Another day, another offense, to list them would elicit a lament. Another video surfaces and we want to push it back down. We turn up the television or the music to drown out the sound of her voice. But, our silence is deafening.
The truth we try to deny, we want so desperately to hide is in our hands. We have the evidence. It’s on our phone. She recorded her exchange with the police officer on her phone. Taser in her face and the officer’s voice is raised.
She’s calling us.
Answering to the truth is a calling. When will we answer? Because someone has to answer for this. Like Cain, her blood is calling us from the ground. “Lord, can you hear her now?”
She was telling the truth. Too much force leaves me with too little faith in the systems that we create. It is uniform hate. We all fall in line and fall farther behind in the journey to arrive in one piece, one single unit, a family.
Sandra Bland videotaped her arrest. She’s dead now. No witnesses, we don’t see anything. Her body is the only witness.
She’s buried now. But she can’t let it go, won’t let it rest. She knows how traffic stops often end for those socially colored black. Don’t reach for your wallet. Don’t turn your back. Don’t trust the report. Back from the dead, she wants persons to know what really happened to her.
Did you hear what she said?
She is here again like Jesus, who keeps showing up after the crucifixion. We must answer for our inaction. Sandra is back to continue the conversation we thought was litigated by the courts. Judgement for the plaintiff? No, money is betrayal of our value. This calls for more.
With the line of what is acceptable being crossed and then pushed back with each outlandish action from the current White House administration and decency being redefined to accommodate the indefensible behavior of President Donald Trump, it is hard not to become disgusted by the hypocrisy. I am well past feeling disappointed. What is acceptable, good and right is being changed with each interview, after each commercial break. This is democracy. Truth created by the people for the people.
And true to form, Mr. Trump has been consistent in speech and character, each tweet and speech outdoing the other. Recently, two speeches warranted statements from the groups he was speaking to, here being the Boy Scouts and then to police officers in Long Island, New York. While both are disgusting, the latter is deeply troubling. Because the sitting President of the United States endorsed police brutality. He told police to break the law. To which he initially received applause.
Applause. Agreement with violating the rights and personhood of citizens who may or may not be suspects? See “innocent until proven guilty.” Applause. Affirmation of wrong- doing by those who have sworn an oath to uphold the law– not bring it down to their level and prejudices? Applause. Appreciation because the President is saying what you want to say or giving voice to what you really want to do, to some people, to those thugs he mentioned? Applause. Permission to incite fear in the residents you have agreed to serve and protect?
And these are police in communities– not soldiers at war with an enemy in a foreign land. Police officers are patrolling America’s city streets and country roads where persons are driving to school and work, persons who want to make it home to family and friends too. With or without badges, all of us deserve honor. But, this is not what the current Commander- In- Chief said.
Persons are worried about his access to nuclear codes but I’m concerned about his access to a microphone and a cell phone, for that matter. Mr. Trump is far from a role model and certainly not a model president. Still, persons are hanging on his every word and if this kind of speech is mindlessly applauded, then persons could die because of his words.
With communities living in fear, cases pending and families still mourning the deaths of their loved ones, Mr. Trump says, “Please don’t be too nice.” With body camera and cell phone footage depicting the shooting death of unarmed American citizens, Mr. Trump says, the laws are “horrendously stacked” against police officers. His words suggest that police officers should not be held to the highest standard of the law and that we should normalize this kind of bad behavior. Move the line back.
But, police officers are not judge and jury. There is due process of law. And no one has the right to change it to accommodate police officers or a president. Because then, it’s no law at all. It is but the abuse of power and the passing of social privileges.
Perhaps, this endorsement of meanness is the counter response to political correctness. I have heard it said that Mr. Trump speaks for many American people, that he says what is on their minds. Really? Fellow Americans would agree with the murder of other Americans without due process of law. They would applaud that?
A powerful public service announcement about police brutality was released a few days ago by Harry Belafonte’s sankofa.org. Notable faces are against the wall, reminding viewers that it can happen to any one. Let’s continue the conversation on police brutality and why we remain hard- pressed to find answers. Think about it as if you were against the wall.
In cases of police brutality, it is often commented that these police officers who abuse their power and exert force unwarranted, unmatched and unprovoked are a few bad apples. We are told that these are isolated incidents and not the norm. It is repeated that the majority of police officers are here “to serve and protect.” And in so doing, we move from talking about specific cases to a general, more comforting and less challenging truth.
It suggests that this is an aberration. We are expected to believe that this does not happen all the time, that there is no need for concern. It is an invitation to focus on the good while ignoring the bleeding, dying bodies of African Americans on city streets. Let’s celebrate the good and look past the bad. Those officers are not a part of the police department. They shouldn’t have been hired to begin with.
First, we distance ourselves from them and then, we begin to disassociate ourselves. Afterwards, we are able to deny them. They are not us. They are not representatives of our America. We are mostly good apples here.
But, I decline the invitation to participate in this kind of conversation and instead, invite us to go lower and to dig deeper. We must look at the roots. Bad apples fall from bad trees.
America has a history of unlawful use of force in the African American community. In fact, it started on their turf, in their homeland. Africans have been experiencing the unlawful touch of persons in power and with guns for hundreds of years.
So, reprimanding, firing and even convicting police officers who position themselves above the law is not enough. No, we must cut down the tree and afterwards, dig up the root. Because even one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch.
A recent Washington Post article titled “Why white people need to see the searing new African American Museum” featured the image of Mamie Till leaning over her fourteen year old son, Emmett Till’s casket. After he was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered during a visit with relatives who lived in the South, Till decided to have an open casket funeral. She said, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.”
But, how many of these images and now videos have we already seen? We have hash tags now. And yet, we cannot look away. We cannot look away because we need to see that words have consequences. We cannot look away because we need to see what our words can do. They are not just nasty words, politically incorrect words, inappropriate words, words not to be used in polite company but they are killing words. Literal death sentences.
They are humanity- denying words for both persons involved. Killing persons because of the social coloring of their skin or using words that reduce the value of their human life are inexcusable. It is preying upon and hunting down persons who fit a description, who look like trouble.
A Tulsa police officer witnessing the scene from a helicopter can be heard saying, “That looks like a bad dude” before an unarmed Terence Crutcher was shot and killed. It should be noted that Mr. Crutcher was not a suspect in any crime but was stopped on the road due to car trouble. Officer Betty Shelby has since been charged with manslaughter after a review of dash camera footage and her interview. But, this does not mean that justice will be served since Freddie Gray’s death was ruled a homicide and yet, not a single police officer involved was convicted.
So, the next time you see a racially motivated crime, don’t put your head down or simply shake your head. And please, don’t look away– because some of us can’t. We can’t look away because they fit the description of a family member. We cannot look away when they are our son or daughter, our father or mother, our spouse or friend.