Reflections on Injustice: Policing and Cultural Differences

Some people look at the police and immediately want to run away. Some people actually do. That proved a fatal mistake for Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Has anyone ever examined that and asked themselves why? Why would someone simply look up or look at the police, local law enforcement professionals, and decide to run?

Is that an automatic indicator of guilt? Criminal behavior? If the most appropriate answer is yes, then consider thinking about this is a broader context. Under ‘normal’ circumstances, one would think, yes, that is definitely a sign of guilt. However, when looking at this through a trauma-informed or culturally- specific lens, one might see something completely different.

In the case of African-Americans, particularly young men, there is an informed historical perspective which brings forth this automatic response. One can choose to either fight, take flight or freeze. With a shared experience in the black community of police aggression, numerous unnecessary arrests, excessive force, and an all-around antagonistic relationship, the choices are different shades of ‘gray’, no pun intended.

Youth of color have witnessed or been exposed to police treating their friends, family members, and neighbors in harsh manners. They are regarded as criminals, suspects first. From that perspective, outcomes are rarely positive. Law enforcement is not seen as their friends. They are arrested at school, at home, and in the playground. They are arrested for acts that, when committed by whites, they are given a ‘slap on the wrist’, issued a warning, or shown patience and understanding.

If a black youth decides, not even deliberately aiming for disrespect, that he wants to defend himself, through words only, like defending his innocence, asserting his rights, or ask questions, he is seen as being resistant. It is deemed disrespectful.All youth have their own slang, and that use of slang varies sometimes from group to group.

Remember the word ‘phat’? If someone said that to a person, on the surface, it is thought to be an insult. Understanding the slang terminology, one would then determine it a compliment. That is a mild example of culturally-specific language differences. For black people, it is seen as disrespectful to say to an officer, ‘yo’. That is a punishable offense. Yes, it has been deemed cause for arrest. It is appropriately respectful to say ‘ Yes or No Sir[or Ma’am]’.

What white youth can get away with saying or doing in the presence of the police is completely different from what is allowed by blacks. That represents a double standard, and is not right. But, that is the reality of black and brown youth. They are suspects first and any words spoken or actions taken can be seen as disobedience or disrespect, challenging the authority of police officers.

It is generally known that police are representatives of the law-all that is just. They don’t need to assert their authority in all situations, because it is known and acknowledged. Often times, they The attitude many black and brown people ar confronted with by men and women officers, is that they have no rights, how dare they question them, because it is seen as questioning their authority. How dare they!

White children are taught to assert their rights, always ask questions and when worse comes to worse, ask for their attorney. They have an attitude that they should not be questioned by the police, and they are allowed the room to question authority. They gather at neighborhood pizza shops, and black kids gather on corners, parks and corner stores, as well. Seldom are white kids approached in these circumstances.

Black kids are stopped on the way to school, and get their backpacks searched on a daily basis. It happens indiscriminately; straight A students or those with failing grades. The slightest hint of movement, even when acting under the directions of the police are seen as a threat to authority.

Black parents, mothers especially, of black male children, must teach their children police etiquette in order that their worries are minimized about whether their child will get home safely each day that they leave their houses. This is a phenomenon that has become a reality in the black community, and no one sees anything wrong about that. That is a response to trauma-repeated trauma.
The mere sight of police officers, in their patrol cars, brings forward that trauma, the past experiences, as a threat to these youth and adults alike. When one feels threatened, the natural inclination is the fight, flight or freeze instinct.

What happens when you ‘fight’ is similar to when you ‘freeze’, in this case. In both instances, you run the risk of harm from the police. Outcomes are rarely positive. Many people would freeze, not do anything at all. Many people seek to avoid confrontation for fear of the outcome, even good law-abiding citizens. We’ve seen too many situations where law abiding people of color did the ‘white’ thing. There are still many who attempt to rely on the hope of fair and just practices. They stop their cars, when pulled over and follow directions exactly as given by police. When they were ‘driving while black’, tragedies occur.
Regarding the youth, our teenagers, we are aware of their psychological and developmental immaturity. We consciously know, from our collective understanding of scientific and theoretical evidence, and therefore should always expect them to make mistakes. It is a part of growing up-for black and white children. Black children, in most cases, aren’t allowed the mistakes of childhood.

