Disclaimer 1: Refer to this disclaimer any time during this post you feel like saying, "Not all cops are bad!" "Cops are brave and are our communities' heroes!" "All lives matter!" "Blue lives matter!" and etc. A police force is a necessary part of a community. It is a dangerous job, one that can require a certain amount of selflessness and bravery. In general, I respect cops and what they do in the community. That said, I am not blind to the systematic destruction the police force wreaks on the black community nation-wide. Choosing to become a cop doesn't automatically exempt one from racism, arrogance, or brutality. Neither does it automatically make one honest, compassionate, or always in the right.
Disclaimer 2: In all honesty it makes me uncomfortable to try to write about issues specific to a certain community, in this case the black community. As a person who is ambiguously brown and has been on the receiving end of racism on several occasions, I have never fit into the white community. However, I also am not black and would never claim to know what it's like to be black in America, or understand the nuances of systematic racism so prevalent in our culture. In writing this, I am attempting to avoid invading the space of black community advocates, voices, leaders, but am instead trying to supplement and add some things that have been on my mind this week. I hope my efforts to be an ally come through, and that I do not overstep into speaking for black community, which is something I am in no way qualified to do.
The past week my mind has been heavy with National Police Week. I was unaware of this memorial week until this year when my town decided to honor it with much vigor. As said in Disclaimer 1 above, I understand the need for and respect the sacrifice of police. However, driving through my town this week has been a frustrating reminder of how my area is one that shouts "All lives matter!" every time a police officer murders a black person.
Yards are decorated with signs that say, "Heroes wear a badge," "We support the blue," "Not all heroes wear capes," as well as signs attached to telephone poles declaring community support for the local police force. What startles me about this recognition of National Police Week in my town isn't that there shouldn't be a memorial and recognition of officers. Rather, it is that after living in this town for 24 years, this is the first time National Police Week has been recognized with such glorifying intent.
As much as I respect the general existence of police forces, I am taken aback when people seem to elevate police officers to a status that borders on god-like. The love and adoration of police is one of the perspectives that feeds the epidemic of police getting away with murder--they can't be guilty because their Sainted position in the community prevents that from being possible. Police forces are made up of regular citizens who are capable of the kinds of ills any other citizens can commit. Wearing a badge and uniform doesn't exempt one from culpability.
The other thing that startles me about this celebration of the police force is the knowledge that the average citizen in my community receives a public education devoid of any black history beyond Martin Luther King, Jr. Indeed, if the education system in my community were to be examined, one would be under the impression that the Civil Rights Movement began and ended with MLK. This is a community where a house on Main Street flies a Confederate flag right beneath the American flag. This is a community that--generally speaking--responds to Black Lives Matter with "all lives matter" but does little to prove they actually believe in the worth of all lives. This is a community that perceives the Black Panthers as a terrorist group and thought Beyonce's Super Bowl performance of "Formation" was anti-cop as well as racist.
So you can see why the exuberance for cops can be startling when it suddenly and very visibly escalates.
I almost didn't write this post--primarily because of what I said in Disclaimer 2. I don't want to step on the toes of the black community or try to speak for them. But, when a topic sits in my head for a while--in this case for a week--and refuses to go away, and begs to be made public in lieu of being written written in notebooks and journals, I assume I need to write it and someone out there needs to read it. Additionally, I spent two hours today watching a PBS documentary on the Black Panther Party and I realized I just need to write.
The PBS Black Panther documentary; 13th on Netflix; OJ: Made in America; the current social and political climate; the continuing loss of black lives at the hands of police officers all fill me with a desire for more knowledge and understanding of what it means to be black in America, and how that relates to the police force.
Ava DuVernay's 13th makes clear how the for-profit prison system is a modern rendition of slavery and Jim Crow. The OJ Simpson doc reveals the interplay between the infamous murder trial and the relationship between the black community in Los Angeles and the LAPD. The PBS documentary describes how the FBI infiltrated the Black Panther Party and sought to "neutralize" its progress and existence; how the police force of Chicago invaded the home of Fred Hampton, killing him in cold blood; how the BPP created survival programs, which included providing free breakfast to black children whose families were unable to afford enough food; how the FBI and the re-election of Richard Nixon with his platform of law and order seemed to give local police forces permission to attack Black Panthers with impunity.
You can't digest the information given in these documentary films without beginning to understand why the relationship between police and the black community is volatile--it is the most recent manifestation of a long-standing disregard for black lives and black perspectives and black needs, not only from police but from the United States at large.
Additionally, I recently watched an episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in which his guest was Kamau Bell, a black man comedian who published a book called The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell. During the chat between him and Trevor Noah, Bell described feeling relief that his children were daughters instead of sons (he, of course, pointed out that he recognized the distinct struggles black women have) because he wouldn't have to decide at what age he had to tell his sons to be careful. He recalled his mom telling him when he was 11 years old, "When you go outside you're a grown-up now." He remarked that being a black man in America automatically made you a threat and you are treated as such.
This isn't the first time I've heard black men talk about this conversation--the one where parents of black sons have to tell them to be careful and to behave beyond their years because if they don't their lives are at risk.
Last month police in Dallas shot 15-year-old Jordan Edwards while he sat in the passenger seat of a car. Last week Betty Shelby was acquitted of manslaughter for shooting unarmed Terence Crutcher--a black man. Time and again, police officers kill black citizens. Most of the time, not only are they not charged with anything, they maintain their jobs on the force.
I don't know what it's like to be black. I don't know what it's like to be a police officer. But I do know that the modern-day police brutality we see almost daily is only the latest manifestation of racism and violence in our country. We have the power to stop it. But will we?