Police + Panic: What are we so Afraid of?

Why do the innocent fear police? For those of us who have realized we carry a card of privilege (white, cis*, hetero, especially the combined forces of these characteristics), we know we are less likely to be profiled. For our melanin-bearing friends, persecution is a reprehensible ancestral curse. Like Stephen King’s notorious Pennywise the Clown, police brutality has reincarnated through generations, taking new form and creating fear in the core of the people.

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New York, 1963. At this point, it had been 98 years since slavery was abolished, but black Americans were still thoroughly disenfranchised. It had been 9 years since Brown v the Board of Education abolished segregation in public schools, but segregation in the rest of society was still legal and prominent. In 1963, protesters demanded that police brutality must go. (Image courtesy of Gordon Parks)

About a week ago,  I went to a Billy Joel concert at Fenway. While mulling around by the entrance, I sat on a military-esque road-block, surrounded by a militarized police force, steeping in a sense of unease. The following are observations and consequential conclusions of that experience.

First, as a Government major and social justice advocate, I saw my privilege. I empathized with the disenfranchised people around me, who bear the weight of their oppressors’ social construct(s) every day. Secondly, as a soul, I felt my desire for freedom. I recognized police as an inhibitor of that freedom, a threat to free will. The human experience allows us to reason logically, as well as process emotional reactions. Rarely can we do both, simultaneously, and maintain balance. Yet, my intellect and soul were operating parallel to one another: both were insisting I put my guard up.

Free will is the cornerstone of our humanityThe most tyrannical figures in history are those who sought to strip populations of their free will, in the form of enslavement, restriction of civil liberties, or extermination. A tactic of such figures was to generalize their targeted population(s), identifying the whole as sharing distasteful characteristics, or sharing responsibility for the act of an individual/group. Sound familiar? Today’s black America has been forced to normalize that acting on their right to protest is potentially life threatening: that is a despicable limitation of free will.

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Chicago, 1977. The 70’s was a time in which new racial equality legislation passed in the late 60’s would to be put to the test. Yet to kick off the beginning of the decade, the Philadelphia police invaded a Black Panther meeting, arrested 14 members, and forced six to strip naked in public. Photographs of these men treated so unethically by the police were published in papers nationwide. In 1977, the people demanded police brutality must go. (Image courtesy of US Prison Culture)

A further frightening parallel is this: dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin didn’t have to work outside the law. They utilized the law to enforce their brutality. The Nuremburg Laws, passed 82 years ago to this month, created framework for the segregation and disenfranchisement of the Jewish population. Officers of the law were “just doing their job” when they enforced these measures.

Herein lies one of the greatest threats to racial equity under the law in the American society. The law is not comprehensive. It does not hold police officers accountable for glaring acts of race-related violence. Just or unjust, the law is upheld. (Stop and frisk, anyone?) While much restructuring has occurred, the racially oppressive laws of our past have simply been replaced by de facto enforcement. Things have to change in practice, not just on paper.

For decades, officers in America have “just been doing their jobs” when they enforced racist norms and policies. From slave-hunters to Jim Crow to legalized prohibition of  interracial marriage, law was mistakenly depicted as synonymous with justice. While not all police officers are inherently unjust, enforcing unjust policy degrades their virtue and perpetuates systemic racism. If the system won’t hold police accountable for their actions, the people must. I call on all officers of the law to use the privilege of their voice, and speak on the reality of racism in law enforcement.

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8 year old Kaden and his 6 year old brother, Kingston, at a Black Lives Matter rally in Oakland. In 2016, the people demanded that police brutality must go. (Image courtesy of Michael Short)

We live in an America where headlines of unarmed black men, women, and children being fatally shot by the police are unsurprising and familiar. Children are crying for justice in our streets and courtrooms. Police brutality is not an obstacle we have overcome. It’s not history, it’s now, and our children should not grow up in fear of those meant to protect and serve. You can be pro-justice without being anti-police. Peaceful advocacy doesn’t have to be quiet: use your voice, speak on behalf of the strong-yet-silenced, and create a equitable future for the next generation. In 1963, 1977, 2016, and now, 2017: the people demand that police brutality must go. 

With hope,

Jenna Scout

*cis: short for cisgender. One whose gender identity corresponds with their physical sex.

links to resources:

FREE BOOKS in PDF form to educate oneself on race, gender, sexuality, class, and culture – Tyree Boyd-Pates

Concrete Ways to Be an Actual Ally to Black People – Avital Norman Nathman

Contact your Representative

Boston, Ma. Activist Calendar

 

 

 

donation

I will be leaving this button up on each of my posts, if any readers would be so inclined. At Smith, I’m surrounded by a community of activism, art, and education. However, I’m a full-time student and have limited work-study availability. Many advocacy events, speakers, and community classes demand a fee. Help me to immerse myself in the opportunities my community has to offer by donating a dollar (or two!) Thank you for your consideration, Jenna Scout

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