Do They or Don’t They?: On Black Lives, Fruitless Sacrifices, and What It Really Means to Be a Warrior

No.

No. No. No. No. No.

I will not.

That is all I could think when I finished reading the article on Feministing.com about Korryn Gaines.

No.

In the article, Jacqui German writes:

She loved her son enough to teach him not to be afraid, to know the truth of American anti-Black violence and stand decisively against it. She loved her children enough to model resistance as she believed and understood it.

And my mind screams “No!” in response.

Adamantly.

I don’t think that’s what she taught her son at all.

While I agree with Germain that Korryn should not be demonized for how she interacted with the police previous to her killing, or staging the standoff with police, or refusing to surrender to them, I don’t agree that she taught her son anything other than his mother was more willing to die than to do what she needed in order to remain here, in this life, with him.

We’re talking about a pre-schooler here–not a high school or college student capable of intellectualizing and contextualizing her actions as political.

Mother-child attachment lays the foundation for all other relationships a person forms throughout the rest of his or her life. It shapes the way in which people generally view relationships–as either winning or losing situations for them.

In the mother-child relationship, the mother can either function as primary caregiver and secure base from which the child can explore and to which the child can return for safety and comfort, or she can not.

When she does not, she gives the child a shaky or nonexistent psychological base for entering the world and other relationships.

You can’t tell your three-, four-, five-year-old “You let them know that they stole your mother” and make him or her unafraid.

By intimating that you can be taken from them, you do the opposite of making them unafraid; you terrify them.

Brutal truth about racism and armed resistance may be strategies that “black mothers throughout history in this country and across the globe” have utilized in their attempt to protect their children from racial violence and oppression, but, as we can see from not just Korryn Gaines’s narrative, but the current racial climate in the US, it doesn’t work.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work.

Respectability strategies–compliance, assimilation, aspiration, integration–don’t always work, either, in keeping us safe, but it is much more likely that Korryn would be alive today if she’d paid her traffic tickets, showed up to her court dates, and/or opted not to greet the police at her apartment door with a pistol grip shotgun.

I don’t say this to justify her killing. I say this to make a larger point.

The cops shouldn’t have killed her because she had documented developmental disabilities and brain damage that likely affected her perceptions and interactions, decision-making and planning.

White police have a traceable history of working through armed confrontations by white assailants–with or without mental issues–without killing them, and they should’ve done the same thing with Korryn.

I maintain that racism and sexism are what impelled them not to.

The fact that they were wrong doesn’t make Korryn “right,” however.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order to deserve not to be killed.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order for her death to be a source of outrage or cause for protest.

We don’t have to mythologize her in order to honor her.

We should honor her. She is another black person taken from us by senseless, racist violence. Her death is a tragedy.

But we shouldn’t mythologize her.

She isn’t a warrior.

She isn’t an example we should follow.

I’m sorry.

Korryn’s resistance is a slave’s resistance.

I say that because institutionalized racism was in its adolescence during slavery. It didn’t quite know what it was yet.

So the slaves couldn’t necessarily or intelligently extrapolate white people’s reactions to mass resistance efforts.

This is true, too, because slaves were kept isolated from each other, from plantation to plantation, city to city, and state to state. There was no Internet on which they could read daily news reports from all over the burgeoning US.

Masters and overseers were extremely careful about letting news of other slaves and their doings get back to their slaves, lest they be encouraged to run off or riot. Slaves often had no way of knowing what other blacks were experiencing because they weren’t largely literate, and they weren’t given access to papers or allowed to carry on correspondence.

(This is one of the reasons in slave narratives that so many of the writers were so disappointed by the so-called freedom they acquired in the North.)

Because slaves often lacked knowledge of how the lands around their farms or plantations were situated or populated, they lacked a sense of the distances between southern and northern populations, and they were overly reliant on things like the element of surprise and psychological shock factor; they were able to believe that a couple dozen or hundred slaves could effectively free a whole county.

Since mass resistance efforts were few and far between, considering how long slavery lasted, and the political background for the institution changed often, it was probably a lot easier than we think for slaves to assume that they’d chosen an opportune time to rise up.

Just about every mass slave rebellion or uprising in American history ended with blacks being executed or slaughtered by the dozens in retaliation, though.

Slave rebellion ended slavery in Haiti, but not here in America. The Civil War did that. A conflict that affected the economic structure of the white ruling class.

That said, I think slaves like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey and their conspirators and followers were willing to risk their lives in abortive rebellions because they were slaves.

Slavery was, to them, conceptually, worse than death, so they risked almost certain death for freedom.

We are not slaves. We are not as free as we should be or deserve to be–as we have a right to be–but we are not slaves.

I’m not diminishing the worth of their lives. Their lives were precious because they were human beings. They are precious to us because they borne our lives. I’m not measuring theirs against ours.

But I am saying that if and when we choose to live rather than die like Korryn, we’re making a much different choice than those slaves that remained in bondage, refusing to escape or rebel.

And I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t fight for that freedom to which we are entitled.

I am saying, though, that American is in the full-grown adulthood of institutionalized racism.

The police have gelled as the paramilitary arm of the capitalist government that keeps the POC and poor from essentially fucking up the infrastructure and money. Nothing more.

