I’ve been trying to formulate an honest and measured opinion about the latest trend of unarmed black men being killed by the police. I’ve tried to distance myself and tried to put myself in the position of the police who are just trying to do their job… I’ve tried, but I can’t. I can’t because in the past 6 years in ways I couldn’t have imagined we’ve slipped back into the bad old days of racism in this country. The default personality of this country is racist and what we are seeing in the news today is the id of that personality expressing itself.
A few months back the hashtag #notallmen was floating around deriding the practice of men trying to trivialize women who bring to light sexist and misogynistic aspects of our culture. There is a comic strip floating around talking about what to tell men who don’t believe women are the victims of harassment. Ironically when women share this in public online spaces like twitter or Google+ the comments and responses are often harassing themselves. Yes it’s true not all men are misogynistic assholes but there are enough of them around and their actions are too often mischaracterized as not a bid deal that all women multiple times in their lives feel less than. When people think racism they think of white people using the N-word and since people, in polite company at least, just don’t do that anymore people would like to believe that racism is just not a big deal anymore. They like to think racism is the act of individuals. But racism rarely comes from individuals, racism to be truly destructive has to come from institutions, it has to come from societal complacency.
Where to find Justice
Mayor Bill De Blasio urged people to accept arrest. He made the fairly rational statement that you cannot get justice in the streets. He is absolutely right…but… with all due respect, that’s easy for him to say. Now I don’t mean that in the easy for the white guy to say, or even for the mayor to say. I mean that in the sense he’s coming at this from a history of activism and protest. Part of a protestor’s life is being willing and even planning to be arrested for your cause, and doing so in a way that is publicly noticeable so it is well documented. For someone who, from their perspective, is inexplicable being stopped and arrested it is a whole different kettle of fish. Here are just a few things that might run through their minds.
- No one knows where they are.
- The rate of incarceration of blacks is disproportionate to the populations as a whole.
- Because of racial profiling they could be considered a suspect in any crime that has taken place in the last few hours in a 15 mile radius.
- Police have been known to coerce confessions.
- An arrest can make it difficult to be employed.
- The rate of unemployment among black men is double the national average.
Let’s talk about the System
None of this happens in a vacuum. The truth is the system treats black Americans differently than white Americans in some very public ways. George Zimmerman was acquitted after shooting and killing an unarmed black teen, meanwhile a black woman is sentenced to twenty years for firing a warning shot in her home trying to defend herself from an abusive spouse. The Supreme Court guts the voting rights act because racism isn’t a significant problem anymore and literally the next day southern states sign into law rules that will clearly disenfranchise black voters more than white voters. Clive Bundy violates federal law to the tune of millions of dollars and radical supporters take up sniper positions on federal officers, and the end of the altercation is the federal officers walk away, neither Clive Bundy or any of his supports who aimed high-powered weapons at federal officers are arrested, and a Eric Garner is accidentally killed during his arrest for illegally selling cigarettes. This is the back drop of Ferguson and the killing of another unarmed black man. This is the drum beat playing in every black person’s head from the moment their parents first tell them they have to be extra cautious around cops.
I know most cops are here to help. I know that most cops aren’t racist. It doesn’t change the fact that I also know that I will have to have the talk with my kids about how to protect themselves from cops. I will have to tell them they will not be given the benefit of the doubt. I will have to tell them they are going to be treated differently by the cops, the courts, and the system in general and it is safest to go above and beyond what anyone else in the country has to do to avoid it all together because there is no guarantee that they will get a fair shake. It breaks my heart to know that my country still treats me like this.