Anti-Racism 101

19 Police Violence


“That metaphor of a few bad apples [in the police] doesn’t begin to get at the root of the problem. Police violence may be more like a poisoned water stream that pollutes the entire system. To argue that only a few bad cops cause police terror is like relegating racism to a few bigots. Bigots are surely a problem, but they are sustained by systems of belief and perception, by widely held stereotypes and social practice.”

“Beloved, you must not be defensive when you hear our hurt. We who proclaim the terror of cops do not hate all cops. We hate what cops have been made to be. We hate how cops hate us. We hate that cops don’t treat us the way they treat you.”

“We hate that you won’t admit that if your children or kin were being killed like us you wouldn’t turn your heads or avert your eyes or accept it as business as usual or the price we must pay to keep our society safe. You’d be beside yourself if your children were slaughtered, and then had their slaughter justified on television, and on social media…”

One thing is clear: until we confront the terror that Black folk have faced in this country from the time we first breathed American air, we will continue to die at the hands of cops whose whiteness is far more important in explaining their behavior than the dangerous circumstances they face and the impossible choices they confront.

We do not hate you, white America. We hate that you terrorize us and then lie about it and then make us feel crazy for having to explain to you how crazy it makes us feel. We cannot hate you, not really, not most of us; that is our gift to you. We cannot halt you; that is our curse.” -Michael Eric Dyson

“Black people in this country have long known that disturbing white Americans in white spaces can mean death….Black people in America can be physically eliminated at any time, in any place, for little reason—whether that means being kicked out of stores, suspended from school, priced out of their neighborhoods, locked up in jail or put in the grave.” –Karen Attiah

“Black bodies in America continue to be reduced to their surfaces and to stereotypes that are constricting and false, that often force those black bodies to move through social spaces in ways that put white people at ease. We fear that our black bodies incite an accusation. We move in ways that help us to survive the procrustean gazes of white people.” -George Yancy

On June 20, two Seattle police officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old pregnant mother of three. The following day, the former Milwaukee police officer who shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith in 2016 was found not guilty of reckless murder. On June 23, a second mistrial was declared for a former University of Cincinnati police officer charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting 47-year-old Sam DuBose. All of this happened within a week of a court finding Jeronimo Yanez, the former Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile last summer, not guilty of second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm.

It seemed like there was barely time to process one of these events, to come to terms with the anger and the fear and the grief, before the next wave hit.

That, too, felt familiar.

Last summer, there was another head-spinning few days when two police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling, 37, in Louisiana. One day later and a thousand miles to the north, Castile was killed. In both cases, there was graphic video.

Footage shows Sterling being body-slammed by one officer and pinned to the ground before he is shot in the chest. Toward the end of the video, you can see Sterling lying on his back with his arms splayed out and his chest covered in blood.

The next day, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed video of the aftermath of Castile’s shooting on Facebook Live. The stream shows an agonized Castile with his head back and his eyes open, motionless and drenched in blood.

The shootings of DuBose, Lyles and Smith ― the latter two of whom were mentally ill, according to their families ― are equally disturbing.

On dashcam audio of the moments leading up to Lyles’ death, you can hear officers shouting ‘Get back! Get back!’ One officer tells the other to ‘tase her,’ but the second officer does not have a taser on him. The officers order Lyles to ‘get back’ several more times before shots ring out and a child is heard crying in the background. 

Smith, who was armed, fled within seconds of being pulled over by officers in Milwaukee. He dashed into a yard with a chain-link fence, which he threw his gun over as an officer fired. The first round hit him in the arm. The second shot was fatal. It pierced his heart and lung.

DuBose died on July 19, 2015, in Cincinnati. He was shot in the head while trying to drive away from a traffic stop.

Our death and suffering has always been public. This contributes to the recurring feeling that we’ve seen the same death time and time again.

When these videos circulate, they leave families and black bystanders in a dark cycle we can’t escape. We know that footage won’t stop the violence. Our death, our suffering, has long been seen as a spectacle. If anything, video cameras have become an extension of the crowds that used to surround lynching victims.

And then as now, even when our deaths take place in public, for all to see, it doesn’t save us or persuade a jury to convict the killer.

Black grief belongs to the world, and is regulated by the same forces that caused such deep pain in the first place,’ Mychal Denzel Smith wrote this week at The New Republic.

