Damned if you whateverBy
Every black male I’ve ever met has had this talk, and it’s likely that I’ll have to give it one day too. There are so many things I need to tell my future son, already, before I’ve birthed him; so many innocuous, trite thoughts that may not make a single difference. Don’t wear a hoodie. Don’t try to break up a fight. Don’t talk back to cops. Don’t ask for help. But they’re all variations of a single theme: Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.
For all the good it will do.
In the wake of the recent shootings of black males Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (as well as the shootings of policemen in Dallas) on top of all the others — Brown, Garner, Scott, Gray, Rice, McDonald, etc. — it seems there is no instruction one could give or follow to ensure a black male will survive an encounter with police.
Dr. Brian H. Williams, a Parkland Memorial Hospital trauma surgeon who treated wounded Dallas police officers, told the press:
“And I want the police officers to see me — a black man — and understand that I support you, I will defend you and I will care for you. That doesn’t mean that I do not fear you. That doesn’t mean that if you approach me, I will not immediately have a visceral reaction and start worrying for my personal safety.”
Michael A Wood, Jr., a former black policeman writing for the Guardian, admits he has no answers:
Following Castile’s death, my friend, Frank MacArthur tweeted: “Brother got gunned down for no reason. He had a burned out tail light. Complied. Did EVERYTHING cop asked. STILL not good enough. For America.” He is right. Based on what we know from available reports, Mr Castile did nothing that could have jeopardized his life. There is nothing he could have done differently.
It is frustrating that I cannot offer foolproof advice on how to stay safe from taxpayer-funded state-sanctioned violence. You can run, or not run. Make eye contact, or avoid eye contact. Assert civil rights, or be submissive. There simply is no rule on how to stay alive when you interact with the police. And that is a problem.
Police legitimacy is built upon trust from the community and is what enables the rule of law. The very fabric of our society depends on all of us caring about the victimization of others. That is why I cannot answer the question of what the oppressed should do when engaged by the police to ensure they do not get killed. The question is irrational. It is up to the privileged and the oppressors to ensure the question is never asked.
Chris Hayes last night on All In observed that putting policing in a unique category misses the point. The problem of police shootings is simply a more visible (and deadly) manifestation of broader, systemic discrimination that has never been excised.
Based on the reactions of the Rudy Giulianis and the Sarah Palins, the country still refuses to come to terms with it. Giuliani calls the phrase “black lives matter” inherently racist as he sticks his fingers in his ears. Palin demands the press stop calling Black Lives Matter protesters “people.” She seems nice.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)