If each of us chooses to hole up in our houses with our unpaid tickets and unanswered court summonses, and our shotguns, they will choose to kick in each of our doors and shoot each of us and any of our children that get in the way.

It’s simply not a problem for them or their bosses. That’s what they’re all paid to do. Keep us under control.

So we can’t consider this sort of resistance as viable.

It won’t work.

And, honestly, at this point in our evolution as a people, we should value ourselves more than to put our lives on the line for little or nothing.

I just told my fiancé the other day: “I don’t want a white person to kill me. I don’t want them to have that. I want to die as much on my own terms as I possibly can.”

That’s freedom.

This is my life. I want every gasping, black-ass breath of it. I don’t want white people taking it, especially for something as trivial as unpaid tickets and court fees.

Korryn Gaines is gone. Her son is shot. Both her son and her daughter must grow up without their mother. They are five and one in the inimical grip of the American welfare system.

Has Baltimore changed the way it serves warrants because of that? Has Baltimore changed the way its police deal with those with developmental disabilities? Has Baltimore hatched a plan to change the way it trains its cops? Has Baltimore changed its policies on deploying its SWAT officers?

No, no, no, and no.

So it isn’t cruel or inaccurate to say she died for nothing.

She was, as we like to say, everything. Black. Beautiful. Strong. Passionate.

But she died for nothing.

Claude McKay wrote this poem back in the days of the Harlem Renaissance:

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain . . .

I stop it there because even McKay had some remnants of martyrdom in his psyche, which is perfectly understandable for a man born in 1889.

But none of us was born in Reconstruction.

We are newer negroes than McKay and his cohort could’ve imagined.

Or are we?

We say black lives matter. But do they matter? If we trade them in for hashtags and Internet encomiums and nothing else?

Korryn Gaines antagonized the cops.

That’s not an accusation; that’s a fact.

She put a gun to the face of repressive authority and dared it to do something that she knew it could and would do.

For better or for worse.

It was her Second Amendment right to own the gun, but history, instinct, and common sense should’ve kept her from leveling it at those cops and risking her life and the life of her son.

Dying isn’t an accomplishment if it’s done in vain.

I don’t believe that acts of resistance like Korryn Gaines’s will ultimately yield us anything more than yet another wave of grief-stricken and morally outraged social media and Internet responses.

I don’t think that canonizing Korryn Gaines will galvanize us in a way that truly creates change.

And isn’t that the point of all of this?

Change?

If we’re supposedly fighting racism and oppression to end their hold on American culture and government, then why are we continuing to do it this way when it doesn’t work?

No. It. Doesn’t. Work.

To make symbolic points that have already been made?

To work up people’s emotions in order to do nothing appreciable with them ultimately?

To commit elaborate suicide in what we perceive as the face of inevitable loss?

What?

We like that word–“warrior.”

We use “warrior” to create a linguistic link to African history and culture.

But I think that we tend to blindly valorize African history and the continent’s various cultures in the same way we valorize violence and death.

When we call someone a warrior, we are signifying that his or her violent deeds are more important and purposeful, in our opinion, than someone else’s.

We want to be race warriors. We call those that we respect and wish to honor “warriors.”

But warriors don’t fight to become mere symbols of toughness. They don’t seek to become tragic drops in a historical ocean of blood.

I cannot and will not say what Korryn Gaines should’ve done when the police kicked down her door on Monday morning and trooped into her house with their guns and seemingly boundless authority.

But I will say that a warrior–if we’re going by the actual, historical definition–might’ve been more and better prepared than she was with just her shotgun and chest full of righteous rage.

Warriors aren’t fatalists or nihilists.

If we as black people seek to be warriors, we need to understand what it truly means to be warriors, so we know what we really need to do to fight the enemy, which is institutional whiteness (imperialism, racism, patriarchy, hegemony) and not necessarily white people.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

That means they concentrate on becoming experts in combat and warfare.

This requires study, instruction, and training.

This requires more than purchasing a gun and putting it in someone’s face.

This requires more than strapping on fiery rhetoric and outmoded ideology.

G’s lash out. They shoot everything they can before they get shot. They go out in a chaotic splash of meaningless violence and over-inflated subjectivity.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

Warriors exist in tribes or clans.

They move as a unit.

They use strategy, and they have each other’s backs.

One woman or man with one gun is not a tribe.

Tribes fight in formation.

(I couldn’t resist the reference. It’s the bad black feminist in me.)

Warriors fight to protect their people, lands, and culture. Not ideas or ideals or imagery or their own egos.

Warriors also have strict behavioral and ethical codes under which they live and fight.

I won’t claim to know anything about Korryn Gaines’s value system. I won’t defame her by saying she didn’t have a code of ethics or rules for how she behaved, but I do question the ethos of that code.

I remain deeply troubled by her seeming willingness to risk her son’s life in that standoff, and I wonder what exactly she wished to accomplish by having him there, in the way of such tremendous potential harm.

The Bushido Code, followed by Japanese samurai, is typified by eight virtues:

  • Righteousness
  • Courage
  • Benevolence
  • Respect
  • Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Self-Control

Other virtues that were highly regarded within samurai culture were wisdom, fraternal respect, and filial piety or deep respect for family.