Black families become advocates, activists, and spokespeople, historians, journalists, and policy experts, while also being the gatekeepers of the legacy and humanity of those they’ve lost,’ he continued. ‘And they must somehow do all of this while comforting a society that both produced the conditions for these tragic deaths and still refuses to acknowledge its role in them.’” -Excerpted from Julia Craven

“In 2015 the FBI, itself a law enforcement agency, ‘quietly’ investigated the white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement, according to an Intercept investigation from earlier this year. Two things stood out from that report. One, the FBI—under James Comey, mind you—has been reluctant to ‘publicly address that threat,’ meaning that we’re all in the dark about how small or vast this problem is; that, and it has also been wary to ‘point out the movement’s long-standing strategy of infiltrating the law enforcement community.’” -Angela Helm

There’s this James Baldwin quote that I love: ‘To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.’ And it’s so true: To be ‘woke,’ to be even slightly aware of the way systemic racism and marginalization function in 21st-century America, is to be angry. Rage is what I felt when my friend and I were profiled and followed around the store like we were just itching to steal something (an experience black women and girls know all too well). Rage is what I felt at a different bookstore when I was asked to show ID to sign my own books, even though my picture was printed in the back. If I, a well-dressed and ‘articulate’ New York Times best-selling author, am being treated like I’m not good enough to sit in a bookstore let alone to write a novel, the brown and black kids I write for are having these dehumanizing experiences too. In fact, for many of our young people of color, it’s much worse.

Rage is what I felt almost six years ago when I first heard about the death of a kid listening to loud music in a convenience store parking lot, and then rage again when a mistrial was initially declared on the murder count in the case. I felt rage when I heard a guy allegedly selling loose cigarettes had been choked to death by police — despite informing them that he couldn’t breathe. Rage when I heard a kid with a toy gun had been shot in a park. Rage when a woman wound up dead in a jail cell after a traffic stop. And of course there’s rage over the lack of indictments — let alone convictions — in most of the cases where a black American has lost his or her life at the hands of person supposedly paid to keep everyone safe.

But those are the obvious things. As we approach the four-year anniversary of Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri, a murder — and subsequent failure to indict the murderer — that brought national attention to the type of rage James Baldwin was talking about as black folks took to the streets in televised protest, I can’t help but think about other moments that don’t result in nationwide protest but still stir this same rage. Things that make me wish I maybe weren’t so ‘woke’… that I could just go back to sleep.

Like the fact that a kid who murdered nine black people in cold blood during a church Bible study — after they invited him in, no less — was taken to Burger King and deemed ‘not problematic”’ after his arrest (he’d been on the run for 16 hours and was hungry apparently). Or that a private school’s first black valedictorian was mysteriously barred from giving a commencement speech. There’s the fact that a black graduate student had the cops called on her for falling asleep in a Yale dorm common room. That white news anchors expressed outrage over a black boy who worked his tail off and got into 20 colleges.

A white college student had the audacity to brag about criminally harassing her black roommate. A 10-year-old black boy wet his pants after being handcuffed for no reason in Chicago. A woman who was CEO of a cannabis company in the Bay Area called the cops on a little black girl selling bottles of water “without a permit.”

I could go on.

And on.

And on and on and on. -Nic Stone

“This morning I saw the video of the arrest of John Lee Cowell [white man who murdered 18-year-old Black high school senior Nia Wilson in cold blood]. Police don’t draw their guns. They don’t slam him to the concrete and put their knees into his back while putting on his handcuffs. They don’t Taser him. They don’t choke him.

You’d think they were arresting a man for writing a bad check or stealing a shirt from a department store.

And so often after we see a horrible incident of police brutality against Black folk, we talk about how American police need more training and better training. I’ve said that myself, but police show us over and over and over again – with white men who are considered armed and dangerous – who’ve just brutally murdered people – that they are fully willing and able to remain calm, and cool, and collected, and methodical – whenever they feel like it.

All these years we thought they needed to be trained on how to make a peaceful arrest – and it turns out they’re great at it – even with the most vicious and violent murderers – if they’re white.

We’re not saying that the police should’ve beaten or choked or shot or maimed or Tasered this man, we’re saying that we want unarmed, non-violent Black folk to get the same treatment American police are so willing and able to give dangerous white murderers.”

-Shaun King

“Whiteness becomes a mob of innocence and it responds like a mob to a call for Black justice. It responds with riot gear, tear gas, clubs, arrests, tasers, rubber bullets, and real bullets too. It responds with a collective no. In that moment of mob innocence, it truly believes that if one police officer is indicted, whiteness itself is indicted. If one mass shooter at a Black church is brutalized or injured before he can reach a fair trial, then whiteness itself is injured.”

“To be white is to know that you have at your own hand, or by extension, through institutionalized means, the power to take Black life with impunity. It’s the power of life and death that gives whiteness its force, its imperative. White life is worth more than Black life.

This is why the cry ‘Black Lives Matter’ angers you so greatly, why it is utterly offensive and effortlessly revolutionary. It takes aim at white innocence and insists on uncovering the lie of its neutrality, its naturalness, its normalcy, its normativity.

