When I was a child, I would cry when I was called names. It didn’t seem like anyone else was getting the same treatment, but in victim mode, one seldom sees anyone else’s pain and misery but their own. Continue reading “On Michael Brown and Toni Morrison”
Policing in America
A friend of mine caught me off guard when he said, out of the blue, “Police here are radicalized.”
It’s not like this guy is a bleeding heart liberal. He’s a middle of the road, sometimes Conservative, sometimes Liberal guy who used to be a police officer. He has been in the military …and he has a lot of soldier and police officer friends. “A lot of those guys are really nice guys,” he said quietly, “but there are a few who have been radicalized.”
I had to ask him what he meant. When we hear the word “radicalized,” we usually think of people who have been snagged by ISIS and trained to be brutes. Radicalized Muslim extremists, if the news is to be believed, are the ones to be aware and be afraid of. They are the ones who bomb buildings and cut peoples’ heads off. They are the ones who do suicide bombings. The way they are described, they are pure evil, worthy of being extinguished from the face of the earth, or at least from the face of America. So, the term “radicalized” caught me off guard.
“What I mean is, these guys have been taught to hate black people. They have been taught that black people are bad and are to be feared. They grow up with that and then they become police officers. It’s perfect for them. They have the law behind them; they are free to kill “the bad guys,” who, in their minds, are often black. They are like the modern KKK. They don’t wear white sheets anymore. They wear blue uniforms and have badges and they carry guns. They are as free to kill black people as was the KKK. Trust and believe me on this one.”
His tone was somber. He was angry but he was serious in his analysis of what is going on in America today. He knows well the line that police say, “I was in fear for my life.” “That’s all you have to say,” he said, “and you are pretty much justified in using your weapon.”
I had to look up the word “radicalization.” According to the National Counterterrorism Center, radicalization is “is a process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly extreme political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that (1) reject or undermine the status quo or (2) reject and/or undermine contemporary ideas and expressions of freedom of choice.”
Is that what happens to people who are taught to hate?
We know that in America, hatred has been the seedbed of white supremacy. In spite of belief in God and claims to be Christian, it has been hatred, not agape love, mercy and forgiveness that have been the central beliefs of those who have killed, maimed and discriminated against people because of their color. That is indisputable.
So, are many white children in America radicalized from an early age? And is radicalization of a white American who grows up to shoot, lynch, beat and discriminate against people of color any less a threat than is a religious extremist who is involved in ISIS? Is ISIS any better than the Ku Klux Klan?
There is yet another piece to this police issue in America that is problematic. We all remember last year in Ferguson when the people were in the streets, mostly peaceful, and the police came out in full military gear. It was like a war; the police were the “good guys” and the black people protesting the death of Michael Brown and so many other issues, were “the enemy.” It was hard to watch, but it was clear that the police were positioning themselves as those in power. There was nothing the people on the streets could do to beat the tanks and military-style weapons. Ferguson was a war zone …and the police …had the power.
This power issue seems to be at the heart of racism, white supremacy and police brutality. Not all that long ago, it was the power that white people had that made black people afraid and caused the Great Migration. White people knew they could accuse a black person of something and there didn’t even have to be a trial. A black person could be and was killed often on the back of an unsubstantiated accusation. Black people wanting to vote could lose their jobs, their homes …and their lives. It was fear that drove black people ..fear caused by the unrestrained and unharnessed power of white people.
Any challenge to that power – then and now – is deadly. When one looks at the tapes of what happened to Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose, it is clear that it is not only racism that is operating, but a brute show of power. Both officers in both those incidents became incensed when their authority was challenged. Challenging the authority and power of white people has always been dangerous for black people in this nation. Police, it seems, (and this is not just white officers, but officers in general), have been seduced by the power they have, and they do not tolerate being challenged. For many officers, it appears that the show of power extends into their private lives; study show that officers are two to four times more likely to engage in domestic abuse than the general population. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/).
It feels like we need to understand the landscape of the issue with which we are dealing if we want to effect change as concerns policing in America. Many of these officers are nice people, that is for sure …but many others are brutes …or thugs ….who do violent things to people – people of color or their own families – because they can. It seems that this systemic violence which is a part of policing in America needs to be studied carefully so that something can be done to stop the tragic deaths of people who have done nothing or, at best, committed some minor traffic infraction.
Just a thought …and a candid observation.
Black Fathers, Wailing
We are near the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, and the image above is one I have not been able to get out of my mind.
Mike Brown was demonized and characterized as a “thug” who deserved what he got by many following that fateful day last August. Even as he was left lying in the street, the powers that be sought to “undo” him and in effect blame him for his tragic death by pulling up incidents that proved “he was no saint.” The police in Ferguson were more concerned, it seemed, with saving their tails than with dealing with this young man and giving him in death the respect they had not given him in life.
