Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Under Siege

Posted: October 20, 2015 in Police State
Tags: , , ,

My colleague who shares my office is black.  Most of my co-workers are black.  Detroit is a black majority city (almost 83% at last check).

This morning, my colleague told me about getting pulled over, twice, the day before.  Her son attends a private school in a suburb of Detroit, and each day she provides him transportation.  On the way to the school in the afternoon, she was pulled over for speeding next to a college (where the speed limit inexplicably drops to 20 from a 55).  Fair enough.

Later that day, she was driving home with her son and infant daughter.  She was on the freeway, in the right lane, driving slowly because of the earlier ticket.  She was pulled over, and the police behind her turned on their spotlights and loudspeakers, ordering her to roll down her windows and put her hands outside the vehicle.  Two more state police vehicles pulled up within seconds, and four policemen approached her car with guns drawn; after berating her for not lowering her windows fully (on a 40 degree day with a 10-month old baby in the car), they issued a ticket and told her to come to court for it to be thrown out.

Her crime?  Tinted windows.  Which are completely see-through.  Which were put in by her father, when he owned the vehicle.

Did I mention her father is a police officer?

Police no doubt have an image of who is driving a red Impala with tinted windows.  They have thoughts about who drives from Warren to Detroit, and why that trip is made.

Traffic stops are scary for cops.  There is always the chance someone can be dangerous.  However, most fatalities from traffic stops are from other vehicles on the road; of the 149 officers who died in the line of duty in 2014, 57 were traffic stop related, but only eight were killed by firearms during a traffic stop.*

In 2014, about 1,100 civilians were killed by police.  Most civilian contact with police starts with a traffic stop.

Terror connects police and civilians.  Police worry they will be killed by a dangerous civilian, but know if someone kills a police offer, the full weight of law enforcement will be upon them.  Civilians worry if they put a finger wrong, they will be killed without compunction or punishment.

Police may feel they are under siege, against a groundswell of public opposition.  People of color, in the wrong neighborhoods, driving the wrong cars, have felt under siege for decades.

Civilians are killed at about 21.5% the rate of police.  So far this year, about 922 civilians were killed by the police.  About 100 police officers were killed in the same period.  You’re almost 10 times a likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than vice versa.

And it’s likely the numbers are far greater; statistics about police violence are notoriously unreliable.

Any number of deaths is likely too many.  I’m sure some of these deaths are justifiable homicide.  And it’s horrendous that people die in the line of duty, many of whom are likely good cops doing the right things.

But the numbers don’t lie.  Police approaching normal, routine events as if they are life-or-death situations leads to unnecessary killing, increases civilian anger with law enforcement, and actually makes cops less safe; as people get angrier, the violence against the police will grow.

Both sides need to stand down.  But the ones with the legally sanctioned right to kill need to start.

*(In 2012, over 4,000 officers were wounded/assaulted during traffic stops)

Let’s just get this out of the way.  The mass shooting in Charleston, SC was horrific, tragic, and totally unnecessary.  It was an act of terrorism, done to inspire fear, born of hatred and disrespect and entitlement.

But Dylann Roof is not mentally ill.

Anyone who looks at this event and blames one person’s [nonexistent] pathology is desperately trying to avoid addressing the systemic issues that cause these shootings.

The United States has more mass shootings than any other developed nation.  What is it about living in the United States that leads [white] people to kill those [blacks and browns] they hate?

Our personalities and our actions are products of our environments, the barrel of vinegar we’re soaking in from birth.  We live in a poisonous barrel, full of slavery’s legacy, white supremacy, stigma, loss, anger, but also fights for freedom, respect, civil rights, forward motion.

We live in a place where black lives are routinely and historically devalued.  We live in a place where guns are ridiculously easy to get (and can be made at home or printed out).

Mental illness has nothing to do with this.

People with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.  The vast majority of folks struggling with mental illness struggle with anxiety and depression.  Mental illness doesn’t make a murderer, any more than running shoes make a track star.

Looking at Roof as a mentally ill lone gunman entirely misses the point.  It’s lazy, factually incorrect, and perpetuates stigma that costs thousands of people struggling with mental illness their lives each year.

It’s not the person, it’s the person as they function within the system in which they live.

Dylann Roof learned that violence is an acceptable answer to dislike, misunderstanding, imagined wrongs and hatred.  He learned that black people won’t be as much of a loss as white people, that they are naturally inferior to his white skin, that they are inherently violent, that they are inherently them and not us.  It was this learning that led to this shooting – he learned it would be fairly okay, that this was somehow acceptable loss.

A caller to On Point this morning talked about living in the south; he said there were people there who would probably not see these shootings as tragic or horrifying, rather something to glorify.  This is a cultural issue as well as a personal issue – this was the barrel Dylann Roof was soaking in.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m aware it’s “not all white men” and “not all Southerners” and “not all young men” et. al.  But the combination of this personality and this toxic environment led to tragedy, and now nine people are dead.

