Living In Fear Of The Police

Dish Staff —  Aug 21 2014 @ 12:39pm
by Dish Staff

Lanre Akinsiku shares what it’s like:

To be black and interact with the police is a scary thing. The fear doesn’t have to come from any kind of historical antagonism, which, trust me, would be enough; it can also come from many data points of personal experience, collected over time. Almost all black men have these close-call-style stories, and we collect and mostly keep them to ourselves until one of us is killed. You know how the stories go: I was pulled over one day and the cop drew his gun as he approached my window; I was stopped on the street, handcuffed and made to sit on the sidewalk because the cop said I looked like a suspect; I had four squad cars pull up on me for jaywalking. We trade them like currency. And it almost goes without saying that these stops are de facto violent, because even when the officer doesn’t physically harm you, you can feel that you’ve been robbed of something. The thing to remember is that each of these experiences compounds the last, like interest, so that at a certain point just seeing a police officer becomes nauseating. That feeling is fear.

Relatedly, Coates recalls, “A few weeks ago I received an anxious text from my wife informing me that a group of young men were fighting outside of our apartment building”:

My wife wanted to know what she should do. She was not worried about her own safety—boys like this are primarily a threat to each other. What my wife wanted was someone who could save them young men from themselves, some power which would disperse the boys in a fashion that would not escalate things, some power. No such power exists. I told my wife to stay inside and do nothing. I did not tell her to call the police. If you have watched the events of this past week, you may have some idea why.

Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.

Matt Zoller Seitz, who is white, got into a fight with a hispanic man in front of a local deli. The cops took his side:

I said, “Oh, no, he didn’t hit me first. He poked me in the chest.”

“That’s assault,” my cop said. “He hit you first.”

“I don’t think he actually meant to touch me, though,” I said, while a voice deep inside me said, Stupid white boy, he’s making it plain and you’re not getting it.

“It doesn’t matter if he meant to touch you, he hit you first,” he said. He was talking to me warmly and patiently, as you might explain things to a child. Wisdom was being imparted.

“You were in fear of your life,” he added.

By now the adrenaline fog seemed to be lifting. I was seeing things in a more clinical way. The violence I had inflicted on this man was disproportionate to the “assault,” and the tone of this exchange with the cop felt conspiratorial.

And then it dawned on me, Mr. Slow-on-the-Uptake, what was really happening: this officer was helping me Get My Story Straight.

His takeaway:

I’ve never been profiled. I’ve never been stopped and frisked. I’ve never experienced anything of the sort because of the gift that my parents gave me, and that my son’s parents gave him: white skin. I’ve had encounters with police, mostly during my youth, in which I’d done something wrong and thought I was about to get a ticket or go to jail but somehow didn’t, because I managed to take back or apologize for whatever I’d said to a cop in petulance or frustration; these encounters, too, would have likely gone differently, perhaps ended differently, if I hadn’t been white.

Again, I already knew this stuff. But after that night in front of the deli, I understood it.

The tweet above is from Shirin Barghi’s elegant and powerful series on the last words of people shot by police.