Not his father or mother were allowed to touch him as he lay on that hot pavement for hours.
This was their baby. Whatever he had done, he was their baby, their child, and they were not allowed to go near him.
I have to be honest. I cried as I watched this horrific drama unfold. I shook with anger as I listened to the police demonize Mike before they said a word about what happened, and how.
I visited Ferguson, a couple of times. I stood at the makeshift memorial that was constructed on the site where Mike had lain … and it gave me goosebumps.
There were a range of emotions I navigated as I awaited to see this young man finally put to rest. I watched with a mother’s eyes and felt with a mother’s heart as I watched his grief-stricken mother, Lesley McSpadden, enter that church. His father seemed to be holding up…
But he wasn’t. There is something that happens when a child dies; attention is given to the mother and the father is almost completely ignored. I noticed that when as a pastor I saw and attended to women who had lost babies due to miscarriage. The mother was allowed to mourn out loud; the fathers remained stoic.
Michael Brown Sr. looked like he was holding it together on the day his son was buried. I guess I breathed a sigh of relief; my attention then stayed on his mother.
But the tragedy of what this society has done to black men hit me full in the face when I saw this picture of Mike Brown’s father wailing at his grave site.
I realized that this society so marginalizes black men and boys, and is so smug about proclaiming that black fathers are absent, that we do not embrace the humanity of these men who are fathers, who are there for their children …and whose souls are ripped apart when their children are snatched away due to violence – street or police-induced.
Those who wanted to continue the dehumanization and criminalization of Mike Brown continued. They scoffed at the fact that he had gotten through high school and was going to college. They didn’t care. Their only sentiment was that he had brought his death upon himself. He was no saint, they kept saying.
What college-age young man is?
I wondered then, and more so now, if those who wanted to sit in their smugness even bothered to lift their eyes to see the pain of his parents as they talked about him. His mother said he was “sweet,” but those who had demonized him dismissed that claim, as the videotape showed him pushing the store cashier.
What, sweet kids don’t sometimes do dumb stuff? Sweet kids don’t smoke marijuana? Sweet kids don’t “feel their oats” sometimes and do things that are really out of character for them?
Did people see the pain of both parents …including the pain of Mike’s father? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xORC3Kfhw0Y)
I can only imagine the pain that Mike’s parents felt the day they buried him…but the picture of Mike’s father wailing as he sat in front of his son’s coffin said more to me than anything I had read back then …or have read to date.
I remember my friend Joshua DuBois, whose wife is expecting the couple’s first child soon, giving an impassioned statement about how black fathers care. He reminded a nearly all-white gathering that it is wrong to continue carrying the belief that black fathers are absent and do not care about their children. Yes, some are absent …and that would indicate that perhaps they do not care, or cannot care at a given time in their lives.
But black fathers, black men …are human …and love their children every bit as much as a white father. They ache for their children, especially for their sons. They walk around knowing they are moving targets for police officers; they know that their children, again most especially their sons, are targets for street crime as well as for police violence against them.
Black fathers do not rest. They know the terrain and the territory on which their children walk.
The fathers of all these slain young black people are wailing … Society may not see them and may refuse to listen to them, but they are wailing.
Just look at the picture of Mike Brown’s father if you are inclined to disagree. That father’s pain …is palatable …and not isolated just to him.
America, will you ever see?
A candid observation …
Tamir Rice Still Not Buried Pending Investigation
While police in Baltimore are attacking Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, saying she brought charges against six Baltimore City police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, there lays the body of a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by Cleveland Police Officers five months ago.
Cleveland police are still “investigating” the incident, and say the child cannot be buried until they complete the investigation because they may need to examine the body further for medical evidence. (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/04/tamir-rice-family-judge-not-delay-civil-rights-case-against-cleveland)
What in the world needs to be investigated …and why is it taking so long? Why is the Cleveland Police Department adding insult to injury to the family of this child by holding up his burial? And why isn’t the press covering this story?
There are reasons people get angry and take to the streets, and being dehumanized is one of them. I as a mother cannot imagine sitting by while police performed a prolonged “investigation” after they murdered my child. Can any mother be expected to be all right with that? Keeping that child from being buried is the height of disrespect to his person, his family …and his community.
Tamir Rice, you remember, was the 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy gun. Someone called in to police, saying there was someone with a gun but allegedly said “it might be a toy.”
Police rolled up on the child moments later, got about 10 feet away from him, and opened fire, killing him. They said they shouted “police!” but in the video it looks like they drove up, got out, fired their guns …and maybe said “police” afterward.
Would any police officer be all right with a member of his or her family being kept from being buried while an “investigation” was going on? Wait. Would any HUMAN be all right with that?