In a book titled Honour in African History–for those that want or need a diasporic reference–author John Iliffe explains that aristocratic and pastoral African warriors adhered to codes that stressed manners, self-control, reserve, and courage, among other things.

Muslim warriors in Africa, according to Iliffe, displaced the hero and “egotistical pursuit of personal reputation” in order to serve the Prophet. Christian Ethiopian warriors emphasized hand-to-hand fighting. However these codes differed, though, region to region, people to people, or religion to religion, honor was their universal objective.

Iliffe writes about the concept of “household” honor in addition to personal honor, which relates to defending and protecting family and community through conciliation and negotiation.

Yes, according to historical records, African warriors did negotiate with their “enemies” and make peace when it was possible and peace did not subjugate their people or their needs.

And what will we as black warriors do?

That’s what I want to know.

In order for it to matter, we must do more than die with our guns gripped in our hands like flaccid dicks.

Freedom in the “hereafter,” again, is the victory of the slave.

We are only slaves if we remain bound to useless ideas about what will get us free.

“What else is left to try? What else can we teach ourselves and our children? What can we tell our kin to keep them safe?” Jacqui Germain asks.

I don’t know, but we know what doesn’t work. Nothing that our forebears did in the past has worked.

So we honor their efforts, of course, but we do something else. Something we’ve never done before.

And that ain’t dying.

I want to be clear.

I am not one of those complacent middle class black people that thinks we should just wait patiently for conditions in this country to change.

I don’t think we can “buy” change in exchange for respectable behavior.

I do think that there should be a revolution of American culture.

I think the federal government should mandate that every state and local government enact the six perennially suggested reforms to their police departments (community policing, de-escalation training and re-training, mock scenario and role-playing exercises, more racially diverse police departments, more open communication with media, more rigorous psychological screening of recruits) and cut off their grants if they refuse to comply.

I think there should be state-assembled tribunals to adjudicate on cases in which police officers are accused of using wrongful and/or excessive force or committing other crimes against the people.

I think these tribunals should be comprised of psychologists, criminologists, law enforcement experts and analysts, military experts and analysts, former and current police officers, local government officials, and community leaders.

I think that officers found guilty of murder or manslaughter should be barred from working in law enforcement and sentenced like civilians found guilty of these same crimes.

And I understand that the government will never “gift” the black community with reforms of this scale.

I understand that if we want them, we will have to fight for them.

We will have to war against this power structure that is so deeply invested in maintaining the capitalist, racist status quo.

War is not defined, though, as violent conflict.

It’s defined as “armed” conflict.

We have guns, but they have more guns. They have tanks. They have drones. They have bombs.

So what else do we have?

What else can we do besides rage?

Jacqui Germain gets that right in the end.

“The cycles of dashcam, body cam, and cell phone footage keep coming, relentlessly. The names of the deceased keep flooding in no matter what we do.”

So what so we do, other than hand our lives over?

What, new, can we do?

Armed resistance is seemingly futile.

Going out like G’s is still going out.

We can’t die our way to freedom. It’s clear.

We need our lives in order to enjoy it.

We need our children secure and sane, not scarred, if they are going to outlive our devastating history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mind Over Matter: On the Killing of Korryn Gaines

One of the most difficult things to teach students, as an instructor of composition, is how to avoid making sweeping generalizations in their writing.

Take abortion, for instance.

I’ve lost count of how many papers I’ve read with the thesis that “Women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions because having an abortion is taking the easy way out of being sexually irresponsible.”

This thesis ignores the facts that 1) many women get pregnant while using birth control methods that just happen to fail; 2) many women get pregnant as a result of rape or incest; 3) abortions can be physically damaging to women; 4) many women choose to get abortions because their pregnancies are threatening to kill them; 5) many women choose to get abortions because there is something drastically or even fatally wrong with the fetus; 6) abortions are costly and difficult to obtain under all of the new laws instituted by Republican leaders over the last few years; and 6) the shame and stigmatization that many women suffer after having an abortion can be emotionally and psychologically traumatizing.

Hence, abortion is not easy. It’s complicated. Like most things in life are complicated.

When students engage with issues dogmatically rather than critically, though, they often arrive at theses like this–theses that fail to engage with an issue in the whole of its complexity.

I think that many of us engaged in the struggle against police brutality–as admitted students of its history, sociology, psychology, and criminology–are doing the same sort of thing as we attempt to have a meaningful discourse about Korryn Gaines.

Yes, the killing of this poor young woman, and the shooting of her son, by Baltimore police, is yet another example of how law enforcement in America makes undue victims of black people.

However, this is not an instance in which the police killed an unarmed person for committing a minor infraction.

The conversation that we have about what happened to Korryn and how the police got it wrong shouldn’t be conducted in the same terms as the conversations that we’ve had about Mike Brown or Eric Garner or Sandra Bland.

If anything, it should be more along the lines of the conversations we’ve had about Tamir Rice, but, even then, there’s more to Korryn’s situation than his.

But I understand the desire to keep the paradigm simple.

If we admit that a black person killed by the police might have done any tiny thing to incite the violence used against him or her, then we risk losing the argument that cops are disproportionately and excessively violent towards blacks.

However, if we don’t talk about situations like these in exact and accurate terms, then we risk losing that argument anyway, because we are undermining our credibility.

