Thought For The Day:
“We are not anti-police… we’re anti-police brutality.” Al Sharpton
Question For The Day:
What does police brutality mean to you?
Even as I begin this post, I am nervous about how it will be received. In light of the multiple news reports about the police and unarmed African American men, I find myself frequently overwhelmed by the complex emotions that accompany this issue for me. I have wanted to write on the topic since the Trayvon Martin shooting, but it seems that as soon as my thoughts come together about one incident, another soon follows. Just about every few months, the nation is again reeling, trying to make sense of how the same problem could repeat itself over and over before anything was done about the last unnecessary death. I am saddened and angered when I consider that in 2015, we are still trying to convince the masses that Black lives matter. How can there be an African American in the White House, which on one hand shows so much progress; and on the other hand, have Black men still being lynched in Mississippi? When I think about Trayvon Martin dying with nothing on him but candy, or Jordan Davis dying because someone didn’t like his loud music, I’m beyond disturbed. I was frustrated when an unarmed Michael Brown, who at just 18, was deemed an aggressive thug capable of overpowering an armed police officer with his bare hands. Though farfetched to me, the officer’s version of that encounter was unquestionably plausible to a grand jury. Eric Garner’s children are fatherless because he made the mistake of selling what is known in the hood as “loosies”, cigarettes sold separately. I’m not saying that selling illegal cigarettes is right, but a fatal chokehold was clearly not in order. Now we have Walter Scott, who I’m sure was guilty of something, as was Eric Garner, and reportedly Michael Brown, but nowhere close to guilty of anything punishable by death. Yet for me, the most heartbreaking death of all was the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old who was playing with a toy gun in the park. Although it’s not illegal for a child to play in the park, or with a toy that is sold in toy stores everywhere, someone didn’t even attempt to see a child doing what children do. They saw a Black male with a gun, which was enough justification to end his life in two seconds flat, no questions asked. When I try to digest these stories, it becomes very difficult to just be okay with it all. I’m not sure I can properly narrow down my thoughts. Yet, I will attempt to put lyrics to this heart song out of love for my husband, two sons, and my community.
I am married to a big, black man with broad shoulders, big arms, and a serious disposition most days. One of his looks can easily be mistaken for menacing though he is actually quite tender-hearted and a doting father to our children. However, as he goes about his days managing two jobs, three children, and marraige to me (which isn’t always easy) he isn’t always smiling and upbeat, which I fear could put him at risk if someone mistakes his focus for fury. I have noticed myself worrying more when he leaves the house. I insist that he text me when he reaches his destination and I’m always concerned when he’s driving alone at night on these dark highways. As a recent transplant to the South, I’m not blind to the fact that intolerance is much more tangible here. A racist police officer or narrow-minded bigot with an axe to grind won’t care that he faithfully works two jobs, has never had a run-in with the law, is a veteran, and has three kids that hang on his every move. Will they just see Black and if so, what will that mean to them?
I am also the mother of two handsome, peaceful, and gifted boys ages 15 and 10. Neither of them have ever given me any real trouble to speak of. Not one disciplinary measure in all their years of school, not one bad report card. They are both brilliant, talented, deeply spiritual, and quite introspective. They might look cool, but neither of them have ever caused harm to anyone. Yet despite their good natures, I’m afraid that one day they will encounter the wrong police officer or a vigilante zealot like George Zimmerman who will not know everything that I know about them. They won’t know how good my 15 year old is at playing the trombone or how he studies scripture more than I do. They won’t bother to inquire about what makes my ten year old son so passionate about the viola or how much he loves astronomy and animals. The wrong person might look at their brown skin and see nothing but a young Black male, another menace to society. What if someone takes their pent-up Obama rage out on my two boys because they might decide to wear a hoodie or be playing with the wrong kind of toy in public. Will people care enough about the Black men in my life to get to know them and understand that they are innocent, beautiful people worthy of their existence, or will their humanity be disregarded, trumped by the melanin in their skin? Can terms like innocent until proven guilty, entitlement to due process, and equal rights under the law really apply to Black men? With every story that comes out involving the death of another unarmed Black man, I am starting to doubt it.
Now, I understand that people who stand in defense of the police officers involved in these incidents will almost always note that Michael Brown had been accused of robbing a store, and that Eric Garner was selling illegal cigarettes. Walter Scott was running away from the police when he was shot, so of course this seems to justify the amount of force used. Really? The last time I checked, there were very few crimes that were justifiably punishable by death. Capital offenses generally include espionage, treason, aircraft hijacking, murder, and genocide amongst a few others. Selling “loosies,” shop lifting cigars, stealing a car, wearing a hoodie, or playing with a toy gun do not qualify. Police officers are trained to use the minimum amount of force when trying to contain someone. Yet it seems when it’s a Black man in question, minimum force turns into an immediate kill or be killed response, and the only tactic being used is whatever will put them down as quickly as possible. Is it always assumed that a Black man is rabid and vicious enough to tear another man apart with or without a weapon? If you as an police officer are equipped with a gun, billy club, mace, a taser gun, and can call for back-up at any moment, what can one man with no weapon honestly do to hurt you? Why then are the deaths of so many unarmed men being justified so easily? In response to the Eric Garner case, one business owner posted on his establishment’s billboard, “I can breath because I don’t break the law.” The saying caught on and a T-shirt soon followed saying, “Breathe easy, don’t break the law.” So, does this mean that anyone having the audacity to sell loose cigarettes is asking to have the life choked out of them? If you steal cigars or smoke weed, is death fair punishment? If so, then someone may need to do something about all of the mass murderers still alive on death row because their time clock should have been punched a long time ago. Frankly, I don’t care what crime was committed. If it’s not a capital offense, take their freedom not their life. Everyone is entitled to due process and should be allowed to live long enough to change their ways. Everyone except the Black male, I suppose.
