I walked through a metal detector and past police officers every day before entering a classroom as a high school student in Chicago. Ten years later, I can still find at least three cop cars in one square mile almost anywhere in my neighborhood -- high police presence. I've been pulled over, accused of drug possession, and violently harassed by a police officer in North County, St. Louis. These experiences fit into a much larger narrative of criminalization of Black people across the United States. We must have radical change if Black people are to survive and thrive in America.
A future for Black people in America must include full decriminalization of acts not considered to be criminal when performed in non-Black bodies. Where we go from here requires approaches to public safety that don't hinge on the control of Black people, empowerment of police and reliance on punitive measures. Our call to action must support restorative justice practices, quality public school systems and good living-wage jobs. The call for an end to mass criminalization must include a call to the end of the Anti-Black Police State.
BYP100 Agenda to Keep Us Safe defines criminalization as a process in which behaviors and people are presumed criminal. Criminalization has less to do with what is actually done, and more to do with society's ideas about who is "other," whose behavior is wrongful and who should be punished. The law, media and public perception drive criminalization.
Black people who fall outside of the protected norms of whiteness, gender conformity, heterosexuality, middle-class and otherwise so-called respectable appearances are routinely harassed, arrested, sexually assaulted, incarcerated and killed. No person should have to live under the threat, fear or reality of criminalization from a neighbor, police officer or teacher. However, this threat is a reality for many young Black people in the United States.
Whether it is Trayvon Martin walking down the street or Renisha McBride knocking on a door for help, Black people are systemically criminalized and killed for acts generally recognized as harmless when non-Black bodies perform them.
Criminalization impacts all Black people. Last year Monica Jones, a Black trans woman and activist, was arrested for "walking while trans." Jones explains that "it's a known experience in our community of being routinely and regularly harassed and facing the threat of violence or arrest because we are trans and therefore often assumed to be sex workers." All people should be able to walk down the street without fear of being profiled.
From the local beat cop to the police chief, law enforcement agencies, have too much power over our lives. I want to live in a world where police department budgets don't take up over 20% of overall budgets while community services are allocated 6% or less, as they do in cities like Chicago and Oakland. I want to live in the world where society prioritizes quality public education, well-rounded social and mental health services and sustainable infrastructure.
The officers who killed Aura Rosser in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland, Ohio and Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri are reflections of a broad and powerful Anti-Black Police State. Individual police officers are just one party in the breathing-while-Black-pipeline to jail, prison, sexual assault or death. I am less invested in focusing on the character of an individual police officer than the character of the entire system.
The Anti-Black Police State protects elected officials who advocate for more police officers while public schools in Black communities are closed and underfunded en masse. Communities must organize against candidates who call for more police and support candidates who have commitments and records of protecting teachers, parents and the public school system.
Where we go from here requires us to see that the systems that fund tear gas in Ferguson, MO, the police officers gun in Cleveland, OH, the tanks in occupied Palestine and the detention centers in Arizona are all connected. If enslaved Africans in the Americas could imagine a future where their grandchildren would not be slaves, we can imagine a future without mass criminalization, incarceration and the Anti-Black Police State. Our freedom dreams must be radical. Our way forward must be radically inclusive or it will repeat the same strategies, tactics, policies and ideas that have failed our people before.
We'll know Black lives matter when the anti-black police state no longer exists and all people can live with dignity.
This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.