The latest graphic videos of two Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling writhing in pain as their death occurred soon thereafter, is gut wrenching to see. I felt compelled to watch because of the depth of police barbarism and indifference to Black life was on display again in a country where no Black man, woman or child is safe from America’s pastime: violence and assault on Black lives.
Since America’s inception, Black lives have experienced varying degrees of hatred and disdain. Africans arriving on slave ships packed like sardines festering in their own urine and feces as they crossed the Atlantic lay the foundation for what came next. America's greatest ideals, laid out by the founding fathers were tarnished by the reality of their slave owning bigotry and racism. America's inexplicable transgressions against Black lives received the blessings by those individuals we’ve been ingrained to revere as the progenitors of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
Black people spent the next few hundred years enslaved under the convenient rationale of white superiority and black inferiority. Selling us as livestock, raping our women in front of us and bartering our children to the highest slave owning bidder was commonplace. Our fight for freedom was criminalized with the retribution of white backlash in the form of hate groups like the KKK, Jim Crow laws and the dismantling of political gains made during reconstruction. The lynching of Black women and men from their necks to targeted emasculation on the penis was a form of white entertainment and insecurity.
White and Colored bathrooms – segregated schools and neighborhoods were written in law to reinforce the notion of white supremacy. Black disenfranchisement in house ownership, employment and repressive voting laws aimed to create systematic helplessness and powerlessness. An educational system littered with history books purposely written and marketed to take the high civilization created by Black people of Egypt and place the country out of Africa and part of the Middle East.
Present day communities that are predominantly Black still suffer from the ravages of a system that has never seen us as people to be loved, respected and equipped with the tools and opportunities to reach our potential. Present day communities that are predominantly White suffer from the ravages of a system that tells them covertly and overtly that you are different – better than your fellow Black citizens.
Yet, we frame this racial sickness, inequality and injustice as the Black person’s burden to bear and prove in the court of public opinion and law. Our legitimate grievances are framed as complaints, our anger is said to be misguided and our solutions are told to come from within. No, what needs to be on trial is the various manifestations of white fear.
The cops responsible for the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling acted out of fear of the Black body while subconsciously taking comfort in a system that sanctions their deadly behavior. The fear allowed these bad cops to act without caution or respect for Black life. This same fear will allow the prosecution and defense attorneys to work in tandem in selecting white jurors who live in the same neighborhood as the cops. This fear will allow the judge to manipulate the jury instructions to all but guarantee an acquittal. This fear will allow for the killer cops to go through this process on paid administrative leave.
Emphatically, this should not happen. The gruesome deaths of Mr. Castile and Mr. Sterling were reprehensible and avoidable. These cops need to be indicted, convicted of murder and incarcerated. Cop behavior won’t change if repercussions do not result in significant prison time, plain and simple. Police officers follow the news and are keenly aware of the outcomes of multiple incidents involving Black death in local precincts -- to the ones that make national headlines. The real prospect of lengthy sentences and incarceration would be a formidable deterrent to the casual disposal of Black people with their tasers and firearms. Sadly, it is unrealistic to ask fellow cops to police themselves. The code is too strong and the shared camaraderie of facing the unknown on a daily basis bonds them in ways that an ordinary citizen wouldn’t understand.
But as I have tried to illustrate, the human tragedy at the hands of police is a symptom of a greater ill -- White fear of Black humanity fully exercised. It’s a reality that the American experiment has assiduously fought to deny. This painful legacy binds us together and will destroy the very fabric of this nation if it remains unaddressed. The American conditioning of this belief makes it hard to imagine the prospect of thriving Black communities with wealth, education, employment and home ownership on a massive scale. White Americans have been taught to believe concerted efforts at Black empowerment invariably means something will be taken away from them. It’s not about fault, blame or guilt. It’s about confronting the myriad of contexts from which fear manifests itself.
I remain an optimist in America’s ability to actualize its best rhetoric and ideals. Hearts and minds can change. People can change, conditions can change. But wishful thinking is not enough. We need action, accountability and fierce rebuttals for people who remain in denial about what’s happening in the United States. We need justice, not racial justice. We need to get cops off the street who dishonor the badge with corruption and reckless decisions that lead to unnecessary death of American citizens and make them pay with incarceration. For White Americans who have been afraid to engage in self-examination that makes you uncomfortable, respectfully, deal with it. This is a battle that Black and Brown people can’t do alone. Countless lives and the soul of the nation is at stake.