The most radical action a white person can take is to acknowledge this denied privilege, to say, ‘yes, you’re right. In our institutional structures, and in deep psychological structures, our underlying assumption is that our lives are worth more than yours.’”

“I am fearful that some smart-ass hotshot with a badge and a gun will thrill himself to the slow letting of blood from one of my children’s bodies while he blithely ignores their suffering to high-five his sworn ‘to protect and serve’ compatriot in crime. I am sorely afraid that some snap of racist judgment – which, by now, means that it will be justified as rational assessment under threatening circumstances, circumstances that our color always provokes – will cause the hair trigger of some cop’s weapon to fire fury at my children.

Don’t let it happen, Lord, please don’t let it happen. Oh Lord, I cannot bear the thought of seeing another Black person perish because of the weaponized fear and armed hostility of a society that hates Black folks in its guts. It can happen to any of us. It can happen to all of us. That is why we are all scared, Lord.”

-Michael Eric Dyson

The basic premise behind “All Lives Matter” = we should not highlight that black lives matter because all lives matter. As it turns out, you’re not wrong: all lives do matter. But the problem with this premise lies in what goes unaddressed in your line of thinking.

Black Lives Matter is trying to highlight that there is demonstrable evidence that black lives matter less than white lives to the criminal justice system (and the American government as a whole).”

It’s reasonable to expect that if you’d had to witness the gross injustices committed against those in non-white communities, you would understand why ‘All Lives Matter’ is so harmful. You would understand that it is in fact you who is missing the point.”

-Jesse Damiani

This 9-minute video should really be watched in its entirety, as Hart makes some excellent points in response to people who believe the Black Lives Matter movement excludes other lives. She dismissed the tendency of the media and politicians to speak about the need to be united without offering up actual solutions, adding that while being united is all very well and good, being united is an ideal, not a plan.

Without a plan all it translates to is ‘Be united by joining me in doing nothing! Don’t speak out or protest because that’s divisive to my non-plan! she says. -Zeba Blay

“Calling the police to report an actual crime that the police overact to is not the citizen’s fault, no matter what color they are. I’m talking about the hundreds of cases—that we know about—every year, where white Americans actively and knowingly use the police as an extension of their personal bigotry yet face no consequences.”

“I’m talking about the white woman at the Red Roof Inn outside of Pittsburgh who called the cops on me because I disputed the charges on my bill and asked to speak to a manager. I’m talking about the white woman who called the cops on me last year even though she knew I was walking with political canvassers for Jon Ossoff’s congressional campaign in North Atlanta. I’m talking about the police officer who followed me behind my house in Hiram, Ohio, asking where I lived because he’d ‘gotten some calls about robberies.’

In each and every single one of these instances, a white person used the cops as his or her personal racism valets, and I was the one getting served. In each of these instances, I could have been arrested, beaten up or worse based on nothing more than the word of a white person whom I made uncomfortable. As sick as this all is, I still consider myself lucky.” -Jason Johnson

“Body cameras are helpful in police work, but they are also helpful in avoiding a deeper conversation over what it means to keep whole swaths of America under the power of the justice system, as opposed to the authority of other branches of civil society.”

“A reform that begins with the officer on the beat is not reform at all. It’s avoidance. It’s a continuance of the American preference for considering the actions of bad individuals, as opposed to the function and intention of systems.” -Ta-Nehisi Coates

Stories of people calling the police on Black people for just being in white spaces have increasingly dominated the news cycle and reminded us of the stereotypes and implicit bias that society projects onto Black skin.

Though these stories have caught nationwide attention, they are by no means a new phenomenon. Dating back to before Jim Crow, many Black people in America have had to justify our existence in places we’ve had the right to be simply because others rejected our presence.” –Taryn Finley

“The sheer persistence of police killings of Black youth contradicts the assumption that these are aberrations.”

“I guess the point I’m making is, we have to talk about systemic change. We can’t be content with individual actions… That means re-conceptualizing the role that police play.” -Angela Davis

Survival conversations Black parents have with their kids:

“Having this conversation is hard. Having your 14-year-old son searched by the Abington Police while his two white friends stand by untouched is hard. Having him say not to report the disparity because he doesn’t want to be a target in the future and realizing he has a point and that I need to let him be the expert on the situation then hugging him while he cries so hard he’s shaking. Their crime, hiding from a friend in a parking lot at 3 in the afternoon to pretend to have ditched him while he ran back in to the coffee shop to get a refill.

If you have ever felt compelled to say ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Police Lives Matter’ or to defend the police for killing innocent Black men I want you to think carefully about how white privilege works. I want you to imagine explaining to E why you support only him getting searched. I want you to try to imagine how it feels to have this conversation.”

