Beware of the countless amount of hyperlinks! There’s just too many examples to go around…
There was a scene in The Boondocks in which a character was shot over a hundred times. This character, Uncle Ruckus, a self-loathing black man, was thought to be drawing a weapon at the time of his fate. So the police, being the police, shot him mercilessly. This scene was a clear reference to the murder of Amadou Diallo, courtesy of the New York Police Department. Similar depictions were displayed years earlier in the films Set It Off and Boyz In The Hood. The Wire and many other television shows chronicling black life in urban settings routinely – and casually – portray utter contempt of law enforcement towards black people.
Art has it right. Life has yet to adjust.
Sean Bell, Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Adolph Grimes Jr. and Oscar Grant are just a few of young African-American males who have firsthand witness of the liberal calming tactics of the police. As a result, these five young men aren’t alive to give their testimony. But millions upon millions of Americans are no strangers to the presence of police brutality. There are many, many, many more casualties than the aforementioned names; this happens too often for a list to suffice. For all we know, this is happening right now in some town that escapes mainstream scrutiny. When topics hit the artistic realm, normally it’s far too late and changes have already been made in the “real” world. Instead, constabulary violence is a laughing joke that is too acceptable. It’s not even a break in our day anymore; it’s a natural as brushing teeth.
Last week, during the uproar of the Ryan Moats incident, there wasn’t a black male I talked to that was surprised about the situation.
The feud between black men and police officers is by no stretch a new phenomenon. U.S. slavery needed policemen to quell insurgencies. Jim Crow needed them to ensure separation. Then came the Movement. The civil rights’ movement was the accelerator to the distrust and strained relationship that exists now between police and minority citizens: as blacks and many others fought for integration with demonstrative efforts, policemen were called upon to dispel the crowds with fierce urgency. Then came the Black Panther movement, which required police departments to combat violent “communist” movements with an even more fierce urgency. This created massive resentment from those who were being policed; Johnny Law and the urban community’s relationship would not recover.
Policemen have always come to enjoy a certain amount of immunity and, being that they are licensed to carry firearms and knuckles and any other “calming” tool, a perverse sense of physical power. Like many of us with employment benefits, officers of the law tend to abuse their perks.
Don’t feel like stopping at a traffic light? Use your sirens.
Got somewhere to be and don’t feel like abiding by the same traffic laws that everybody else has to? Screw it and drive as fast as you want.
Feeling underpaid and tired of chasing down people who make more than your yearly salary in a month? Shake them down. Of course not every officer does this. But we would be naïve to think that many officers don’t engage in these clandestine acts. Why should they stop if the policing accountability structure is nonexistent or flimsy?
Study after study supports the common knowledge that this is a seriously overlooked problem. This will continue to be a pain (excuse the pun) as long the internal mechanisms of accountability are out of whack. If the courts are going to keep looking the other way on crimes of this magnitude – of the above victims, only Grant’s shooter stands a chance of being convicted – then these hasty shootings and excessive uses of force will continue. This is not exclusive to white-on-black brutality; many black police officers exercise the same prejudices and trigger-happiness. These black officers may have a bit of ‘ol Uncle Ruckus in them or they could just fall prey to the same lack of constraint when faced with perceived danger.
While citizen awareness and protests are important, that alone isn’t effective enough to cease the nonsense. Only a change from within – judges slamming their gavels down to convictions and not acquittals – will go a long way towards halting impetuous killings from law officers.
And then black folks can start to love the police. Maybe.