of course, none of those residents actually see an actual alien.

Obviously, this 1960 episode was meant as an allegory against McCarthyism and communist paranoia. But, today, I find it works just as well as an allegory about people's paranoia over racism. We always hear about the white supremacist around the corner or behind the badge, and we often blame racism for the wrongs and inequities that occur. And while these evildoers may sometimes be at fault, in actuality, we're usually hearing more about them than we are actually seeing them.

It's neither safe nor responsible to keep reinforcing this idea onto people. They grow to believe it and fear it. Black people stop trusting white people and start feeling uncomfortable in their lives because of it. White people start feeling hunted and as if they're always in need to defend and prove themselves. 

There's nothing healthy about any of this. It's the embodiment of a toxic way of thinking. And this episode of Unsolved Mysteries becomes part of the problem when they release episodes such as this, adding fuel to the flames of this already raging inferno of paranoia.