There is a running joke in the black community about horror movies and dangerous situations. When white people hear suspicious, otherwise forboding sounds, they will go towards it. In black people’s eyes, you get the hell away from it, in order to stay alive. You run-head in the opposite direction from danger. To black and brown youth around the country, and apparently around the world, the police represent danger, not ‘protecting or serving them.

So Freddie Gray looked at the police approaching, saw nothing but harm coming to him, and he ran. That represents a survival mechanism triggered by paranoia and fear, and direct or indirect trauma. It is not a clear indication of guilt. So they found a pocket knife in his possession. It happened to be 1/4 of one inch longer than the law allows. He was arrested, after being chased and severely beaten by police, who felt their authority threatened because he ran. He was a slight teen, no threat to anyone at all. We know what happened in the end.

This illustrates a sequence of events long experienced in the black community. Driving while black, walking while black, sleeping while black, being mentally ill while black, being a victim while black, and being innocent while black. That is everything, and in total, it is living while black. From the technology we have at our disposal, it is now that all the injustices experienced by blacks in this country are being exposed. They still occur.

Often, when these video accountings are presented, the viewing public, presumably intelligent, well-sighted and reasonable people, have sided with the old phrase that’ I feared my life’ as told by police. Black people have witnessed far too many tragic beatings resulting in deaths, bogus arrests, and plain old disrespect from police over the years. The helpless pleads and gut-wrenching cries of their inability to ‘breathe’ have gone unheard and fell on deaf ears. No more.

Some say that we aren’t a racially-charged society. Yet, we see incidents where clearly there was police misconduct, and we look to find reasons to blame the victim. If we are unaware of what people experience, because we have never experienced these things and were never told about them, and all we see on our news is story after story of those people engaging in criminal behavior, how can we stand credible in our judgment of the many situations exposed.

Because you have never had these experiences, never knew of anyone who has, and don’t want to believe it is even possible, ask yourself how many times you have seen these events and said it was an isolated event. Ask yourself how many times you’ve heard protests surrounding injustices. In your heart you know that it is about race.  How many times have you dismissed the conversation, erased the thought? Number one question to ask yourselves, as white people,: How many times have you hard of a white person being beaten to death or killed by police in your community? When you knew that that person was an otherwise innocent person?

When was the last time that you had a conversation about race-in your social network, at your dinner table with your family, your children, at work? Did you ever sit with your neighbors, your white neighbors and talk about what race means in America? What it means to you? What was your conclusion? Did you revert to the fairy tale images that were shoved down your throat as a child in school? Is it safer and less threatening to believe that the way you live is the same for everyone else? Do you believe that poverty is a choice? Is it a coincidence that you live in a tree-lined neighborhood with no black people? Are you inherently smarter than black people, as a collective? Do you feel that you work harder than black people? Do you believe that most black people are lazy?

Have you ever asked yourself, honestly, who built this nation, from day number one? What about the laws and policies that became a symbol of this nation. If slavery was the law, expected practice, the basis by which all that was created made millions of white people rich, is it not completely logical that written explicitly or implicitly, every single line of our founding documents were written to ensure wealth, freedom, education, housing, citizenship was to be denied by these people?

Are you aware of when and how any why the police force was created in this country? If you were to change maybe 20 lines out of 300 lines in a document, does the essence of that document change? What about regarding the millions of people whose influence, wealth and power was derived from the policies and thus practices allowed in that document? Would you be pissed off when you found out that you had to pay for the work, that for hundreds of years was done for free by black people? You became accustomed to those services, you taught your children plain old lies to have them believe that the way you accumulated your wealth was just. You made monsters out of those people to ease your conscience, and it was easier. You felt it was your inherent right to treat people, other human beings in such inhumane ways.

These feelings grew to ease guilt and allow you to not see your grandfather, whom you loved dearly, or your great grandfather as the real monster. The facts illustrate clearly the hideous practices and the evidence supports the fact that whites stole so much from black people, and made it look justified, their own, and then a day came that they were no longer your property. You resented them and made certain that everyone felt that these people were not entitled to perform the works they performed for generations to now build their own wealth. You could never let anyone know that the truth was always hidden.

There are still two Americas, brought to the surface in large part due to our national leadership.Understand that xenophobia and racial hatred is borne out of ignorance, jealousy and fear. It is an unhealthy way to live. One cannot truly thrive or be happy when they are fully informed. The strength, personal, professional and political, emerge from being fully informed and finding comfort in those truths. When our perspectives are more broad, when we can honestly talk and actively listen to others’ truths, experiences and discover who they really are, how they got here today, how they live, what they dream and value, we can then become partners, neighbors, co-workers, friends and cohesively work towards shared goals. Peacefully.