Stop blaming these massacres on mental illness.  Blame them on our toxic culture that allows hatred to flourish, then kill.

One of the blogs I read on the regular is Dances With Fat; I like the material and it’s turned me on to lots of HAES resources and ideas.  It was interesting reading her post “There Are Two Kinds of Fat People” today, because it reminded me of the baloney Bill Cosby used to put in his stand up act (when he was still somewhat respected because we hadn’t found out about his bad sexual assault habit) talking about black men.

There are a ton of black comedians (and of course, comedians of other races, but we’ll ignore them in favor of people who have actual lived experience and have a voice as people of color) who talk about different kinds of black people.  Chris Rock had the most famous bit (I think), talking about how he hates n*****rs.  You can watch it here.

His bit is clearly part of respectability politics, the idea that if you act good enough, achieve high enough, try hard enough, that you will then be treated as a human being, worthy of respect and consideration, by the dominant class.  Generally, this involves simply adopting the ideas, mannerisms and goals of the dominant class, without regard to your personal autonomy or being able to choose your appearance, dress and presentation.

An excerpt from Buzzfeed, of all places, sums it up:

Society has spent decades, if not centuries, just waiting for black people to “get it,” and one by one these brave messengers will come, sharing with us the gospel of how it’s all our fault…but hey, we can fix it.

But in order to become “respectable,” the targeted group is always encouraged to change. And the changes always, always require the targeted group to become more like the dominant group. If black people act more like white people, or women act more like men, or gays and lesbians act more like straight people, they’ll all see the same outcomes. But the underlying goal of this is to stop being “different.” Act “normally,” and you’ll be treated normally, but if you step outside those boundaries, it is your fault and your fault only.

(full article here)

As you might have guessed, I don’t buy into this idea.  I may have personal preferences for how I enjoy people to behave, but those are my preferences.  People deserved to be treated like people, no matter how they choose to dress or present themselves.

I stand on the side that doesn’t support black youth having to constantly live in fear that if they did one single thing wrong, including their clothing, they could be killed legally. Oh wait, it’s still kind of like that.

The idea of a “good fatty” is the same kind of respectability politics.  I figured this out finally – the reason I was so defensive when I’d go to the gym for only 30 minutes rather than an hour, or the reason I still can’t look a clerk in the eye when I buy an ice cream cone, is because I feel like this is proof I’m a “bad fatty.”  I was being judged, I deserve what I get, I am disgusting, and if only I would deign to change my lifestyle, life would be easier and better for me.  Any bias or judgment or discrimination is my own damn fault for not caring enough to change.

Someone’s appearance is not a judgment of their worth.  Wasn’t it Martin Luther King Jr. who wanted his daughters to be judged on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin?  Yet here we are, adding prejudice to our already bright array of ill-formed ideas about what a good, normal person is like rather than opening our minds and hearts to the beautiful diversity so essential to the human race.

People deserve to be treated like people.  The end.

(all images link to original sources)

One of the mainstay concepts in any sort of treatment, but particularly in the treatment of sex offenders, is to assist clients in differentiating bad action from bad self.  It seems on the surface to be a distinction that is easily made – just because someone does a bad thing does not necessarily make them a bad person.  However, there are so many layers and perceptions imposed by our family of origin, society and culture, it ends up being one of the most labor intensive parts of treatment.

Understanding that good people can do “bad” things is often intuitive.  Psychologically we usually operate from what is called the “self-serving bias,”  the tendency to cut ourselves a break.  We are able to access our internal thoughts and motivations, so its easier to justify doing something ourselves versus someone else.  When we feel threatened (like, say, someone’s screaming at us that we’re a piece of shit that deserves to be killed) we are WAY more likely to engage in this behavior.

We’ve established before that when one is feeling shame, the natural reaction is defensive, because shame threatens our very sense of self-worth, of having the right to exist.  Separating our actions from who we are is essential to change, because you can change an action.  It’s not as easy to change who we are.

I was thinking about this a lot since yesterday, when it was explained to me why body hatred was so stupid.  Like, fundamentally stupid.  Leaving aside all the stuff about WE ARE WOMEN AND BEAUTIFUL, hating the container we’re in is…stupid.

When I was younger I’d make the argument against racism that it’s stupid to hate what’s on the outside, because it makes no rational sense.  And it came to me that hating our bodies is almost exactly the same.  Our bodies are results of behaviors and genetics and actions we take and food we put in and sun we get and clothes we wear and the climate we live in.  Too often, most obviously in weight loss settings, we are told to hate our bodies, that we are disgusting and weak and shameful.  Which leads to shame.  Which means NO ONE who is being told they are awful is in any place to start changing behavior.

The conversation around bodies and weight is about who people are, rather than the things they do.  Changing behaviors may not change body composition, and that’s okay.  Because we need to focus on the behavior, not the container.  We need to focus on the behavior, rather than the person inside.  Because the people who struggle with weight are people.  Bad actions do not equal bad self.