Here’s the thing: I am absolutely convinced that Black Lives Matter and that saying so doesn’t mean or imply that nobody else’s life matters. I can’t understand why so many fail to get, or choose to disregard, the history of this country and particularly the horrific experiences Black people (not just African-Americans) have had with police that unfortunately are a part of it.
It did not start with Ferguson and sadly it will not end with the next police killing of an unarmed person of color during a traffic stop or some otherwise “routine” interaction or arrest for a minor infraction. #BlackLivesMatter draws from a well of anger and frustration that is centuries deep.
Spare me, please, the statistics of denial: that Blacks and Latinos commit the lion’s share of crimes, that they therefore have the majority of crime-related interactions with law enforcement and so no one should be surprised that they suffer the most deaths at the hands of the police. I am shocked and saddened to read this claptrap posted or shared to my Facebook feed by those who should know better.
The events of the last week may well lead to an increased number of deadly interactions. The outrageous, cold-blooded murder of officers overseeing a peaceful demonstration in Dallas inevitably will lead to ever-more-wary cops. Likewise, as the bodies pile up of those who have died at the hands of the police for no good reason, those most vulnerable to such violence become even more sensitive to the likelihood of mistreatment. It is the proverbial powder keg waiting to be lit.
The Dallas County Sheriff was asked whether it wouldn’t have been better for officers to have been wearing protective riot gear. Ms. Valdez, a 68-year old military veteran with experience in several senior law enforcement roles, replied that such an intimidating presence is more likely to lead to escalation than to resolution of a problem. May her wisdom inform police leaders everywhere in the weeks ahead!
As far as can be told after just 72 hours, it seems the Dallas shooter – himself a military veteran – acted alone, and “just snapped…in reaction to what this nation is putting us through as a people,” according to a neighbor’s speculation. The Dallas police chief said the shooter “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
But there is more to this story, and it might never be known. This gunman obviously wanted to die. A person known to his neighbors as a “nice guy” carefully plans (according to Dallas Police) and carries out the assassination of several police officers. Demented? Maybe. Does he expect to survive the gunfight? Surely not. And Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick blames #BlackLivesMatter? Give me an effen break!
So let’s bring this home. My people too, queers, cross-dressers, and so forth have also known how it feels to be at risk for mistreatment by the police. I don’t dare to compare this in any way to what Blacks and other people of color are experiencing now. But I know how it feels to avoid interactions with the police because I don’t trust that they have my best interests at heart. And I can do the math – multiply that distrust a thousandfold.
My Chicago City Council member told me recently I shouldn’t expect the police to be polite to me, even if they’ve told me to “fuck off” after an innocent, well-intentioned question. But, as one friend said to me yesterday, “At least they’re not killing us.”
A different picture of Black and Police interaction
So where do I come out? I hate that these Dallas police officers were brutally murdered, that their counterparts in city after city must do their work looking out for a copycat, and that people of color will find it necessary to be even more on their guard against the police. I dread the possible results of that set of dynamics. I deplore the poor judgment and racial prejudice seemingly endemic to police forces around this country where the motto has morphed to “shoot first and ask questions later!” from “to protect and to serve.” I’m appalled that another generation of children in “minority communities” will grow up fearing those who should protect them.
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