Series: Why We Hate the Boys in Blue, Part III
“Tell me what has become of my rights? /Am I invisible because you ignore me?/ Your proclamation promised me free liberty?” – Michael Jackson, They Don’t Really Care About Us
[Over the past two days, I have shared with you the stories and feelings of five young people who have grown to fear, distrust or outright hate the police. They have told stories of discrimination, brutality and sexual assault. They have learned that “serve and protect” is more of a question than a promise for them. They, and so many others, are tired and angry about the way that police brutality and abuse of power has continued to terrorize people of colour. I’d like to share some thoughts on the matter. Here is part three of my three part series on police brutality.]
When I was a child, I thought the police were who I looked to for protection from the bad guys. The line between law enforcement and criminal was a solid, unquestionable one. Criminals committed crimes and cops were the upstanding men and women who ensured they did the time. Simple as that. That has changed. Now, I get tense in their presence. I find myself trying to portray a look of "not guilty" even when I've done nothing wrong. My palms begin to sweat and my shoulders get tight. I wrack my brain for all the info I know about how to interact with cops. That info is filed away with other survival tactics like what to do when a dog bites you or how to deter a rapist.
And all the while I'm thinking, why are there even instructional videos and essays about how to interact with public servants and how to survive those interactions? And I realize that I, and many others, have categorized police interactions as potentially life-threatening situations because we've watched and read and heard too many stories of people dying during arrests, altercations, traffic stops, or in police custody.
There are more names than I could list here. Many of them were unarmed. Many were accused of minor offenses, if they were accused of anything at all. Some were children. None of them deserved to die. But they are all dead. And so many of these officers have walked away. They got away with killing these men and women because they were police. I hate them for that. I hate that my name could be next. Any of the five people I interviewed for this series could have been the next hashtag had their stories taken a fatal turn.
2 – The approximate number of times per week a white officer killed a black person from 2005-2012
20 – The approximate percentage of black people under the age of 21 killed by law enforcement from 2005-2012
18,000 – The number of law enforcement entities in the United States
564 – The number of law enforcement entities that participated in the study that produced the first two statistics
~ Under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the American government is required to track use of excessive force by police officers. No database of this kind exists.
~ Canadian police services do not release statistics on cases of police brutality, shootings, or excess of force. Agencies are not permitted to release information that examines criminal justice statistics by race. A Google search for any such statistics yields nothing, but the news stories abound.
~ Experts believe that there isn’t more police brutality, merely more reporting. What we’re seeing isn’t anything new. We’re only just beginning to realize how bad things have been.
My hatred for police has grown out of a place of fear, discomfort, and heartache. We have given them an enormous amount of privilege and freedom of discretion, expecting that they would use it to serve and protect us. Instead, they have used it to abuse us and get away with murder. I think it is fitting that we call them pigs. I’m reminded of Animal Farm, the political allegory by George Orwell about fascism. The pigs are designated leaders of the farm and granted certain privileges on the grounds that those privileges would allow them to guide and protect the other animals from the corruption of human beings. But the pigs begin to grossly abuse their power and by the end of the book, the other animals “looked from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.” And when we think of officers like Darren Wilson, Eric Casebolt, and Michael Slager, we could exchange the word “pig” for “police” and the word “man” for “criminal” or “murderer” and that sentence would still ring true.
Now let me be clear (and I know I have to be clear so I don’t have to deal with the #notallcops argument that infuriates me so deeply): I know not every officer is corrupt. I hate police in the same way that I hate white privilege. I hate that it is a system designed to protect one group at the expense of another. I hate the fact that when one officer does wrong, they are protected by their badge and uniform. It is not each individual officer I distrust. It is each individual officer’s access to power and privilege that endangers and disadvantage and kills people like me that I distrust. Don’t believe they have that kind of power? According to DianeWetendorf of AbuseofPower.info, police are granted significant freedom of judgment about which laws they’ll enforce, when they’ll enforce them, and who they’ll enforce them against. They also know that when they abuse that power, they’re likely to get away with it because they are more likely to be believed than victims (see Rayanne’s story in Part II) and because there is “great systemic resistance against prosecuting an officer.” Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo not even going to trial for the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner are evidence of that.
Many will argue that officers like Wilson and Pantaleo are in the minority. They are the few bad apples. Didn’t you hear one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch? Yes, there are “good” cops who keep their knees off the backs of black teenagers, keep their guns holstered and enforce the law as they are meant to. But many of them don’t blow the whistle on their fellow officers who aren’t so straight-laced. Many of them are scared to because good officers are afraid of what happens when they speak up. Joseph Crystal, a Baltimore police officer, had to quit the force after he was harassed, called a rat, and left without back-up for reporting fellow officers for abusing a civilian during arrest. An Arkansas officer reported an undercover cop for sleeping with a prostitute before arresting her. The reporting officer lost his job and the undercover cop was not penalized. A Buffalo officer was punched in the face by a fellow officer when she tried to stop him from choking a handcuffed suspect. She was fired for obstructing an officer and is now fighting for her pension. The officer who punched her was forced to retire after two more separate incidents in which he punched fellow cops, both on- and off-duty. A few bad apples? When good cops are afraid of bad ones, it’s not about bad apples; you have to admit the whole damn tree is rotten.
Something is deeply wrong with the way that police act and work in our society, especially towards black people. To criticize that is not anti-police rhetoric. Our civil servants should not be above our reproach or criticism; that they are speaks to the untouchable force they’ve become, and it’s dangerous. Instead of reforming them, we are telling young black men and women to be quiet, respectful, well-dressed, well-spoken and well-educated to avoid police brutality as if our lives matter any less if we fail to be any of those things. We are teaching black people how to survive police interactions instead of asking officers to stop escalating minor issues into deadly ones unnecessarily. We are trying to excuse police shootings as acts of fear and self-defence, but when black men tense up at the sight of police, we assume they have something to hide. Police are, and have been, killing and abusing black people at alarming rates and we are the ones asked to change our ways.
The media crucifies the character of our fallen instead of chastising the actions of murderous officers. Racists celebrate the death of “another thug” and desecrate our memorials. We are asked to believe that victims shot themselves in the back while handcuffed or hung themselves from walls shorter than their height. Teenage girls are thrown to the ground and teenage boys are shot on sight. And when we protest, the SWAT team shows up in riot gear. And when we protest, we are told that all lives matter as if “all” ever included us. We hate the boys in blue because they showed their hate first. I refuse to offer an apology for that.
To my fellow Black folks and people of colour who are feeling the same hate that boils within me:
I know the situation feels dire. It feels too big to change. So many of us feel hopeless. I can tell you I have cried many tears out of pure frustration that there is so little I can do. But we must do what we can. Know your rights because it might save your life. Record officers when you see them abusing others. Sign petitions against police brutality and for proper investigation and police reform. Donate to the movement if you cannot participate yourself. Show up to the protests—every body counts. Share your stories; your life and your experiences matter. Cry, scream, and let it out if you need to because your heartache and your anger is valid. We know that being black is not a crime, and we’re not going to stand around and let the police keep behaving like it is. I know it’s been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.
I want to offer a special thank you to Eric Slyfield, Ashley Gill, Jordan Hayles, Christine Gotera, and Rayanne Banaga for sharing their thoughts and experiences. Your voices, your stories, and your lives matter. Thank you.
Part I here.
Part II here.
Know your Rights
Anti-police Brutality (US)
Federal Investigation for Sandra Bland
Black Lives Matter Merchandise
Hands Up United
*These organizations also offer ways for you to get involved.