If we do not stick to facts and logical principles in our discourse about racism in law enforcement and police brutality, we make it that much easier for politicians and pundits to discredit and ignore us.

And the facts are these–

The police had access to court records that indicated that Korryn Gaines had suffered acute lead poisoning, and she had developmental disabilities and brain damage as a result.

This meant that she could not process her dealings with the police or court officials at the sophisticated level necessary to make sounder or safer decisions about how to handle herself.

Developmental disabilities, according to the CDC, include autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability (what we formerly referred to as mental retardation), and various learning disabilities.

Imagine someone with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, or a severe learning disability trying to process all the media coverage of the recent spate of racist police murders.

Children often mimic what they see on TV and in movies, and it seems to me that Korryn Gaines was incredibly child-like in her thinking, as a result of her exposure to lead.

She thought she would fight fire with fire, and this would somehow save her from becoming another BLM hashtag whose murder would go unanswered.

Even though black people balk at others’ binary thinking about us, there is an oversimplified binary to which many of us subscribe when thinking about the type of black people we are–

You are either a punk–a disgrace to your people, both intimate and formal–or you are a G.

Punks walk away from fights. They pause to weigh the possible consequences of a confrontation and often decide that they are too risky, so they don’t engage.

They damn pride and ego and opt for safety. They use sensibility and justification to camouflage what many regard as weakness and cowardice. They are said to lack “heart.”

According to the G’s, they’ve been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe that there is no winning if you fight The System, so they don’t.

They accept that they are powerless. They choose their lives over their prospective legend.

They don’t care what people say about them, only that people can continue to talk about them in the present tense. As in “He’s a punk.” Rather than “He went out like a G.”

G’s don’t walk away from fights. They don’t flinch at threats. They don’t care who has weapons or what those weapons are.

G’s are hard. They don’t turn their backs on anyone talking shit or getting in their faces. They may not start fights, but they certainly aim to end them.

The only adverse consequence they seem to consider when facing a confrontation is looking like a punk if they opt out of fighting.

They don’t allow fear to dissuade them from doing anything they think will gain them respect or make a point about who they are or what they value.

G’s will stake their lives on their pride or their ego. They fight for survival rather than opting out of a fight in order to survive.

Survival for them, though, is more metaphysical than physical. They care about surviving as a symbol or example, of strength or resistance, rather than living to see another fight.

They choose legendary status over the preservation of their lives.

Tupac was a G. Cleo in “Set It Off” was a G.

Past tense.

There is a miniscule grey area between these two archetypes, but it is a space in which most adult black people navigate.

From what I’ve seen, and read, punks and G’s are people that have experienced exceptional privilege and comfort or exceptional pain and loss. In either case, they’ve developed a skewed sense of how the world works and how they fit into it. If they are not very educated, or they are disabled, or they struggle cognitively, then they are less likely to enact their archetype with any sort of nuance. They are more likely to misunderstand how workable each of the archetypes is. They don’t get that a black person in American will be forced to fight to protect himself or herself, but he or she should do this fighting strategically and with more than brute force and weapons if he or she seeks to make a lasting impact or walk away with his or her life.

When I look at this shooting that just occurred in Baltimore, I can’t help but think of this binary. I can’t help but think that Korryn Gaines took a decidedly adolescent route to dealing with all of her interactions with the police and courts, and, then, when she was forced to be accountable, decided that she would go out like G.

I can imagine this young woman–with her mental capacity–watching all the news coverage of the BLM murders–reading countless tweets and IG and FB posts–and deciding that if the police ever came for her, she would be ready for them.

News reports that I’ve read have even included a link to one of Korryn’s 2015 social media posts, in which she bragged about acquiring the shotgun that she held on the cops on Monday.

“Hope they sending in clones,” she wrote on Instagram. “I’m waiting tho [sic].”

This post doesn’t just convey Korryn’s intense distrust of the police and their willingness to use restraint–her expectation of excessive violence from police and fear of dying at their hands–all of which are perfectly understandable.

It conveys a profound miscalculation of what she could do to protect herself against the police as one woman with one gun. It conveys a deep flawed sense of what is justifiable, plausible, and ultimately in one’s one best self-interest.

It conveys, too, a profound miscalculation of just how deeply entrenched police training and procedure is in the preservation of cops’ lives and the extent to which cops’ racist attitudes can influence their actions.

Now, before anyone gets up in arms about victim-blaming, internalized racism or patriarchy, anti-feminism or anything like that, I want to be clear:

I’m not saying the cop was right to kill Korryn Gaines for the misjudgments and mistakes she made. I don’t believe that.

However, I’m not going to be generalize for the sake of making arguments or points that parallel those made in other discussions of other police victims.

I’m not going to say that the cop that shot Korryn should’ve waited for her to fire her gun before he fired his.

That’s just not realistic.

And I can’t say that I would’ve waited. Even with her son there.

I hate to that this is true, but it’s true. I wouldn’t have waited.

Self-preservation is among the strongest animal impulses, and humans are animals. We have a tremendous gift for objective analysis, but fear cancels out our ability to access that gift at its fullest capacity.

Whatever else Korryn did or didn’t do, she held a shotgun while she was or wasn’t doing it.