Some people balk at the phrase “black lives matter,” but can anyone wonder why those words are being lifted up? Where in the world is the dignity this child deserves? He was a human being, somebody’s son, a child …playing with a toy gun. Officers rolled up on him and shot him like he was a dangerous wild animal…and now, they are keeping him from being buried?
Although officers are upset with Maryland State Attorney Mosby, at least her actions afforded the people who are grieving the murder (the state medical examiner ruled his death a homicide) the appearance of concern for them and for the quest of justice. Everyone knows that filing charges is only a first step; police officers are rarely convicted on charges they face, even when a case seems cut and dry. Remember, the evidence of police beating Rodney King was crystal clear, and the officers were brought up on charges, but they were all acquitted. That verdict caused the streets in Los Angeles to erupt in anger and frustration. So, justice for Freddie Gray is not a sure thing. But at least Mosby recognized that something wrong happened and brought charges against the officers involved swiftly.
The prolonged “investigation” in the Michael Brown case caused the same kind of anger and frustration. The lack of immediate action in Brown’s case, beginning with leaving him lying dead in the street for hours began the tortuous “investigation” which concluded that the officer who shot him was without fault. In fact, that investigation really seemed to concentrate on making the case that Brown was a criminal, and, therefore, deserved what he got. Police were able to say the proverbial “I was in fear for my life,” and those who are inclined to believe that if one is shot by an officer, he or she deserved it were satisfied.
But what in the world can Cleveland police possibly be looking for after five months? How in the world can they and do they justify this prolonged “investigation?”
I hardly know what to say. This is most definitely the most painful candid observation I have come across since I have been writing this blog. A long time ago, a friend of mine said that going to church on Sunday morning, and shouting, was “grief release.” Black people held a lot in, she said, in order to survive. Sunday morning, through the shout, they were able to release the pressure of being dehumanized, ignored and oppressed.
The Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore are enraged at Mosby’s swift actions, calling it a “rush to judgement.” They say their officers have done nothing wrong. That does not seem likely. But their being charged while the investigation is going on feels a lot better than letting them continue to patrol the community in which Freddie Gray was killed, as if nothing happened at all.
The taking to the streets is yet another form of “grief release.” There are no words to describe how the parents and family of Tamir Rice are feeling. It is as though they do not exist, and do not have feelings.
This is shameful.
A candid observation …
Thou Shalt Not Lie
The police officer in St. Louis involved in the scuffle in a city council meeting …did not tell the truth.
If I heard him correctly, Jeff Roorda, who is the business manager of the city’s police union, said that he was wearing his “I am Darren Wilson” bracelet because he had the right, citing the First Amendment.
There is nothing wrong with that. If had the chutzpah to wear that bracelet as he sat in the midst of a roomful of frustrated and angry African-Americans who went to the meeting to begin discussion on forming a citizen’s review board which would monitor police, then so be it. The First Amendment allows him to do that.
But here is where he stepped over the line. He said, ” “I have a right to freedom of speech, expression, just as violent protesters in Ferguson, who attempted to kill and maim police every night.” (http://kdvr.com/2015/01/29/ferguson-community-meeting-turns-to-scuffle-after-police-union-leader-tries-to-take-charge/)
That is not what the protesters did.
The few who were violent attempted to destroy property and they did, but it is not true that they tried to “kill and maim police every night.”
They protested. They walked. They shouted. They chanted. They did cry out: No justice, no peace! No racist police!” And there were some who chanted that they wanted to kill police. But that number was small.
Roorda misrepresented what the majority of the protesters were doing and saying
The protesters, in Ferguson and all over the country, are not anti-police. They are anti-bad-policing, and they are fed up with police being able to kill people and get away with it.
It is in the DNA of America that police have been able to brutalize, kill and destroy black people under the protection of the law. It really began after Reconstruction when white people had to find a way to get black people back on their farms and into their businesses to work. The labor of black people made this country, made the profits of the South and, in fact, of this nation.
Black people worked. White people and white businesses, reaped the results of their labor.
Black people were criminalized in order to justify them being thrown into situations where they would work for white people or corporations for years, unable to pay off their debt for the crimes they supposedly committed.
Under the convict-leasing system, black people could and would be arrested for the slightest thing – like not having a job, or walking outside too late at night…When they died, they were thrown into mass graves. If on their jobs they made the boss mad, they could be and were killed by those bosses and again, tossed into mass graves.
The bosses, the law enforcement people, didn’t have to worry about being arrested or sent to jail.
So, police culture as it is today has been stoked and practiced for a long time, and it is that culture that black people, and concerned people of all races, are objecting to.
Black police have beaten black people too.
Roorda has a right to wear his bracelet. He has a right to stand up for Darren Wilson.
But he is out of line for misrepresenting what these painful protests have been about.
He didn’t tell the truth. Black people were not trying to kill and maim police officers.
They were trying to make police and “the system” to hear them.
A candid observation …