When I was a little girl I was absolutely fearless. I probably had no valid reason to be, growing up in 1960’s Baltimore. Shit was happening back then just as crazy as it’s happening now; maybe worse. But even regardless of the times, I was still taught “Whenever you get into trouble, look for a policeman.”
As a little girl I believed that if I saw a policeman that meant I was safe. So I went for long walks away from the safety of my own neighborhood. I went to Druid Hill Park. I walked up and down North Avenue. All the while, it never dawned on me to feel like I was in any danger or dire straits (even though many times I actually was) as long as I saw a policeman. Beat cops would be walking along, twirling their black sticks and smiling at me as I passed. Sometimes they’d call me “Sweetie” and asked me where I was going. When I’d tell them they would answer “Okay.” And that was my assurance. I was so convinced of the fact that a policeman was my personal protector that I once got into a car with a man because he said he was a cop. I know. I know.
Seven-years-old on one of my jaunts through the park, ten or twelve city blocks away from my home. A man pulled up beside me and asked “What are you doing out here? Where’s your mother?”
“I’m going for a walk. She’s at work,” I answered.
“Where do you live?”
“2200 ½ Eutaw Place.”
Once he determined I was by myself, he scolded me that I shouldn’t be out there all alone.
“Get in this car,” he said, “I’m gonna drive you home. I’m a policeman.”
I don’t remember if he showed me his badge or what. But he did show me his police stick, which was on the seat beside him. Now I know you’re all aghast. But that’s my point. I was so convinced in my little mind that “police equaled safe” I had very few alarms at this scenario. I got into his car. He actually drove me to my front door safe and sound. He scolded me some more and drove away; further reinforcing my perception that there was nothing for me to fear when a policeman was around.
Fast forward fifty years and I’m adding my family and friends to my daily prayers in a way that I never thought I’d have to. I’m praying not one of them is ever stopped, accosted, questioned or otherwise involved in any encounter with the police in any way, fashion or form. Not only do I not want the men in my family to be degraded, emasculated, offended or provoked for no apparent reason, I don’t want them to be cursed, frisked, choked, thrown down in the street, beaten, stomped, tasered; embarrassed, threatened or made to feel less than human because some scared, paranoid, angry, racist man with a badge simply felt like taking out their personal pent-up aggression on them.
I’m praying that not one of my sisters, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, or aunts are disrespected, punched, choked, thrown down in the street, beaten or slammed against a car because she didn’t respond subserviently enough for some thirty-year-old who joined the police force because he sub-consciously or secretly wanted to take out his deep seated anger and resentment on people who had no recourse against it.
I don’t want any of my friends or family to be shot and killed in the street…….…by mistake.
Those of you who know me well, also know that I am a thinking woman. I don’t jump to conclusions about things that happen in life. I don’t cry “racism” at every incident that involves people of color. I don’t. But I have to tell you my friends, I am also a realist and this shit is real.
I know for a fact that my husband is not the sort of man who will allow himself to be emasculated in any situation. He’s not dumb or insecure. He knows how to show respect for authority and so do my sons and my brothers and my nephews and my uncles. These are hard working men who have raised families and who have authority themselves in many areas. If, God forbid, any of them were to have any encountered with the police, they would exercise common sense. Even more importantly, and I know you may not all understand this; they would exercise the “black man” principle. Many of you may not want to believe this, but there is definitely a separate set of rules that must be applied for them in these situations. The intensity of which is determined by where in the U.S. they might be. These men in my family would find it hard to acquiesce to certain levels of disrespect, as any man would. The consequences of their pride, however; the same and equal pride that any man would have, could turn out to be deadly.
Lately, it seems that too many reports of dangerous abuse of power are in our faces. I respect authority. That doesn’t mean that authority ought not be questioned. That does not mean that authority should be disseminated without respect. Not everyone is fit to have authority and it seems that lately, on far too wide a scale, those who’ve been given authority have not been properly vetted for the ability to exercise that authority without deadly malice and horrendous unchecked prejudice. Just because we haven’t been bombarded with the picture of “strange fruit” does not mean that we aren’t being subjected to modern day lynching. We are. A young white guy with a face full of tattoos, giant earlobe discs in his ears, and a spiked blue mohawk can walk down a city street and be safer than my 14 year-old, very handsome, very clean cut grandson. Then again this state of affairs is escalating at an alarming rate…both those boys are likely in danger.
And so, these recent assaults and killings perpetrated on citizens (of various colors, mind you) Michael Brown, Kelly Thomas, Cassandra Feuerstein, Robert Davis, John J. McKenna, Aiyana Jones, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Travon Martin, Noel Polanco, Marlene Pinnock ( the 51-year-old lady whom we all saw video of the CHPs officer straddling her on the ground and punching her repeatedly); they make me pray.
I don’t know the effect these reports may have on you. I’m compelled to write because of the effect it’s having on my heart. The only reason I’m not terrified, anxious and suffering is because I rely on God Himself. I cover my family in prayer. I apply my faith and I refuse to allow evil to paralyze my life. That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t cause me grief and concern.
I would love to be able to teach my grandsons that “you’re okay if you see a policeman around.” Instead I have to give them “survival training.” That is truly a shame.
My niece and I discussed this and we talked about authority. We’re both military woman and we recalled the attitudes of respect for authority that was ingrained in us because of the training we received; she in the Army and me in the Air Force. The leaders we encountered did have inherent power and they reinforced it with behavior befitting leadership. Unfortunately there’s been recent evidence of the breakdown and abuse of authority there too. What is happening? I’d like to be more positive, but at the time of this writing I cannot muster it. I’m sorry.
This goes out to all my loved ones and friends, not just my loved ones and friends of color. We’d better pray for our families. If this brutality is tolerated for anyone, then everyone is in danger. Your sons and daughters and wives and husbands and sisters and brothers… and your grandchildren might be less susceptible to becoming victims of this abuse of power because of their color and economic status, but they are not insusceptible.
In the relatively few and unequaled incidences where some pretense of justice has been metered out, civil law suits have been brought against these “public servants” and the cities that employ them. Municipalities are paying half-millions here; $3.7 millions there. I reluctantly researched it. We citizens are paying other citizens because our “public servants” have violated the civil rights of the people we’re already paying them to “protect and serve.” I guess paying a mother a million dollars to get over the fact that her son has been choked to death in broad daylight on a public street should square it all away. That should be enough. Right?
Speak out. Support those who speak out. Stop that nonsense of automatically assuming that the victims of this violence must somehow have deserved it. I agree with Inez Baez, a woman who has first-hand knowledge of the pain and bewilderment of this subject. She writes:
Those with a badge who unjustly kill and brutalize should be stripped of their badge, their gun, their job and their pension because they have violated the public trust.
 Iris Baez is a member of the Justice Committee in New York, a longtime activist for accountability and justice in police brutality cases, and the mother of Anthony Baez, who was killed by a New York Police Department officer’s use of a chokehold in 1994.