She presented a tangible and plausible threat to the lives of the cops inside of her apartment.

Yes, they had SWAT backing them, but I can imagine the cop that shot thinking, “What if they’re not fast enough? What if they miss, and she doesn’t? I don’t want to die.”

These are natural thoughts for someone to have when faced with an overwrought person wielding a weapon.

That said, I don’t think the argument here is that the cop could’ve waited for Korryn to shoot because that’s not an argument that can be won, really.

We can only make assumptions about the truth of the claim that Korryn threatened the police and the actual impetus for the cop’s decision to shoot.

We can’t say for certain how serious a threat to one’s safety a person can endure without making a move to protect him- or herself. That will always depend on the person.

So, no, I don’t think the argument here is that the cop killed Korryn in the same heedless way that the cops in Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and Minnesota killed all the others.

There is the undeniable and very complicated mitigating factor of that shotgun, and it prevents us from defending Korryn in the same way that we defended Mike, Eric, Tamir, Sandra, Alton, and Philando.

I think the argument is that the cops knew, from court documents, that Korryn had developmental disabilities and brain damage, and they made a huge professional mistake in treating her like the “typical” assailant.

I think the argument here is that law enforcement needs to adopt different ways of dealing with people with different intellectual capacities.

I think the argument here is that they probably didn’t employ any alternate methods of dealing with Korryn Gaines, if they knew any, because she was black, she was recording the incident, she had a record, and she had a history of expressing anti-police sentiments on social media.

That’s where the racism and failure to effectively and fairly do their jobs entered into this situation–at the point where the cops’ knowledge of her background should’ve informed their interaction with Korryn.

I don’t know whether the cops dealt with Korryn like someone with a typical intellectual or cognitive capacity because they failed to do their research; they felt “stuck” to procedure; or they allowed racism, sexism, or some other discriminatory attitude to override their empathy or willingness to improvise a peaceful solution.

But I do believe that a white man or woman with Korryn Gaines’s same challenges would’ve been given the opportunity to talk with some sort of intervention specialist before he or she made the mistake issuing a death threat and inciting that cop to kill her.

And that’s the problem–that I can imagine the cops giving that sort of preferential treatment to a white man or woman, for having a psychological or psychiatric issue–not even a cognitive issue.

I don’t even have to imagine it;  there are actual instances in which cops apprehended, without killing, white people with toy guns or real guns and seeming disabilities or mental issues.

However, I can’t imagine them giving this same benefit of the doubt to a black person with a mental issue–putting themselves at risk to keep that person alive.

Tamir Rice wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt, and Korryn Gaines wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt. He was killed. She was killed.

And there’s only one absolute commonality in their situations. They were black suspects. They were more susceptible to racist profiling or stereotyping.

I can’t be sure, but it’s not implausible or improbable that the cops in Baltimore failed to exhaust their options in dealing with Korryn Gaines because they allowed their racist assumptions (that blacks are intrinsically defiant and combative and culturally anti-authority and anti-police) to override their factual knowledge about her particular case.

Nevertheless, in discussing the tragic shooting of Korryn Gaines, I think we need to be precise in saying that this is our grievance–

The cop(s) killed someone that couldn’t fully grasp the ramifications of what she was doing rather than helping her to remain safe, which is their job.

I don’t think we should “lump” Korryn in with the other victims of racist police murders because her case has some very singular, significant factors.

By playing past them, we miss the opportunity to hash out how mental illness or special needs put blacks at an even greater risk of becoming victims of police brutality and the opportunity to fight for interventions and solutions that will help sisters like Korryn and brothers with the same wild cards stacked against them.

 

 

 

Fuck Political Correctness

Nakia Jones, a police officer in Northeast Ohio (where I’m from), has gotten over 5 million views with a video she made in response to Alton Sterling’s murder by police in Baton Rouge on Wednesday.

In the video, Jones, a 20-year veteran of law enforcement, addresses fellow officers directly, saying–

How dare you stand next to me in the same uniform and murder somebody. How dare you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. If you’re that officer and you know you have a God complex and you’re afraid of people who don’t look like you, you have no business wearing the uniform. Take it off.

I’m not an idealist or idiot; I know there is no way that hundreds or thousands of cops with biases against different races, ethnicities, or sexual orientations are going to resign from law enforcement in order to protect the safety of people they don’t even respect or regard as equals.

Law enforcement remains one of the few fields in which men and women that have not received bachelor’s degrees or trained in a highly skilled trade can make decent wages and receive workable insurance coverages and pensions, and people are not going to give up their “stuff” to save the lives of strangers. That’s just how people are.

Too, working in law enforcement confers power and preferential treatment onto people that would probably not get it otherwise–people that would be regarded as “average” if not for their badges and professional privileges.

Remaining on the force despite having psychological or psychiatric issues that get in the way of them doing their job effectively is just too tempting for too many officers, especially when breaking their oath and crossing the line of legality  with their behavior has little to no consequence in a court of law.

Still, I think Nakia Jones makes a salient point when she hits on the concept of disclosure in her video.

While I think an officer that is fearful shouldn’t be allowed to patrol the streets at all, an officer that prefers to patrol certain streets and not others should be allowed–and even encouraged–to impart his or her preferences to his or superiors.