I am well aware that many police officers are good people. Most probably enter the field for reasons similar to why I became a social worker. Ultimately, police officers serve the community in a way that most people are not willing to. They put their lives on the line everyday to protect us all, and I will never argue that fact. However, it is the few that enter the field who see it as an opportunity to exercise their own type of vigilante justice that scare me and make me afraid for the men in my life. I was talking to a fellow professional who happens to be White not too long ago. She was telling a story that I feel relates to the bigger issue here. Apparently, she had been out late one night and someone had called her husband to ask “Do you know where your wife is?” Of course, her husband got nervous as any husband would. But then she added to the story by saying “and he sounded like a Black guy too,” which I assumed meant that her husband’s worry soon turned to panic. Surely the fact that it was a “Black guy” calling about his wife meant that the threat was heightened. We have now gone from a yellow flag or medium hazard situation, to a double red flag, avoid at all costs situation. Now the woman who told this story is a sweet person. I am sure she is not a racist and meant no harm by it. But it was a good example of the underlying, subconscious association many people make between Black men and danger. It’s the reason people cross the street when a group of young Black males is approaching. It’s why store clerks follow Black males around department stores and why women clutch their purses a bit tighter when Black males are in the vicinity. It is deeply ingrained in American society and is what lies at the heart of most racial injustices that have plagued this country from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the hate crimes perpetrated by the Klu Klux Klan. All of these atrocities were and are justifiable to many people even today because at bottom, Black people, especially men, are perceived as scary, hazardous, villainous, dangerous, threatening, menacing, violent, and morally corrupt. Believing this is the only reason people could ever justify kidnapping people and forcing them into slavery, mass lynching , withholding basic rights, and throwing innocent people in jail for conjured up offenses all while calling themselves Christians. It is more pleasant to assume that these false beliefs are all a thing of the past, but Black people know otherwise. We have much more frequent reminders that these fears and misconceptions about who we are still live. We know that as long as Black people are believed to be legitimate threats then reaching for a wallet, wearing a hoodie, and committing minor crimes are all good enough reasons to take a life. If you don’t put the Black man down while you can, he’ll get you sooner or later.
If you want to understand why we protest and march in the streets for “low lives” like Michael Brown and Eric Garder, then I’ll suggest that the answer likely lies somewhere in your subconscious beliefs about the Black man. It’s the unspoken fear that is robbing many of these men of the right to be flawed human beings who make mistakes but can live to change, make amends, and grow. It’s this fear that has parents of Black children feeling the need to coach our sons on how to walk, talk, and dress in a manner that will maximize their chances of survival. It’s this fear that has the wives of Black men living with the anxiety of knowing our men could easily “fit the description” and be stolen from our lives with one unfortunate encounter. Ultimately, the inability to breathe easy in a society that has proven to be an unsafe and unpredictable place for minority men is why we must continue to take a stand. The fact that there are police officers whose job it is to protect and serve, who are making this sense of safety and security difficult to achieve, is the worst chapter of this tragedy. Robbing a community of its trust in authority and confidence in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is spiritual brutality and it must change. Black and blue has always represented pain, hurt, and injury. When it comes to Black men and the ‘Boys in Blue,’ the beating has to stop, so that healing can finally begin. #blacklivesmatter #TamirRice #icantbreathe #handsupdontshoot #TrayvonMartin #Ferguson #getliftedgirl
Jumpiness might be the largest single reason why policemen so readily open fire on Black male civilians, as they are presumed criminals until and if proven solid citizens, whereas the general presumption for White civilians works in exactly the opposite manner. The image of the Black man as being capable of bestial physical strength when enraged also remains strong, which is why Officer Darren Wilson claiming that Michael Brown insanely charged him even after being shot and wounded was plausible and compelling to many White people.
But otherwise people in Mississippi are well-attuned, for better or worse, to outsiders. When I was on one of my history-themed vacations four years ago, a clerk at a Subway Sandwiches shop in Jackson stated that she knew I “wasn’t from around these parts,” because of my standard California accent. I’ll be visiting Mississippi again in July, but won’t be coming around your neck of the woods along the Gulf coast, as I won’t be going “below” the central part of the state.
I totally agree. The uncontrollable, enraged Black man who is capable of all types of mayhem is a myth that we need to continue to challenge. I know no eighteen year old who is brazen enough to attack an armed police officer. The fact that this plausible frustrates and angers me. I appreciate your understanding on the issue. You should visit the Gulf Coast one of these summers. I think it’s the most progressive part of the state from what I’ve seen.
If the gulf coast is a bit more progressive than the rest of the highly conservative state, that may stem from urbanization, which reminded me of Andrew Young’s statement in 1980 that he didn’t mind the idea of Ronald Reagan speaking on the topic of states’ rights in Biloxi, Gulfport, or Pascagoula, but was alarmed by his actually making this speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi (I will see the town of Philadelphia again and for the 2nd time next month, what with its’ being in the central part of the state).
Interesting info. I was not comfortable in other parts of the state. Here, we have a lot of transplants with their being a major Air Force base and Navy fleet here. We’re also close to New Orleans and this is a casino town, which I don’t love, but tends to draw all kinds.
Let’s all of us be mindful of the idea of self respect…..God created us to be free…we must understand and protect that virtue by all cause….this is a great piece