Yet another police officer (insert name) was acquitted for killing (insert name of latest black victim) for doing nothing more than daring to exist. This time it was Minnesota Officer Jeronimo Yanez who was found not guilty for shooting and killing Philando Castile while his daughter and girlfriend were in the car with him. Even still, America, who has long suffered from an irrational fear of black men and women, will not mourn their deaths. She won’t ache from a rage so intense that it ricochets sideways. She won’t writhe from a pain that stuns and festers, the sort that sparks thoughts of both violent revolutions and spirited revenge. And she certainly won’t demand justice for these so-called dark, menacing figures that society believes deserved an immediate death sentence without trial, defense or jury.
Try killing a police dog in this country and you’re likely to go to jail. And while blacks are no longer being sold alongside cattle and farm equipment, publicly raped for sport, or tied to a tree and whipped until we’re left standing in a pool of our own blood, we’re still treated as a intimidating, looming force that deserves extermination for simply daring to exist. And make no mistake about it: there is no degree of compliance that will erase one’s blackness. We can raise our arms higher, speak softer, we can even exit our cars shucking and jiving with a tambourine, but ultimately our wits will still be blown to smithereens. It’s become the American way.
James Baldwin famously noted that the “law is my servant not my master,” but blacks know all to well that the judicial system is a lying, cowardly farce that has raped of us of due process and justice served. How else does one explain the well-publicized instances in which officers are able to safely apprehend alligators, gun-toting terrorists, and angry white nationalists but deem it necessary to kill blacks for merely following orders? In what is becoming a tradition, police are proving that it’s easy to shoot first and rationalize later, to slaughter those that you think hold no value. If you deem this hyperbole in the extreme consider this: the Justice Department won’t charge officers for Alton Sterling’s death, another victim of America’s irrational fear of black folks, but charged a female protestor for laughing aloud during Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearing.
A recent American Psychological Association Journal of Psychology study showed that people see black men as larger, stronger and certainly more threatening than white men who are equal in size and strength, even when they aren’t. John Paul Wilson, one of the authors of the study found that “unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by the police.” What is it that makes them fear us? We aren’t the ones that have engaged in global genocide, raping entire cultures for sport or profit or perhaps both. We haven’t enslaved an entire people in the name of God, yet this absurd fabricated black boogeyman narrative continues to be used by those who, at best suffer from wild derangement, and at worst murderous inclinations.
Celebrated author and social critic Ta-Nehisi Coates summated the plight of blacks in America when he wrote, “the black body comes prejudged, and as a result it is placed in needless jeopardy.” We are taxed at birth, burdened and conditioned to withstand societies hatred for us. We are, inexplicably deemed wildly strong, too much for our own good, yet simultaneously weak and grossly inadequate. Ultimately we’re forced to get along in a society that is both fascinated and repulsed by us. As such, we continue—as evidenced by the scores of black victims of police shootings—to have a contradictory relationship with a country that was built on our humiliation and subjugation.
A mere generation ago, we were lynched before jeering crowds. Today, America’s disdain for minorities has taken on a more modern tone, but the end result remains the same: to create and protect a system that defrauds, injures and discriminates against those of color. Recently the American Civil Liberties Union issued a travel warning for those planning to visit Texas. Lawmakers passed a controversial law, SB4, which gives police sweeping powers when investigating potential illegal immigrants. The measure has all but legalized racial profiling. In Mississippi, lawmakers, in an act of sheer bigotry, advocated lynching those who dare removed Confederate monuments. All of this as the Trump administration quietly rolled back civil rights efforts in various federal agencies, and reversed Obama-era sentencing guidelines. Severe blows for a justice system already broken at its core.
To wit: a recent Department of Justice report reveals that basic training for police officers, excluding field training, lasts an estimated 840 hours. Of the 168 hours devoted to weapons training, use of force and defensive tactics, only 21 hours is devoted to use of force. Officers spend more time, 25 hours, learning how to write reports. If you prefer to cut hair and apply makeup, it takes 1200 to 1500 hours depending on the state you live in—to obtain a cosmetology license. Perhaps more time should be devoted to teaching these officers to leave their deadly biases at home?
I cannot reconcile nor keep track of the many victims of police shootings and the officers who escaped conviction, but doing so is necessary. To do so is to compound grief upon grief. They were infinity more than merely blacks bodies to be feared. Philando Castile. Sean Bell. Sandra Bland. Eric Garner. Dalvin Hollins. Mike Brown. Danroy Henry. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. And Rekia Boyd to name a few. They didn’t hate America but America hated them. They didn’t fear America but she feared them. This state-sanctioned reign of terror will not continue because such blinding hatred will bring America to her knees long before it brings us to ours.