Yes–I think police officers should be able to disclose their antipathies or animosities toward certain populations and/or communities, without losing their jobs, so they can work where they are most comfortable and won’t be impelled by bigotry or hatred to be unnecessarily  or unethically violent.

I think that Americans–as an entire nation–need to stop being delusional about our ability to tolerate racial differences and stop forcing people into these inauthentic moral and ethical poses and postures that they almost always betray, often times to the extreme detriment of the people around them.

You cannot force people to change their minds. You cannot force people to accept what they don’t want or open their hearts to something that they regard as harmful or hateful. You can’t make people act fairly or decently if they have no desire.

You can’t make people love or even like, and it takes more than PSAs and handbooks full of rules and regulations to stop them from being unfair or illogical in their thinking about others.

And while we can continue to try to reorient, reeducate, and recondition people’s beliefs and attitudes about racial and sexual differences, we need to buffer communities of color and LGBTQIA communities from things like police terrorism in the meantime.

Fuck political correctness. Black people need help. LGBTQIA people need help. And America owes it to us. Says its laws.

Political correctness and diversity have become the gold standards for professional conduct and hiring practices in this country. The media propagates this ideal of the “moral” person that exhibits his or her goodness by being tolerant of difference, and Americans, being the Puritans that we are–being so superficial, impractical, and pretentious–pretend like we want to live up to it.

When the truth is defining ourselves in hierarchical opposition to others makes us feel better about ourselves as we navigate in a world whose indifference to our so-called specialness makes us feel like fucking specks of nothing.

When the truth is most Americans draw great comfort from our bigotry, in whatever terrible form it takes.

Now, I can get on my soapbox about the stupidity of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia–how wrong they all are–how destructive they all are–but what I cannot do after the last 48 hours–in which police have unjustly murdered two black men–is wait for those messages to absorb on a large and meaningful scale.

To me, America needs solutions–workable steps that we can take to improve the ways that police officers’ biases play out in this nation’s streets.

And while we’re at it, we need to do something about the wide gaps in the way black students are treated in public schools in comparison to their white peers, and black patients are treated in hospitals in comparison to white patients.

So I say let employees in law enforcement, education, and medicine–in which people’s safety and well-being hinge on healthy (supportive and nurturing) interaction–select the specific circumstances in which they work, as much as they can do that.

Because police officers, doctors, and teachers are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of protecting people’s lives, so they need to be positioned where they can do their best and most beneficial work.

They need to be able to say, “I can’t put my beliefs about ______________ aside effectively enough to do my job the way it should be done,” so that job can be passed on to someone that can and will do it well.

At this point, I don’t care if that creates segregation within certain institutions. Until Americans become emotionally and psychologically mature and serious enough to handle the diversity we pretend to want, we need to stop dabbling in this dangerous throwing together of different, diametrically opposed people with weapons, instruments, unchecked power, ignorance, arrogance, and/or ill intentions.

It’s costing too many lives. Too many black lives. Too many LGBTQIA lives. Look at Louisiana. Look at Minnesota. Look at Florida.

Shit, look at Texas.

The cops ambushed by snipers in Dallas paid the price for what other cops in other cities did to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile–things they might not have done if they’d been dealing with white men.

I know how “bad” all of this probably seems to minds that have been primed since grade school by togetherness propaganda, but, until we get to the mythical, egalitarian “there” of interpersonal harmony imagined by activists and freedom fighters, I can’t help myself.

I can’t keep pretending like political correctness and forced efforts to create diversity are making things better for my people because they’re decidedly not.

The Declaration of Independence that we just celebrated on Monday says it is self-evident that all men are equal and endowed with certain rights to freedom. But the truth evidenced by the unforgivable violence of the last two days says  that I’m not equal, and I can’t expect equal treatment under law.

I can’t expect protection or justice from cops that are spurred to action by skewed training and racist opinions.

So, I say–change the personnel policies that force people to fake moral convictions. Allow cops to pick their patrols, doctors to pick their patients, and teachers to pick their students to ensure that they can do their jobs wholeheartedly and fairly.

I want America to be free and brave just like the next person, of course I do, but I also want to be here and breathing.

I want my people to be safe and sane. I want my family and friends to be whole and happy.

I want my blackness and body to be consecrated and loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blacks and Blue: About Alton Sterling and Avoiding Police Brutality

I don’t even know what to say. I honestly don’t know what I could say to adequately express how desperate Alton Sterling’s murder makes me feel as a black American.

Here is another black person shot by police that were not in any appreciable mortal danger. Police abusing their power, exploiting their power and the nation’s gaping lethal loopholes. Police betraying their oath of honor. Police playing with culpability like taking a life is a game.

I saw the video. Alton Sterling was not given enough time or space or warning to do something that would’ve de-escalated the conflict in which he found himself inadvertently locked with two police officers.

Like Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice and Freddie Grey and Eric Garner, and so many others, he was denied the right to due process and trial by jury; he was indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to execution by men that were not qualified, hired, or technically allowed to do anything other than arrest him.

Alton Sterling was killed for doing something that a white person would more than likely never even get arrested for doing. Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II stunned him, shoved him to the ground, put him in a hold, and then shot him multiple times in the head and back for selling pirated CDs and having a gun in his pocket.