–Erin Blair

“We are tired of having to sacrifice our hides to feed America. That may help explain why some Black folk take special delight in referring to the cops as pigs. We want them to share our grief, to feel our pain, if just a little of it, in a term they find offensive. But if they think that insult is abominable, if the reference is disrespectful, can they not imagine, oh Lord, what it means to be the pig, to surrender life to fill the bellies of the nation that eats our souls and culture while excreting us as so much waste?”

“There are a lot of privileges that white folk get that don’t depend on cash. The greatest one may be getting stopped by a cop and living to talk about it.” -Michael Eric Dyson

Common, everyday profiling:

“Y’all tired yet….I’m tired.

I’m tired of seeing people that look like me being reduced to hash tags.

I’m tired of having to explain my anger and then stifle it in order to not offend ‘allies.’

I’m tired of hearing a victim’s rap sheet before I hear their murderer’s name.

I’m tired of explaining that I understand all lives fucking matter.

I’m tired of my time line being laced with video footage of black men, women and children losing their lives.

I’m tired of black athletes and celebrities having their patriotism questioned for calling for police reform.

I’m tired of hearing the black families of those unjustly killed, and sorry-ass politicians who don’t give a fuck about the black community, calling for a ‘time to heal,’

I’m tired of always being expected to be the ‘bigger person.’

I’m tired of having to always ‘take time to educate’ when Google is free.

I’m tired of peaceful protest.

I’m tired of black lives only mattering during election season.

I’m just FUCKING tired.” -Courtney Chylane

Video about the biased ways that white terrorists and Black victims are described by the media;

Ask yourself if cops would’ve cuffed these two 11-year-olds if they’d been white:

“Because William Wingate is black, Officer Whitlatch assumed that the golf club was probably a weapon. Even though Wingate was 69 years old. Even though Wingate was using the golf club as a walking cane. Even though he took the same walk to pick up newspapers, with the same golf club, every day.” –Michael Harriot

The president of a Pennsylvania police union responded to Black Lives Matter activists demanding accountability for the police killing of a black man by calling the group a ‘pack of rabid animals.’  

Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby made the statement Thursday during a rally held by and in support of police, according to NBC Philadelphia. The ‘Back the Blue’ rally was in response to a protest the week before by members of Black Lives Matter held outside the house of Officer Ryan Pownall, who fatally shot David Jones [in the back, while he was fleeing] in June. –Sebastian Murdoch

“George Zimmerman admitted at his 2012 bail hearing that he misjudged Trayvon Martin’s age when he killed him. “I thought he was a little bit younger than I am,” he said, meaning just under 28. But Trayvon was only 17.

What may be most tragic about Mr. Zimmerman’s miscalculation is that it’s widespread. To many people, black boys seem older than they are: In one study, people overestimated their ages by 4.5 years. This contributes to a false perception that black boys are less childlike than white boys. Black girls are subject to similar beliefs, according to a recent study by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. A group of 325 adults viewed black girls as needing less nurturing, support and protection than white girls, and as knowing more about sex and other adult topics.

People of all races see black children as less innocent, more adultlike and more responsible for their actions than their white peers. In turn, normal childhood behavior, like disobedience, tantrums and back talk, is seen as a criminal threat when black kids do it. Social scientists have found that this misperception causes black children to be ‘pushed out, overpoliced and underprotected,’ according to a report by the legal scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw. As long as white children are constructed as innocent, we must continue to demand that children of color are as well.

But it’s time to create language that values justice over innocence. The most important question we can ask about children may not be whether they are inherently innocent. Instead: Are they are hungry? Do they have adequate health care? Are they free from police brutality? Are they threatened by a poisoned and volatile environment? Are they growing up in a securely democratic nation? All children deserve equal protection under the law not because they’re innocent, but because they’re people. By understanding children’s rights as human rights, we can begin to undermine the political power of childhood innocence, a cultural formation that has proved, over and over, to be one of white supremacy’s most potent weapons.” –Robin Bernstein

Dallas police in a statement said that preliminary information suggests the officer involved called 911, and told responding officers that ‘she entered the victim’s apartment believing that it was her own.’

The incident began just before 10 p.m. CT (11 p.m. ET) at the South Side Flats, an upscale apartment complex directly south of Dallas’ downtown.

During the encounter, the officer was in full uniform and ‘fired her weapon striking the victim,’ police said.”

“Until we invest in full employment; universal healthcare that includes mental health services; free education at every level; comprehensive sex education that teaches about consent and bodily autonomy; the decriminalization of drugs and erasure of the stigma around drug use; affordable and adequate housing; eliminating homophobia and trans phobia – things that actually reduce the amount of violence we witness – I don’t want to hear about how necessary the police are.” –Mychal Denzel smith