“We can’t make a change… if y’all don’t change…”
We’ve been battling a public crisis long before the coronavirus.
Let me start by saying, I absolutely hate that this has to be my first ever Medium post…
The past few weeks have almost helped me forget the fact that we’re deep in the middle of a public health crisis... almost. Even with restrictions being lifted and the proverbial curve beginning its supposed parabolic descent into the axis of freedom, I can only wonder if the positively-downward trend in our biological health crisis has only exposed and inflated the societal health crisis we were in long before COVID-19.
In less than a week, I’ve heard of four separate stories of systemic racism and weaponized white privilege that either disturbed me, made me sick to my stomach, made me angry and bitter, or a combination of any of the three. A woman drowned her own son and faked the story, claiming two black men abducted him. A man faked a kidnapping and robbery by two masked black men to cover up why he was really at a hotel. A white woman called NYPD on a black man with the same last name for “threatening her life” when he simply asked her to leash her dog (she was threatening the dog’s life more than her oppositely-tinted namesake ever could the way she yanked that dog up in the video — I hugged my own dog after watching). A black man pinned to the ground by law enforcement yelled “I Can’t Breathe” and eventually died in police custody after being suspected of check forgery, a non-violent crime. All of this took place right after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor at the hands of either police, or civilians playing cop, still haunt the black community.
These malicious actions don’t rewrite history, they repeat it. When I thought of Christian Cooper having the NYPD called on him by Amy Cooper, I remembered Emmitt Till. When I read of George Floyd’s untimely demise at the hands of police, I thought of Eric Garner. When I think of the protests in Minneapolis that have taken place this week and the police response, including the use of tear gas, I worried about the potential remaking of Ferguson and the Freddie Gray riots.
(EDIT: No more worrying about the remaking of the Freddie Gray riots, because it’s actually happening, and now my anxiety is through the roof. Minneapolis is literally on fire.)
(EDIT#2: It’s no longer just Minneapolis…)
Say what you want about Colin Kaepernick, but his controversial kneel during the anthem before NFL games was directly in protest of these actions and reactions and nothing else. Instead of coming together to combat systemic racism, however, people scrutinized the use of his platform to “disrespect the flag.” Men and women, such as my grandfather, fought and served our nation to preserve the sanctity of that flag. Men and women, such as my uncle, gave the ultimate sacrifice and died for our ability to peacefully assemble and protest. So what part of the flag is being disrespected? You may begin to question this yourself, unless of course, you remember the pledge you used to stand up and recite right after the bell rang that woke you up for the second time each school day...
“I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America,
and to the republic, for which it stands,
one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
How are people supposed to feel empowered enough to stand and pledge allegiance when the pledge itself needs a fact checker and possibly even life support? When we stand for the anthem, we used our physical disposition to pledge our allegiance just as we would recite it in school each morning. The idea of America being divided, politically, socially, and culturally, is nothing new. America has shown its signs of divisiveness as long as it’s been a sovereign state. Politically, America may be more divided than ever. But how do black people turn into the perfect scapegoat for closet racism and cultural division, or even partisan division? Not even a citation and evaluation of the pledge and its current underlying fallacies can sum up the disparities felt by the black community better than a young black man responding to a reporter’s question on how to stop the chaos in his city after the death of his brother at the hands of police sparked the 2016 Milwaukee riots:
Let me give you an example…
I live in Baltimore, Maryland, a city where our crime rate is more well-known nationwide than our sports teams, where the number of homicides nearly doubles the dollar value of a bushel of steamed crabs, and where the monikers “Home of the Wire” and “Bodymore, Murdaland” are more widely-known and highly-touted slogans than “The City that Reads” or “The Greatest City in America.” Many people watched the Freddie Gray riots back in 2015 on TV and emphatically shook their heads. I watched them in curfew and painfully dropped mine.