Alton Sterling had a criminal history of battery and illegal possession of guns, yes, but he did not have a gun out and in his hand. He did not have a gun aimed at Salamoni and Lake when they attacked him.

It is uncertain, too, whether Salamoni and Lake even knew about his priors, though they will probably say they did after this to justify their actions.

The man that made the initial call to the police about Alton Sterling said Alton was selling CDs in front of the Triple S Food Mart on North Foster Drive (Baton Rouge, LA) and had threatened him with a gun. A very vague and convenient complaint to make about a strange black man.

In the video of his murder, Alton Sterling is armed, but he isn’t presenting any imminent danger. He isn’t shooting at Salamoni or Lake. He isn’t attempting to strike one or the other of them. He isn’t attempting to flee the scene. He isn’t even reacting in a verbally violent or confrontational way to the officers. Not that any of these things is punishable by death anyway.

Yet, one of these officers shot him. Salamoni or Lake–because he could–because he wanted to–shot and killed him.

Another black citizen. Another black father. Another black son. A man. A human. Reduced to a lifeless body. A statistic. An example. A headline in the news. A Twitter hashtag. And soon enough a year-old memory in millions of people’s Facebook feeds.

Alton Sterling’s death isn’t right. It isn’t justifiable. It shouldn’t be legal, and it shouldn’t be countenanced by the political establishment or American public, but we know that it will be.

People are already protesting the actions of the police in Baton Rouge–a federal investigation is underway–but the chances that Salamoni or Lake will be convicted for Alton Sterling’s murder are slim to none, and we all know it. We will all somehow accept it.

And I don’t know what I could write that would stop that. I don’t know what I could write that could assuage the ugliness of his murder or pain of his loss in any real way.

I am not some Pulitzer Prize winner. I am a single mother, living in suburban Ohio, trying to make meaning out of this life I’ve been given and cultural legacy I’ve inherited.

I write about things like this because writing is what I’ve always done to help me make sense of things. To help me to process difficult emotions. To make me feel like I have some modicum of power and influence over the world around me.

I write because I love it, but also because I feel like it’s important that people hear the thoughts, ideas, and emotions of a black woman embroiled in the politics of this nation.

As a black person, black feminist, and educator, I feel it’s important to speak up and out and answer oppression and the threat of annihilation with resistance and vitality.

Still, there’s nothing I can say about police murders like that of Alton Sterling that hasn’t already been said and said by people more eloquent and important than me. Except this. This one thing that I want to address not to this nation’s policemen, politicians, or even to the media, but rather to the average American that may be reading this on his or her screen–

I just want to ask you–white, black, or otherwise–to please, please stop calling the police on black people that are not truly–and I mean truly–threatening your life or someone else’s with their actions and/or an actual weapon.

In the ‘hood, it’s the code. Black people, for the most part, don’t involve the police in minor conflicts because they have generally brought a lot of unneeded and unwanted–unproductive–machinations into our communities.

Now, they bring a degree of lethal brutality that is so reminiscent of the Reconstruction era in American history, it’s scary.

So please do not create unnecessary opportunities for trigger-happy officers to murder innocent and/or unarmed people–devastate families and communities–destroy the fabric of public trust in law enforcement and faith in human goodness–and get away with it.

In a December 2014 article about the way American police are trained, a former officer named Seth Stoughton writes:

 . . . American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.

Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance. Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. But cops live in a hostile world. They learn that every encounter, every individual is a potential threat. They always have to be on their guard because, as cops often say, “complacency kills.”

Officers aren’t just told about the risks they face. They are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance. And as they listen to the fallen officer’s last, desperate radio calls for help, every cop in the room is thinking exactly the same thing: “I won’t ever let that happen to me.” That’s the point of the training.

Stoughton goes on to say:

More pointed lessons come in the form of hands-on exercises . . . There are countless variations, but the lessons are the same: Hesitation can be fatal. So officers are trained to shoot before a threat is fully realized, to not wait until the last minute because the last minute may be too late.

But what about the consequences of a mistake? After all, that dark object in the suspect’s hands could be a wallet, not a gun. The occasional training scenario may even make that point. But officers are taught that the risks of mistake are less—far less—than the risks of hesitation. A common phrase among cops pretty much sums it up: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”

It’s important that we as Americans understand and accept this ugly truth: Police are not trained to put our safety first or even the so-called duties of the job in the forefront of their decisions and actions.

They are taught to do as much enforcing of the law as they can as they work as hard as they can to ensure that they are not hurt. They are trained, expected, and encouraged to put themselves before the people they protect and the communities they serve.

This is a drastically different concept of a police officer’s duties than the concept propagated in grade school classes, political public relations, and the media.

The Law Enforcement Oath of Honor states:

On my honor,
I will never betray my badge,
my integrity, my character,
or the public trust.
I will always have
the courage to hold myself
and others accountable for our actions.
I will always uphold the Constitution,
my community and the agency I serve.

According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “courage” in the context of the oath means “having the strength to withstand unethical pressure, fear or danger.”

So a police officer that shoots before a threat is fully realized may be doing what he or she is trained to do–he or she may even be doing what most people would do–but he or she is also displacing his or her duty.

