Recently, too many cases have come to light from the past six months. Too many cases of a police officer, the people–people, aka human beings who are, in fact, fallible–who are charged with protecting and serving our communities, doing the exact opposite. Does it protect and serve our communities if someone illegally selling loose cigarettes is stopped? Depends on what part of the community you’re talking about. Sure, local small business owners/some big business, and sure, the government, even though they’ve already made sales tax on the pack in the original sale, most likely. The down-to-the-dollar citizen who knows it’s bad for his health, doesn’t want to buy a whole pack–if he could even afford to–but had a REALLY stressful day and knows one single smoke would help calm his nerves? That person isn’t helped. The entrepreneur who’s decided to spend his time providing this service? He isn’t helped, being stopped. A fine should be charged, to compensate for the lack of a vendor’s license. Should the penalty be death? By illegal chokehold? By the person who should, at most, be issuing a ticket? A stun gun would even be egregious in this case, since there was no crime taking place that was directly violent or physically threatening.
But it’s not about that. It’s about the ease with which these officers are using deadly force. The people charged to protect and serve, who should never have to give their lives in the line of duty, but know that it’s a possibility in their line of work. They know leaving the house each morning that a dangerous criminal may be around a corner, and may cost them their life, but they chose to join this occupation with that knowledge. Black people did not choose the skin they were born into. They didn’t choose to look like people that these officers would automatically associate with danger, regardless of the weapons they weren’t holding, their 7-year-old-ness, or the petty crime they were even committing. They didn’t choose to live in an area where the people who were sworn to protect and serve citizens would see fit to do it by minimizing the number that there were to police. They didn’t choose to commit crimes that we’ve seen stupid teenagers get away with nationwide–many of us even have been or know that stupid teenager trying to prove coolness with a mask of bravado and badassness–knowing that death, rather than a warning, a ticket, or maybe a few nights in jail could be the consequence. And they most certainly were not meant to live in vain, to be murdered or manslaughtered in cold blood, by someone trigger happy or choke-hold happy or even just plain scared, without justice being served. Justice is hardly served when these human beings whose vocation is police officer are freed with a not guilty verdict for ending a human life. Justice is most certainly not served when these people don’t even have to face a judge, jury, and prosecutor because the grand jury chooses not to indict them, not to even force them to reconcile their ending of another human life by facing peers–peers, by the way, who would be much more likely to be demographically peers of theirs than of the person who they decided should no longer grace this earth. I haven’t read the stories of the 7 year old girl shot in the wrong house with the no-knock warrant. I didn’t read past the headlines about the 12 year old who was killed while holding a BB gun. It took me a week before I would finally click through a whole article about a man shot for holding a toy gun in a Walmart that sold both real and toy guns, and the ammunition. I’m not even going to link them in this article. These stories are depressing. They are upsetting. And at a certain point, they are an epidemic. An epidemic of a life being valued as less than, regardless of the actual threat. Shoot to wound is an option, especially when a subject, or even suspect, is unarmed or at a distance. These officers seemed to forget that part of their training when faced with skin darker than a paper bag. What would I do if I were the officer? I’m not sure, that’s part of why I didn’t choose to become one. But why is it so much easier for you to empathize with them than with a person who MAYBE, but often not even, made a single bad choice? Have you never made a bad choice? Never run a red light? Never picked up a water gun for your child at Walmart and walked around the store with it? Never let your child handle a BB gun? Never gotten into a fight? Never used Craigslist or Ebay to anonymously resell something and not collect sales tax? Never done a single thing to break a law of the United States, or act in a way that might make an officer think you were dangerous? Think about that. Empathize with the victim. Because those of us who look like them, even if we have, in fact, never done anything “wrong,” are forced to find that empathy, and therefore feel that fear. We now feel the fear of walking down the street with our hands too deeply placed in our pockets, even though it’ll be 20 degrees out soon. We now feel the fear of bringing sons into this world and pouring our souls into them, knowing that they might one day decide to wear our university sweatshirt with the hood on, or that they may choose to walk down an empty street and speak with sass to someone in a position of authority. We know feel the fear of knowing that we just “look” dangerous, whether armed, engaged in criminal activity, or just minding our business.
I’m not a legal expert. I don’t know if the grand juries recently have been carried through to the letter of the law, or even its intent. What I do know, though, is that I can be sure that these laws are not meant to protect all citizens and visitors to the United States. I am a citizen. I was born here. Those two pieces of my selfhood are unearned, and automatic, and often confer a great deal of privilege to me. But right now, how can I say this is my country, when its system of checks and balances is declaring open season on people who look like me by the people that I was taught as an elementary school student I should go seek out if I was lost and needed help? These are supposed to be my protectors, my safe-guarders, the ones who will make sure my children cross the street safely on their way to and from school, the ones who are supposed to uphold the laws that enable them to contribute to our economy at the candy store during midterms, picking up a sugar-rush in the form of a bag of M&Ms. Instead, they seem to be upholding the aspects of the law that sees me and will see them as the threat to other law-abiding (or even just subjectively less threatening) citizens/people. So, from a legal standpoint, even if these grand juries and cases are prosecuted according to the law, the laws must change. They aren’t doing the job we’ve been led to believe is theirs to do.