Warning: This is a very touchy subject. If you are faint of heart you will not enjoy this post, I promise. The things I say will challenge you, they will cast you as a villain. I’m not trying to be offensive, but this is hardcore. That said, I sincerely do hope you continue.
With the murders of Eric Garner (the “I can’t breathe” guy) and Michael Brown, we have largely dispensed with the polite fiction that policemen are universally heroic. With the massacres at Dallas and Baton Rouge, we’ve largely dispensed with polite fiction that Brown was ever a symbol of Martin Luther King style principled civil rights. No, we’re dealing with the vieled expression of hatred and the hidden desire to see our enemies suffer.
If we’re lucky, we’ve merely moved on to simmering hatreds that, given a few decades, will evaporate on their own. If we’re unlucky, we’ve moved into an era of ascendant identity groups – that is to say, white people and black people openly expressing the mutual hatreds clearly already there.
Notice how I mentioned hatred in both scenarios. I don’t do this because I want to shame you for your hatreds. Hatred is a natural and sometimes healthy reaction to threats or mistreatment. I mention hatred because whatever identity group you support, you are hated. You are the villain in somebody’s narrative, if only in the abstract. But hey, that’s the wonderful thing about identity politics – everybody is an abstraction.
We can pretend this isn’t true. We can hold hands and pretend that everything is fine. We can, in the words of slain Baton Rouge police officer Montrell Jackson ask others to “please don’t let hate infect your heart.” If that’s what you want to do, I understand. I don’t think it’s practical and I don’t particularly think repressing disturbing feelings works, but do I understand.
I hope, instead, that we take a moment and consider, fairly and intently, the valid reasons other people have for hating us. Perhaps then we can find solutions.
I’d like to share some anecdotes about the police but before I do, I should explain exactly how I’ve interacted with law enforcement to this point in my life. I hope you’ll pardon the indulgence because I think I’m a pretty good example of what happens when a person from a “bad” demographic mostly tries to do things the right way.
I have never been convicted of anything more than traffic violations. The vast majority of these traffic violations have been of the non-moving variety and the vast majority of those non-moving violations have been because I both needed a car to work and didn’t have enough money to keep my car legal.
I’ve never driven drunk or even lightly buzzed. I’ve never experimented with narcotics. I’ve never assaulted anybody. I’ve never been involved with illegal guns or associated with gangs. I’ve never vandalized anything. I’ve gotten three speeding tickets in my entire life. If you were to give the police omniscience and let them view everything I’ve ever done, the worst offence they could nab me for was, depending on your perspective, that one time I stole roofing tiles in high school or when I did risky driving stunts on some seriously deserted roads. I’m a pretty good citizen.
That’s not to say I haven’t had frequent run ins with the law. I had a prolonged and humiliating experience with the Storey County Police for a “crime” that turned out to be a filing error. I have been searched for drugs three times before I finally figured out that I can tell the officer “no.” I’ve been the object of those tough, scary, “I’m gonna find out what you did, scum” speeches on half a dozen other occassions. Judges, while punishing me for high crimes like lapsed registration and illegal parking, have more than once implied that I’m well on the way to professionally murdering people for the Mafia.
So, why? Well, I discovered that these things all happened when I was poor and scruffy-looking. Like I said, the vast majority of my record of traffic offenses is not being able to pay enough to remain legal. To be poor, in the eyes of the police, is often the same thing as being a criminal. I hope you can see, friends, how such a status would breed resentment and hatred in the “criminal” classes.
And it goes beyond this. People feel comfortable telling me all sorts of horrible things. I think this is because I don’t bother morally judging them. I don’t get offended and I don’t feel it’s my duty to correct off color sentiments. I do actually listen and, I’m increasingly coming to believe, listening gets conflated with approving more often than not.
For example, if you want to tell me how much you love the Nazis and how you’d really like to partake in your necrophilia fantasies, I will respectfully listen to your story. I’ll also ask questions and I’m not going to tell you that I think you’re reprehensible because I’m sure you’ve already heard that and also, it’s a moral judgment so who cares? In my experience, this attitude often leads to a flood of confession.
I mention this because I’ve attended parties and events with off duty policemen. I’ve laughed along while these gentlemen described tazing compliant prisoners for important reasons like “I wanted to see how the new tazer works” or “just because I could.” I’ve nodded and asked clarifying questions while these guys describe how much they resent the black community and asked for tips on how to best spot scumballs. The key seems to be making a lot of very hasty judgments, if you’re curious.
I’ve maintained eye contact and said “hmm” while they describe the rush they get from flattening a “bad guy,” how good it feels to inflict pain on a suspect who dared to defy. The opportunity to punish, they mention, is one of the great perks of the job. The line between bullying and striking a blow for justice seems to be largely fictionaly in these accounts.
I can’t tell you, friends, how many times others at the party waited for these gentlemen to leave and then uttered some, usually profane, variation on the phrase “cops, man.”
This is not to say all cops are like the gentlemen I met at the party. Indeed, many of them are lovely people. Many are sincerely devoted to protecting their neighbors and they all do a difficult and dangerous job. We need police, but we don’t need to pretend they are all angels.
