I had a terrible night’s sleep last night. I don’t sleep well anyway but last night was the worst I’ve had in a couple of weeks. I read a little before bed. A little because I had to force myself to put the book away so I could get some sleep. I needn’t have bothered really. I spent the entire night in that in between state of slumber. Not quite awake and not quite asleep. My mind couldn’t settle and I had flashes of everything that has been going on in the world. Everything that is wrong.
Brexit still lingers here. Like some hideously foul unseen villain none of us can control. Yet another black man had been shot in the US and I wondered just how much more brutality this world will see in my lifetime. Of course, I woke up this morning to find that another black man had died at the hands of white police officers in the country. Just yesterday social media was awash with the news that the FBI would be investigating the circumstances behind Alton Sterling’s shooting in Louisiana. I couldn’t seem to get the image of his 15 year-old son’s anguished sobs out of my head. He just wanted his daddy back. It haunted me for the rest of the day. So to wake up this morning and immediately find out that there has been yet another incident like this is truly appalling to me.
Exact details are sketchy but from what anyone knows, a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota turned into the shooting, and subsequent death, of Philando Castile. His girlfriend and her 4 year-old daughter were also in the car. Police took his girlfriend into custody. No one knew where she was immediately after the incident. And nobody could find out the whereabouts of her child either.
Lets think about this for a second. It is 2016. How can something like this still be happening? How much longer will the United States continue to operate in such a hateful manner? These shootings spit in the face of the fact they elected (and then re-elected) their first ever black President in 2008. They prove, day in and day out, that they are not progressive, they are not moving forward, they are not moving above and beyond bigotry. They are in and amongst it now more than ever. It disgusts me.
Like many young children, I was always told to trust the police. If I was ever lost or hurt, I could trust a policeman who would keep me safe and take me home. These continual killings show that no, they cannot be trusted. It justifies time and again that black people cannot trust the police or the system. Why should they when the country continues to get everything wrong when it comes to police officers shooting and killing black people in the country? Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Kenneth Stephens, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the list goes on and on and on. A black man is shot. The police force close ranks. Recounts of the event in question become obscure, confused and muddled. The District Attorney either refuses to indict or the officer is found not guilty, assuming it even gets to trial in the first place.
Is it any wonder then, that police officers continue to racially profile black men and feel that they are justified in pulling their weapons and shooting them based on their assumptions? Because all they have to say is they thought he had a weapon. They thought he was reaching for a gun instead of his drivers licence because, you know, it was a traffic stop. What else could he have possibly been reaching for? You shoot based on assumption? Is this what is being taught in police academies over there? Assume a black man has a weapon and will gut you right there so you had best shoot him before he does. A white man won’t do that so go ahead and wait for him to grab his licence. A white man is carrying a gun. You ask him if he has a licence to carry first before even drawing your weapon. But a black man has a gun, he is going to shoot you, you fear for you life, so quick shoot him first! Investigate whether or not he was legally licensed to carry after the fact. I’m sure that will be comforting to his mother.
A study of the total number of deaths caused by police in the US in the year 2015 showed that black men were five times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than white men. 1,134 black men were killed by law enforcement in 2015. Why? It’s clear. Lets not dress it up. Police officers are allowed to think that it is ok to shoot a black man with no proof that he poses an imminent threat to the officer or civilians. Because they are black, they are violent. And a white man? Well, he’s just not as threatening and scary because his whiteness makes him more civilised than a black man. You don’t have to shoot him. His whiteness means he doesn’t possess the kind of barbarism that is inherent in all black people. They may not outrightly speak these words but this is the motivation behind every single shooting. It is.
I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen here. Of course it does. There have been numerous cases of police brutality, deaths coming from overkill when detaining suspects (Ian Tomlinson), mysterious deaths of people who are in police custody (Sarah Reed) and, of course, the wrongful shooting of Jean-Charles de Menezes who police wrongly assumed was one of the perpetrators of the London 7/7 Bombings. It does happen here. But the frequency of shootings by law enforcement against black people in the US is appalling. The country has a problem and it needs to be fixed by prosecuting and punishing the officers who take the law into their own hands, who twist it to fit their own racist ideologies to justify murder. Because it is murder. And they need to make these punishments long as is befitting of a murder conviction. Courts up and down the country have to be consistent in their refusal to protect racism and to punish it, to eradicate it from an institution that is supposed to protect its citizens no matter the colour of their skin. It doesn’t have to be caught in a graphic video on Facebook Live like Castile’s was. Do your job and prosecute these murderers. Do your job and protect the country from this escalating, dangerous practice.
Harsh? No. Alton Sterling’s death was everywhere on social media. Do you know what else I saw almost every time I clicked on anything to do with his death? References to his criminal background. Images, arguments, newspaper articles, everywhere. He was black. He was shot and killed unlawfully by police. But he had a (serious) criminal record so apparently he deserved it anyway. It is this kind of attitude that speaks to just how reprehensible the thinking is in the country. I am hardly an advocate for criminals but there is a bigger issue here. Alton Sterling apparently deserved to be killed on the basis that he had a criminal background and so the thinking is that it was a good thing because this black criminal would have committed another crime again eventually. In the future. Apparently. Except convicted Stanford rapist, Brock Turner (who was sentenced to only 6 months for rape), had his swim times and yearbook photo plastered everywhere. Not his mugshot. His yearbook picture, where he is in a suit, clean-shaven and smiling like a good ol’ American boy next door. The very culture in America surrounding the black community is so unbelievably disgusting it drives me mad. They are continually looked upon as second-class citizens in their own country. They are treated as though they are worth less than nothing. No respect. No dignity. Even after their deaths. Just because of the colour of their skin. Is it any wonder then that the police treat them the same way?
These people swore to uphold the law. They are breaking it and the law is protecting them instead of punishing them. If it had been a black police officer shooting a white man dead I don’t believe for one second that there would have been a shrug of the shoulders and then a return to the status quo. The officer would have been vilified, ruined and almost certainly sent to prison for a very, very long time.
Black lives matter dammit! These are people. Whatever their background, whatever their colour, whatever their social standing. They should matter to your country. It’s time to stop this. Stop treating them as second-class citizens. Stop treating them like they are a danger to your country because from where I’m standing, the cops are the real danger. And if this continues, we risk having nothing but Darkness and cruelty in this world.
“Land of the free and home of the brave.”
No. It isn’t.