“Where are you heading sir?” I remember the words masked in an innocent tone that still stung like an insult. “I live on this street, just over there,” I said, pointing. I stood wondering just how long this patrol car had been following me with that slowed down bass engine hum that sounded no different than what I heard minutes ago. I remembered being asked questions like, “can I see some ID please?”, and “where are you headed?” being thrown at me as I eyed opened blinds and cracked opened windows on a street I was intimately familiar with, but amongst an interrogation, that made me feel like a stranger. As I answered, it seemed like my words weren’t enough for a duo of cops who simultaneously checked their little computer for a criminal record to justify the stop.
The curse of “fitting a description” has always begun with a judgment at first sight and often ends with a reaction.
The fact is that words are rarely enough when you’re being profiled and it’s an occurrence far too many black people and minorities have been forced to become familiar with in North America and abroad. The curse of “fitting a description” has always begun with a judgment at first sight and often ends with a reaction. You have people like myself who can walk away with nothing, but an ill memory, because I didn’t “talk back” and acted in a “non-threatening” way. Then you have a Michael Brown, who just days before heading to college gets shot dead by a police officer who reacted in a very different manner.
You’ll of course read about the differences in narrative, where an un-named officer claims to have been shoved within his vehicle and then wrestled in a battle for his sidearm with Michael and his friend Dorin Johnson. As the two run, the police officer exited his vehicle and shot at the teenagers before killing one and leaving a witness alive to tell another side of the story.
As Johnson tells it, the officer ordered them to “get the fuck on the sidewalk,” before the teens told the officer that they were almost home. The officer then slammed his door open with a level of force that caused it to bounce off of Brown before closing on itself. According to Johnson, the cop then proceeded to grab Brown’s neck and then shirt before yelling out, “I’m going to shoot you.” One shot caused Brown to retreat and attempt to run away with Johnson, who later ducked behind a car. Another shot was fired, which caused Brown to stop in his tracks 35 feet from the cruiser. Witnesses claimed that Brown raised his hands at this point to show that he was unarmed with the words, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” to which the officer answered by shooting him dead.
If the average person were to judge a cop with similar blanket statements it wouldn’t be uncommon to think of the typical officer as an individual also affiliated with a gang.
We’ve heard this same story told in a variation of ways. They most recently involved names like Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and Eric Garner. You hear justifications within the media that try to provide reasons as to why an action like the shooting or killing of an unarmed man was taken. Wonderfully original gems like, “he was gang affiliated,” “he resisted arrest,” or “he posed a threat,” come to mind. If the average person were to judge a cop with similar blanket statements it wouldn’t be uncommon to think of the typical officer as an individual also affiliated with a gang. Instead of resisting arrest, they would resist rational explanations (see Oscar Grant) and as far as posing a threat, well they now have tanks and body armor barely distinguishable from real war gear. Let’s not mention a history of repeated racially based offenses against the minority population, which has produced an understandable level of angst.
The damage that pollutes our image has been constructed long ago and naively expecting opinions to change from self-shaming does little to remove outside bias and only provides ammo to those who seek justifications.
You than have portions of the black population who point fingers in the direction of their own, bringing up understandably valid arguments about black on black violence and the “ghetto” lifestyle. Yes, these incidents present a problem, but ignorance and bias cannot be easily masked through the non-action of a few. Many simultaneously fail to understand that the attempt to fix the negative reflection caused by a section of our people does nothing to fix a problem whose foundation was built since the days of slavery. The damage that pollutes our image has been constructed long ago and naively expecting opinions to change from self-shaming does little to remove outside bias and only provides ammo to those who seek justifications.
One only needs to look at Ferguson in itself to prove that you can’t place the blame on black on black image; it just isn’t that black and white. Demographically and statistically speaking, the region used to be a predominantly Caucasian neighbourhood that experienced “white flight”, where a large portion of residents moved elsewhere. It now consists of a 65 per cent strong black population. Compare that to a police force that is 94 per cent white and you have a prime example of what a lack of representation can produce if the wrong mindset is in place. The examples are in attitudes of many, like a former lieutenant with the county police who was accused of ordering officers to focus on targeting black people. Then there are the endless complaints the county received through their engagement in racial profiling prior to Brown. The recipe for such a tragedy has been building.
This unfortunate situation provides a distinct look into the value placed forth on the average black man in North America. A certain sect of the world fears them, fears me.
I have to ask myself why I even have to present these facts, statistics or even mention the fact that Brown was heading to college. Why do I have to go through the effort to give a black victim the benefit of the doubt? It speaks to the larger issue that extends beyond Michael Brown’s death. This unfortunate situation provides a distinct look into the value placed forth on the average black man in North America. A certain sect of the world fears them, fears me. By the same token, we fear the world’s judgments equally through its reactionary ways to our presence consciously and subconsciously. It affects our sense of self-worth as a people and places deep seeded fear in the individuals who at times make a mockery of the words, “To serve and protect.”
This is our world and we have to live in it. By that same token, we have the God-given right to feel safe in it. To overlook this issue, as just another case of justified self-defense, would be to say that it’s okay.
Some people are still asking why demonstrators and journalists continue to protest in the face of an over the top reaction: rubber bullets, tear gas, a no fly zone. To that I simply have to say this. This is our world and we have to live in it. By that same token, we have the God-given right to feel safe in it. To overlook this issue, as just another case of justified self-defense, would be to say that it’s okay, and for every person that has been profiled and lived to tell about it, we say that it’s not okay… it never was.
Words By. Noel Ransome