Ever since Ferguson, I’ve been hopeful that we’re living in a historical turning point. I keep thinking and hoping the greater culture is finally going to open up a bit, to acknowledge systemic oppression. Hell, just to acknowledge basic inequality here in the states. And maybe to look at the function police serve.
Probably a lot of this hope comes from my online reading and research. Sometimes, I think we lose sight of how insular online communities, forums and opinions can be; it’s very difficult to judge how well a viewpoint translates to the wider world if we’re constantly surrounded by agreement and similarities. Even when we think our views are the best and clear and should be obvious to anyone with a brain.
My parents and I have been growing steadily different, like two paths branching out from a fork in the woods. Sometimes it feels like miles of darkness between us, with no clear path to connect. Neither of us is bad or stupid, and we still function and love each other (which is often a rarity in families, I’m very lucky). And because we still love each other, it’s sometimes difficult to even attempt the long slog through the woods towards each other – what if we end up with only hate and vitriol that will forever stain our relationship? A film of anger over our love for each other?
Today I figured out what’s been bothering me, niggling away in the back of my brain, about Darren Wilson and Michael Brown.
Someone close to me characterized Brown as a “thug.” This is a person whose father was a (white) Detroit police officer in the 1960s, and left a few years after the rage and destruction of the 1968 riots. He was by all accounts a good man and a good cop, although I doubt we ever truly know a person after the fact, or know everything about them from one role they play in their life. Lineage informs our development and views, and it makes sense to me to support police if your experience was with a family member on the force who was good and decent. Even if we don’t agree, we can understand why this person might not want to look at bad police behavior.
Now, my favorite documentary is American Hardcore, the movie about the hardcore punk scene in the late 1970s and 1980s; love it or hate it, it’s a nice little slice of the music and attitudes from that period. In it, there’s a moving scene of Mike Watt and Henry Rollins (separately) talking about police beating up kids at shows. I can’t describe it, it must be seen. (watch it here, at 1:19:23, I could not find a youtube of the right part).
Rollins talking is what reminded me of Ferguson. He looks at the camera incredulously, saying “The police always started it. It’s not like we go up to uniformed, armed men and say ‘come on’!”
If nothing else, talk with your parents about this. In my experience of white, middle class, suburban people, which is admittedly not a random sample nor representative of all families, older folks identify with the police. They understand the fear, the need for protection, the concern that our world is falling apart with violence at every corner and beneath the skin of every person, and feel the police are doing well, acting ethically.
Your job is to bring up the other side.
Without empathy we cannot move forward. If our job as white people to get our own people; if they cannot hear the words of people of color, they should be able to hear us. I don’t know if they’ve never known fear of authority (because it looks like them) or if they’ve simply forgotten what it’s like to move in a hostile world. It really doesn’t matter; people can remember, they can see. they can learn.
If we can get them to feel just a fraction of the fear our communities of color experience, we’ll have gotten somewhere.
A kid doesn’t charge a uniformed, armed officer in a vehicle.
And working to change (or better yet, abolish) a system must be understood as a movement because it’s not working. It is not working to have 70% of our population constantly living in fear. It is not working to incarcerate 2/3 of young men of color. It is not working to act surprised when police act how they are taught to act, and acknowledging this does not condemn the good people who are attempting to function in a broken system. It’s not working to blame songs like “Fuck Da Police” when police make you feel scared rather than safe.
An act by one person of is enough to condemn the group, then why isn’t an act by one cop enough to condemn the system?
Not all cops, sure. But then you HAVE to understand – not all [black, brown, young, poor, angry, female] people.