What we see today, the multi-racial gatherings of protests, peaceful yet loud, is a glimpse into our future. It is good and bright and fair. Your children, your sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, your neighbors-good white people are out there amidst the protesters and in many cases, outnumber the blacks who are also protesting injustice. What are your conversations like? Do they inform you or are you ever so desperately dismayed, confused and don’t understand what the fuss is all about? If so, time to reflect. Take an honest look at your values, sense of self. Have you grown so comfortable in your historically undeserved privilege, that it is really an underlying fear of reprisals from black people that prevents you from confronting your own humanity? People feel better about themselves when they can say that they have given a few hundred or thousands of dollars to charitable organizations once each year. This becomes their proof of the absence of racist views.

What we see most often, is not acts of pure racism; what we see are attitudes of white supremacy. Pseudo-science, many, many, many years ago was used to justify that supremacy. But, that was pseudo-science-fake news, propaganda. Real science demonstrates to us that any supremacy was stolen, ill begotten. Today, young people are willing to earn their status, absent feeling entitled. They will be a happier generation. White fragility will not describe their character. That is good.
Unfortunately, your widely publicized history has lied to you and your children and your grandchildren, and mine as well. However, youth in this generation, in this-the 21st Century, have the benefit of technology and access to information sources where scientifically proven truths and factual evidence inform their consciousness. Along with simple logic. They are not you nor I. They may just be the people living and striving towards that great ‘dream’ of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fortunately, as we push for STEM studies in school, this has pushed them to a new consciousness never before exhibited in society. Black, white Asian and a host of those representing the diversity never imagined, are forming a collective consciousness. We should all be proud to see our children becoming better, more compassionate, empathetic and inclusive people-a global village. The topic of race and diversity, and social justice is here to stay until the old folks are either accepting of the truths and realities and are brave enough to move forward in that enlightenment or until death do you part. Nonetheless, the future is theirs and they are making their voices heard now-today. They aren’t hoping that the noise dies down.Do you wish for peace or quiet? They want peace and will not be quiet until they see it before them.

Our young people are demanding change. The pains felt for generations, passed along, and still felt today is seen as unacceptable. They are in solidarity with a humane approach to life and justice. I am proud of the youth who are jeopardizing their personal health and safety to fight for a cause that is bigger than themselves. They are fighting for what no one before has had the guts to do. They are doing what every parent teaches their children-stand up for yourself, support what’s right and knowing what science has taught them, no one is left out in that fight.Be proud of them all.

As every parent now feels the same fear of them or their children and loved ones becoming infected with the coronavirus, perhaps we can all see that what is happening to black people is a product of all that has been happening for years. We tried to shut it down as best we could, we did all we could to avoid the topic of race and the reality of black people in this country.

It will not go away until we demonstrate our commitment to change-practices, and mindset that guide our practices and policies. Who knows- perhaps in the back of their minds is ‘Am I next?’ Today, we are living in a globally-connected society fueled by information and technology. It is better that we reflect on our behaviors, change our practices and work together to change policies. Another thing that the younger folk are showing us is that they are not Trump supporters, either. They are looking for positive, forward-thinking leaders who do not dismiss the suffering of any group.

So what would you think or do the next time you see a black person enter your store, walk through your neighborhood, reaches in his car for the identification you demanded to see? What will you do the next time that someone says to you that “I can’t breathe”? What will you think about the black person you see wearing baggy pants and a hoodie? What about wearing a backpack? What will you think about the black kid in your classroom whose behavior you do not like or understand? What about the anger exhibited by that parent who appears at your school?

When is enough enough? When will we cease feeling threatened by every black person not dressed like you? Or driving an expensive car? Or whose resume reflects a name that you find difficult to pronounce? Speaking with a friend recently, the conversation centered on respect. He said that one has to earn respect before you receive respect from others. I disagree. I believe that in all circumstances, we begin with respect first, almost like, giving respect expecting to receive respect from others. It is mutual, reciprocal, and mandatory. From that perspective, one may gain a deeper appreciation of another person, but always respect them first-from the first ‘hello’. When we lead with that principle, the chances are less likely that if I see you, I will decide to run away from you.

Please chime in!

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