Police, when they take the oath to become officers, are essentially saying that they will attempt to be exceptional–helpful, ethical, brave, and responsible for the safety of others–for the sake of their profession.

If we know, though, that police officers on the whole do not take the oath as seriously as they take the principles of their training then we have to react to them like the posers and sometime sadists and opportunists that they are.

Stoughton writes:

In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it. Not only do officers hear it in formal training, they also hear it informally from supervisors and older officers. They talk about it with their peers. They see it on police forums and law enforcement publications . . . Officers’ actions are grounded in their expectations, and they are taught to expect the worst.

And I say–so, too, should we as citizens when it comes to calling on police officers for help.

According to statistics, cops are assaulted in o.o9% of all interactions (63 million total) each year. Only 0.02% are injured and 0.00008% are killed.

Some might say this is because they are vigilant about protecting themselves, and, that may be true, but this reasoning goes against the purpose of law enforcement, which is, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the “prevention, detection, and investigation of crime and the apprehension of alleged offenders.”

I say–if cops are trained to prioritize themselves and not the job then we civilians should probably train ourselves, in direct and appropriate response, not to trust them.

We may even be safer, especially we black folk, if we commit on a wide scale to calling the police less often to apprehend people that are not posing a lethal threat.

That is since “officers use more force when they perceive a greater threat, [and] unconscious bias can lead officers to react more aggressively when confronting black men than they would when confronting others in otherwise identical situations.”

Either way, we need–Americans collectively–to acknowledge, for our own good, that many police officers are nothing but armed, narrowly skilled customer service workers that will only do what they must to keep their jobs.

We need to stop viewing them across the board as heroes that have learned to stop their emotions and biases from getting in the way of their work, and we need to stop relying on them to handle situations that are really just annoying or make us uncomfortable or intimidated but are not life-threatening.

The person that called the police on Tamir Rice told the dispatcher that Tamir was a minor, and he was probably playing with a toy gun. He or she probably felt uncomfortable with the imagery of the young black boy with the real-looking air rifle and wanted to “erase” it from his or her environment, but didn’t feel entitled or confident enough as an adult or member of the community to approach Tamir and tell him so.

Calling the police probably seemed logical to him or her because the police are supposed to handle nuisances. However, in the current climate, it might just have been better for the caller to find Tamir’s mother and talk with her about Tamir or even leave the park.

Calling the police drew a cop with a terrible record and obvious lack of interest in following procedure or keeping peace to the scene, where he shot and killed Tamir without even attempting to question or disarm him.

Mike Brown allegedly stole a couple packs of cigarillos from a convenience store, prompting the clerk to call the police on him.

No–Brown shouldn’t have been stealing, but there is actually such a thing as crime insurance which manages businesses’ loss exposures from criminal activities like thefts.

This means the owner of the convenience store could’ve gotten back the money for the shrink to which Mike contributed by filing a claim with his insurance company.

So the clerk didn’t have to call Darren Wilson to the scene of such a minor crime. He didn’t have to set Mike on the path to get 12 bullets fatally pumped into him.

The law stipulates the penalties for minor crimes like Alton’s and Mike’s, the Constitution stipulates the treatment they should receive as suspects, but police like Wilson and the officers in Cleveland and Baton Rouge ignore these stipulations.

Because they can, and there are no stiff or lingering consequences, they take the law into their own hands.

So maybe the most realistic solution to this problem is that we–the citizenry–take things into our own hands as well and try to address the problem of police brutality among ourselves.

And before you balk at what I’m asking–before you accuse me of asking too much or being completely unrealistic–please hear me out:

I’m not asking people to risk their safety in the face of plausible threats or drawn weapons. That wouldn’t make any sense.

I’m just asking that we start to think long and hard about how obsessive we are about our possessions and property and moralistic we are about other people’s behavior and how that translates into what we expect and want from police.

I think we can spend to take some time and think long and hard about the real reasons we call the police when we call them and whether we are placing more value on things or money than people if and when we do.

Human lives are more valuable than any commodities or material items we can buy or own, and we need to regard them that way, not as collateral damage in the war to amass wealth or campaign to prove our moral superiority.

In the interest of keeping ourselves and others safe from the dangerous consequences of police officers’ skewed training, perhaps we should only call the police when it’s absolutely necessary, especially if we are calling them to detain a person that isn’t posing a lethal threat to us.

Perhaps in doing this, we can decrease the chances of someone getting murdered by some cop not properly schooled in de-escalation, tactical withdrawal, or thinking beyond his or her gun belt.

It’s probably unreasonable to make this request of average American citizens, I acknowledge that.

The way I see it, though, we’re the only ones that seem to care about how murderous police procedures have become in this country.

So, I ask again: please stop calling the police on black people that are not truly threatening your life or someone else’s with their actions or a deadly weapon.

As a fellow citizen, and human, help take away some of law enforcement’s power to destroy black lives.

It may sound a bit anarchistic, turning away from the cops like this, but, if cops won’t uphold their oath, then I want to know: Why should we uphold the false image we have of them?

Why should we drag ourselves into collusion with them to needlessly take other people’s lives?

Why should we keep allowing them to get bolder and bolder until we mess round and one day become their victims?

If all lives matter then black lives are included in that, and people outside of the black community should want to fight for them just as hard as they fight for their own.