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Black lives matter. Anyone? Anyone?

I simultaneously have much to say and little to say about the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I have much to say because these men are so similar to the Black men in my life: my uncles, cousins, nephews, my sons, myself. I don't have much to say because, hell, what is there left to say? There's only so many times I can repeat the notion that Black Lives Matter.

I keep making this argument in various forms, and from white people I keep hearing, "Yeah, it's tragic, but..." But, nothing! If people accept the radical notion that a 6'4", 240 lb Black man is a living person, a citizen of our country, and a human being with hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a better life, then there can be no "but." We live in a country where we get to hear the "good aspects" of even our serial killers, who, BTW, are predominantly white. We hear about how they were clean-cut, peaceful, good students and how their friends and loved ones couldn't imagine that their son would so something so terrible (because yes, it is usually a white male). 

But with Michael Brown? We didn't even know the name of his killer before we heard that he stole cigarillos from a local convenience store. We hear about how he was a thug. We hear about how he "rushed" the officer, how he looked like a demon. We heard only the worst aspects of Michael Brown, even though he didn't kill anyone and barely harmed that cop. You can be white and kill dozens, and we'll hear about your good side on the History Channel. If you are a Black man standing on the sidewalk before you get your life taken by a white cop, and we'll hear about every misdeed you've ever done. Sold loosie cigarettes? Well, you deserved to die.

Being killed by a police officer is relatively rare, but it's three times more likely to happen to you if you're Black than if you're white. There are fewer Black people than white people in this country, yet Black women and men are still more likely to be killed by a cop. It's relatively rare, but so is dying in a plane crash, or a terrorist attack. But these rare events carry something important in common: when it happens, it is singularly terrifying.

I'd go so far as to say being assaulted by a cop is worse than being in a plane falling from the sky, or being the victim of a terrorist attack. The police are supposed to be there to help you. They are there to protect your property, and with that your most important possession: your life. They are sworn to protect citizens. So when one of them turns a baton on you, and you know you've done nothing wrong, you are in a world of hurt, both physically and emotionally. After all, who can you call for help when the people who are supposed to help you are the ones beating you? Still don't understand this? Watch this video of a father trying to pick his daughter up from school, only to be harassed and tased by the cops who are supposed to protect him and his daughters. Listen to his cries for help. Help from the police.

The more I look at the recent and past history of police killings and abuse, the less it appears to be a system malfunctioning and the more it appears like a system that is functioning just fine, the same way it has for centuries in this country. For example, I'm reading about the history of the Montgomery bus boycotts, and the parallels between the conditions that Black folk faced back then and what they face now is startling. 

Back then, bus drivers were given the same authority as the police, and even carried sidearms. If Black people "acted up" on busses, they could be shot and killed by the driver if the situation escalated. Most of the time the police were called in and the Black person was forced off of the bus, made to walk, or forced out the back of the bus and forced to pay again and walk to a seat in the back.
There were instances of drivers beating Black people senseless for not giving up their seat, or even just talking too loudly. Each time it happened, there was a "good reason" for what happened, and the white citizenry always pointed to how the bus driver was in danger, scratched up by the e.g. the Black teenaged girl who was dragged off. If only she had followed directions and not assaulted an officer! If only she had gone peacefully! (see the story of Claudette Colvin) 

Thousands of Black women and men were lynched during the Jim Crow era, after they were supposedly given full citizenship after the legal changes following the Civil War. No Black man was ever beaten, flayed, bled and hung without a "perfectly good reason" provided by the white people who did it. There was always a rumor of a rape, or a woman or man acting "upity" and stepping out of line. There was always an opportunity for the white people gathered in crowds with their kids to watch Black men hanged in the town square to say, "Well, if only that negro had followed directions..."
A postcard (a fucking postcard) from the 1920 Duluth lynchings. See all those happy white people?
I see these people on Facebook explaining to other white people why Black women and men had to be killed by
the police. These white people had perfectly good explanations for brutally killing these three Black
men, just as Officers Wilson and Pantaleo had reasons for killing their respective Black suspects.
And don't forget that lynching was equal-opportunity when it came to gender. There were "good reasons"
for why these Black women were hanged. 
As I learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, the more I'm struggling to find that magic moment in history when things actually changed. More and more I'm realizing that there was no point in the past when America received a software upgrade. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark moment in our history, but it was a legal rather than societal change. The fact that I keep having to explain why Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the hundreds of other Black women and men killed by the police didn't deserve death at the hands of those sworn to protect them, the more aware I become that we are still waiting for that software upgrade. 

Update: I've attempted to make the post more in line with the fact that racism is bipartisan and equal-opportunity when it comes to gender. So I've changed all instances of "Black men" to "Black women and men." The exploration of how Black women suffered at the hands of white men is the subject for another post, but it should not be lost upon my readers that racism affects both men and women, and that Black women live at the nasty intersection of racism and sexism. 


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