And I don’t think my experiences are just anecdotal. According to the Guardian, American police are vastly more dangerous to citizens than just about any other first world country. Our corrections system is broken, very often making trouble makers into full on terrors and is home to official abuse on a scale simply not seen in the rest of the developed world.
Fun fact, the US is the only country where, when you include prisoner rape, more men are raped than women.
Hey, I get it. If I was a police officer, I’d have harrassed me, too. Poor people suck and you should be suspicious of them. I would have racially profiled and I would have taken out my frustrations on suspects and prisoners because there isn’t enough time to get to know every individual you deal with. I get it, but I also get that these are the reasons Micah Xavier Johnson and Gavin Long engaged on massacres. People don’t fear and hate you without reason.
I’m already weary of the police, but if I was black and living in the US right now, I’d be downright terrified. Not only do people already percieve black men as a disturbingly constant physical threat, but there’s the matter of these recent massacres at police stations.
There had been some progress towards demilitarizing the police in the last couple of years but I suspect that is going to be a harder sell in the future. After all, if the police needed an excuse to carry assault rifles and use weaponized explosives, well, the fact that it’s much harder to empathize with black people’s suffering combined with two black men massacring cops with assault rifles makes a pretty good argument for heavily armed police forces.
Like I said before, I listen to people when they say terrible things and, in my experience, a sizeable minority of people fear and hate African Americans. Notice I didn’t say white people fear and hate African Americans, though many white people do. I didn’t specify whites because African Americans are also, in my experience, feared and hated by a sizeable minority of Hipanics and American Asians. At least in Asia, I can’t honestly say this fear and hatred is a uniquely American thing.
I’d once more like to share some anecdotes. A few years ago I joined a city league basketball team. One day, while practicing, a black gentleman we’ll call “M” asked if we had a spot on the roster. He explained that he was a member of the 2004-2005 Illinois basketball team (this turned out to be untrue) that went to the NCAA college championship game and that he’d love to join the team. We agreed.
Over the next three weeks, M explained to us that the no dunking rule (he couldn’t actually dunk) was not about the cash strapped city protecting its elderly equipment but secret racism and that he would defy this racism by hanging on the rim. He talked trash during practices and yelled at the referees in league games. Finally, when we were getting blown out by a vastly superior team of insurance salesmen, M decided that he wasn’t getting enough foul calls. He responded to this injustice by threatening the other team’s center, threatening the refs and complaining about how it was all racism. The gym director, another racist, told him to leave or she’d call the cops. M and his group of African American followers finally agreed to leave, but only after threatening to administer a beat down on the insurance team’s center.
M and his group are certainly not representatives for all black men, but neither are they as rare as they should be. While black men are about three times more likely to be killed by police than white men, but across the US black men are twelve times as likely to be murdered as the population in general. Almost none of those murders are committed by people of other races. When murder did occur between blacks and whites, whites were about twice as likely to be the victims. Things don’t get much better when we discuss other types of crime.
I hope you’ll forgive another anecdote that might go some way to explaining why there is fear and hatred pointed at the black community. I can’t find any statistics to back (or refute) my positions on this point, but perhaps you will relate to what I experienced.
I used to work as a security guard at special events. My work day almost always started the same way. My boss would tell me what the event entailed so I could offer information to the customers, my boss would tell me my assignment and then inform me which yellow lines people were not to cross.
After this meeting, I would spend the rest of the day giving people information about the event and saying “Sir/Madam, I’m sorry but you are not allowed past this yellow line.”
I knew that a rent-a-cop such as myself commanded pretty much no respect. I realized that my yellow line very often signified nothing. I realized that my job very often consisted in annoying the customer.
Many of these events were quinceaneras and many were hip hop concerts. At the quinceaneras about 30% of people would roll their eyes and say something like “whatever man” when I forbid them to cross my yellow line. At the hip hop concerts, about 30% of people would accuse me of racism when I forbid them to cross my yellow line.
Those policemen I referenced earlier, when they weren’t talking about tazing compliant prisoners, often mentioned scenarios similar to my security guard experience. The “racism is root of everything” meme seemed to lead in one of two directions. First, undifferentiated antipathy towards blacks. Second, a shrug and “if I’m a racist no matter what, why bother trying?”
Hey, I get it. If I was black, I’d have hated me, too. I would have squinted and thought of racism when I couldn’t cross the yellow line and I’d have the realities of police brutality very much at the forefront of my consciousness. I’ve had the privilege to learn from an amazing Kenyan professor and Toussaint Louverture is one of my favorite people in history. There are a lot of black men like them who absolutely don’t deserve suspicion or disapproval. I get it, but I also get that there are reasons people of other races and police officers view black men with suspicion. People don’t fear and hate you without reason.
So, how does this help? My hope is that speaking frankly about hatred opens the path to resolution. While I sympathize with Officer Jackson and his wish that people not let hatred poison their hearts, I’m not sure that’s feasible. Hatred is too natural and repression is too hard.
Of course, understanding why I hate somebody else is as easy as it is useless. It’s not until I master myself to the point I can understand the valid reasons others have for hating me that I have the power to fix things.
There’s another group, lurking in the background of these police shootings, that people hate and hate with good reason. This article is already too long, so I’m going to post it next week. That group is my group, white liberals. I hope you stick around.
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