This place matters

This place matters

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Justice for all

Imagine you live in a town of about a thousand people, where about a hundred and thirty of the residents are your relatives. Your family's got a long and bitter history with the local police, and while things have gotten better, maybe, you still know that your family's more likely to be stopped by cops, be searched by cops, be arrested by cops, be killed by cops, than people outside your family, even if they were committing the same crime.
Imagine one day your uncle gets killed by a cop. Your uncle wasn't a perfect man, he committed some crimes. But on the day he died was guilty of a tiny, non-violent misdemeanor. Some guy took a video of your uncle's last moments on earth as he begged for breath, a cop crushing the life from him using an illegal choke hold.
Imagine not even a month later your own brother gets killed by the cops. You grew up with him, you loved him. You sat by his side while you got The Talk from your mom - always be polite, don't run, keep your hands in sight. Your brother didn't have time to do any of that as he stood inside of a suburban shopping center, talking on the phone to his mom, holding a toy gun he'd picked up off the shelf. You watched your brother die in a grainy security camera video, saw how he didn't even have a moment to react to the cops' arrival before they opened fire and shot your brother dead. Your mom listened to his last fading breaths over the cell phone. Cops detained and verbally abused your brothers girlfriend for hours. Those cops didn't even get a slap on the wrist.
Imagine your cousin gets shot for stealing some cigars, and imagine a whole lot of witnesses say the cop who shot him wasn't telling the whole truth. Imagine they left his lifeless body in the street like garbage, like a warning to others, not even allowed the dignity of a sheet or a body bag. Imagine his mother, your aunt, standing on the perimeter, not allowed to see her boy, not sure it even was her boy until she saw a picture on some gawker's phone. 
Imagine your unarmed niece's head split open on the pavement. Imagine your nephew getting shot when cops mistook a pill bottle for a gun. Imagine your god father getting shot in the back as he fled from an officer. And imagine all this time people are coming up with the most outlandish excuses for the cops who treated your relatives like their lives didn't matter. 
Now imagine your son's out playing in a park. You told him not to take that BB gun to the park, but he's 11 and a knuckle-head. The cops give him two seconds to comply before they shoot him dead. One heartbeat he's playing with a toy gun and he's got two heartbeats left to live. The media, the country says your son deserved to die for brandishing a toy. Imagine your little girl sitting handcuffed in a cop car staring at the dead body of her brother laid out like roadkill, like a warning to others. Imagine the media saying your baby boy's death is your fault because you let him have the very same BB gun a million other boys his age have. Your baby boy came out of you, he nursed from you. You walked the floors all night with him while he was teething, you celebrated the As on his report card. You did everything, sacrificed everything so he could have a happy life and a cop - who had been deemed unfit for duty by his previous employer - took it all away in two heartbeats.
Imagine that white America doesn't just refuse to see, doesn't just refuse to act, they say it's your whole family's own fault - because some of your family members are deadbeat dads and a couple of your family members are criminals. Imagine white Americans shrieking about how their lives matter too, white Americans who never got The Talk, who can almost always count on cops to be a force for good, to save the day. Imagine white America accusing your family of hate speech when they dare to speak up against this violence. Imagine their moral outrage as they sign a petition trying to get a guy fired for saying that black lives matter. Even as your sister broadcasts her husband's murder at the hands of cops live over Facebook and white America scrambles to explain why it's okay for a cop to shoot a black man who put his hands up and offered up the information that he had a legally obtained firearm and legal permission to carry it. 
We white folks can imagine, but we'll never truly understand what it is to live in brown skin, but we should damn well try. 

Please check out Campaign Zero, who are trying to fix the problem on every front - from demanding better training for officers, ending stop-and-frisk, demilitarizing, and more.

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