As I write this post my heart is heavy. I have been feeling a mixture of hurt and rage for the past few hours and I'm still unsure when I will remember to feel anything else. This post may fluctuate in tone as I write it, please bear with me. Also, the videos in this post are quite graphic so view with caution.
As I'm sure you have all heard and seen by now, Alton Sterling was executed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on the 5th of July 2016. As we (the public) were trying to decipher the details surrounding the event and processing the reckless way in which his life was taken, news of Philando Castile's murder in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, again, by a trigger happy police officer on the 6th of July 2016, began to spread. Philando, who was pulled over for a broken tail light, was shot in front of his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter.
In all of this, the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) who typically would have been all over this case due to the unlawful shooting of a man who is licensed to carry a firearm, are nowhere to be found. Why you ask? Well it's pretty obvious, Philando Castile is black and "gun ownership is largely built on white identity".
I usually steer clear of social media when world events happen because I find the trolls and ignoramuses very draining but today I needed the comfort of knowing that I wasn't alone in my grief. I can't tell you what it was about Alton Sterling's murder that hit me more than the countless others but whatever it was cut deeper than any event before. Although the video is graphic, I am not new to blood and death and therefore not as affected by those aspects as your average Joe might be.
What did affect me could be the fact that as soon as I saw the police in that video clip I knew Alton was going to die. Or the fact that they treated him so aggressively before the shooting. Or maybe it was the ease with which the police officers removed their guns from their holsters and placed them directly on Alton's chest. Or the fact that poor Alton who was pressed down by the weight of two police officers was expected to lay completely still after just having the wind knocked out of him. Or it could have been that as a black woman I know that Alton was fully aware of what a perilous situation he was in and therefore probably only shifted slightly because it was absolutely necessary to free up his airway. Or the fact that the officers who had the guns held at point blank range on Alton's chest felt that one bullet through a vital organ in his chest cavity wasn't enough and therefore felt the need to fire 5-6 shots in order to 'feel safe'.
That's definitely it. The fact that, for the first time, I realised that these officers are actually SCARED. They see a black man and feel FEAR, so much so that they shoot first. They are not scared of other white people, which is why they have the patience and diligence to talk down a white person brandishing a weapon, but when faced with a black person armed or unarmed, these police officers who have gone through rigorous training (an assumption on my part) become cowards and shoot. I wasn't prepared for that. I wasn't prepared to SEE that. That's when I got mad.
How DARE you be a coward and swear to protect others? How DARE you not just piss your pants like other scared people and instead, handle a weapon? How DARE you use your fear as an excuse to kill another human? How DARE you kill someone in cold blood and make excuses? How DARE you be rewarded with freedom by the judicial system for your cowardice? How bloody DARE you?!
So here I sit, trying to understand why after so many years it seems we haven't made enough progress to protect our lives, when a video of police brutality against black youths in the UK begins to circulate on Twitter. The responses added to my rage. Many white British people said things along the lines of "Nobody died though" and "British police aren't racist like the Americans". And herein lies the problem. That false sense of security that people keep using to excuse injustice against black people. Why must we (black people) DIE before you recognise that our lives, our very existence is being treated with so much disregard! Why do you feel that a black boy held down by 4 police officers and being repeatedly kneed in the stomach is ok as long as he isn't shot?
These are the questions I posed to one such tweeter:
White British Man: Did they murder him in front of his daughter? No. (in justification to the video in question)
Me: You need to see death before you recognise racism? You're part of the problem.
WBM: Hey, did I say it was ok? No it's disgusting, but none of those officers behaved like the American officers
Me: Do you see any respect for these men's wellbeing in that video? Making excuses is part of the problem. As a black person let me tell you that the only difference in the way we are treated by the police is the presence of guns.
(Fast forward a few tweets)
WBM: Hmmm, you're right but I still don't think the British police are as bad as the Americans,it's not really a thing here.
Me: If you don't think it's a 'thing', we (UK) are very good at disguising it. It's defo a 'thing' in my (Black British) community.
WBM: I've never seen it.
Do you see the problem here? I, a black woman, is telling a white man that these videos of the conduct of police officers in the US is only one step removed from the conduct of police officers in England and a white man who has no experience on the matter at hand is telling me British police are better? How? Based on his white privileged experiences. Does that even make sense? Why is it so hard for some white people to understand that if everybody was being treated the way black people are, then racism wouldn't exist and that since it does, white people can never be victims of it and therefore cannot compare their personal experiences to that of a black person?
Let me enlighten you real quick:
* The ONLY reason America APPEARS worse than England is because most police officers in England don't carry guns, this is about to change. * Being 'better' than the US is not enough, this is not a competition of who can treat black people worse. Racism is racism.
* The ATTITUDE towards black people is the same and maybe even worse! In the US, African Americans are seen as 'less-than' but they are a part of America; in England black people are ALL seen as immigrants (regardless of nationality) and therefore not only are black people seen as 'less-than' but they are also expected to "f**k off and go back to your country" making their rights in England even more fragile e.g. British citizens who are convicted of a crime are being stripped of their nationality and being deported to the countries their parents originated from (which they themselves may have never visited in their lives) after paying their debt to society in prison. Why? You're black so you're never really British.
* Despite the fact that most British police officers do not carry guns, there is an astounding number of deaths in police custody.
* Black British communities are just as fearful of the police as African American communities.
* In my personal experience, police officers in England are very systematic about removing mobile phones from situations where things might get ugly.
* White people who are not exposed to this environment are blissfully unaware of the conduct of police officers.
* Just because most white people haven't experienced police brutality does not negate its existence. Such is the nature of systematic racism, it doesn't affect white people.
* When black people are telling you what they face every day, LISTEN!
* There is nothing worse than people who pretend they don't know racism exists.
* If you are making excuses for any act labelled racist by a victim of racism, YOU are part of the problem.
* If you are justifying the murders of black people at the hands of the police, YOU too do not value black lives making you a racist.
* If you don't understand why a police officer killing a black person is not equivalent to/justified by black on black crime then YOU too are part of the problem.
* The information about the treatment of black people in England at the hands of the police doesn't get on the national news until there's a riot e.g. 2011 London Riots.
* The numbers of deaths at the hands of police officers may be less in England but there are also fewer black people in England (3.5%) than there are in the US (12.6%).