Let it be known, first and foremost, that I don’t condone violence, whatsoever. I also don’t believe that retaliation is always the right answer. But, sadly, I can empathize with those who have felt real, long lasting pain from the untimely loss of a loved one due to someone else’s malfeasance. And I know the feeling of wanting to vent and express my frustrations but not really knowing the right way to do so. And there’s a bigger picture, in the midst of all this tragedy, with the murder rate and what you can pull for your narrative from the numbers. No matter how I choose to word this, people will read this and go off on a tangent, downplaying the acts that are being committed in current events and placing the blame back on blacks as if I’m downplaying the murder rate and we purposely intend to kill each other for sport.
Thirty-four of America’s 50 largest cities has seen clearance rates for city homicides drop below 50% since 2014. Baltimore is one of them. As a matter of fact, Baltimore hasn’t had a homicide clearance rate above 50% since 2010. For those who desire clarification: this means that our city leaves more murders unsolved at the end of each year than they actually solve. The clearance rate became even worse after the police convictions following the death of Freddie Gray, when city police decided that it wasn’t worth clearing corners anymore if they could be locked up themselves for “doing their job properly.” Rather than finding positive alternatives in policing, doing nothing is the alternative, which makes sense, because you’ve never seen quotes like “Protect and Serve” or “Integrity, Fairness, Service” that you may see on another city’s patrol vehicle on a Baltimore City PD patrol car.
Author and UB professor D. Watkins put this into perspective with his Huffington Post article “Baltimore’s Most Hated Cop and Me.” The corruption within the system running rampant, leaving cops more tactical and violent than ever, and more ineffective than ever. A gun-trace task force that was crafted to take violent offenders off of the street instead used their privilege and badge to drain the city and extort its citizens, sucking the life out of the city they had sworn to protect. Police take full advantage of situations where they already have absolute control. The internal affairs unit serves as more of a police union than an in-house investigations department. Families torn from violence that may have previously looked to the police for help have had their calls unanswered, or simply ignored, leaving them to choose to seek revenge for their loved ones as a last resort, rather than trust the local armed forces to bring justice to their doorsteps. The lack of trust local citizens have towards police also hinders their ability to find pertinent information to help solve cases.
So where do we go from here? Cue the quote from my new protesting friend, Sedan Smith, once again…
I’m sure that every major city has its own flavor of systemic issues like Baltimore, but that doesn’t make it right. One of the largest sections of any municipal budget is public safety, and we’ve all heard of the countless hours our police spend training in shooting and defense tactics. I’ve worked in public high schools for 10 years, and in every school I’ve worked, even the high school I graduated from, that school had an SRO, or school resource officer. All of the school staff and a large majority of the school body knew the SRO. The SRO was a well-respected member of the local force, and put most of his or her effort during an issue in deescalating the situation first, before it has the chance to exacerbate. Why don’t we have community resource officers, or CRO’s, sworn service men and women that are well-respected within their own deparment, trusted to deal with the community at ground level and look to regain the trust with the city’s most important stakeholders, just as our schools do? Why isn’t deescalation and implicit bias training just as important as being on high alert all the time? Why is a community relationship with police so similar to a bad divorce where the kids are stuck in the middle and forced to pick a side? Why has “guilty before proven innocent” become the new norm in public affairs? How do we hold people in positions of power to the same level of accountability that we do the common citizen? How can we make sure that justice has the opportunity to actually be just, rather than “just us?”
There’s so much more that I want to add to this, but frankly, I’m tired. There’s so many more questions that need to be answered, but frankly, I’m at a loss for words. That doesn’t mean that I’ve given up fighting for change or hoping for a better tomorrow, but I am simply just drained from seeing history repeat itself because people fail to pay attention to detail.
So yes, I’m tired… but I will, of course, pick myself up by my bootstraps and pray that tomorrow finds a string of headlines that aren’t as cringe-worthy as the past week has been. But, in the event that nothing changes any time soon, I will continue to quote my newfound empath from Milwaukee…