In December of 2014, I wrote an essay where I connect police violence against African-American people to racism as a social psychosis. In other words, racism has made most people in the United States crazy, police included. (http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2014/12/09/blue-on-black-violence-racial-bias-and-societal-psychosis/) I discuss an essay – “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perception of Blacks” published in the journal “Social Psychological and Personality Science.” Fast forward to July 2016, and in the space of two days, two African-American men, in two cities, in two different parts of the country – Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul– have been shot and killed by police. Both shootings were caught on video and broadcast widely. I shall quote myself:
“And the crazy is so crazy deep that many people affected by the crazy do not realize how crazy they are. The insanity causes us to misperceive reality, so that we see what is not really real and do not see what is really real.”
The madness continues.
Jesse Williams is an actor on the popular television show “Grey’s Anatomy.” In June 2016, he received Black Entertainment Television’s Humanitarian Award. In his acceptance speech, he referred to Tamir Rice, an African-American child who was killed by Cleveland police while playing with a toy gun. The young man was killed within three seconds of the police arriving on the scene. Three seconds.
Williams said in part: “Now, what we have been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” (http://time.com/4383516/jesse-williams-bet-speech-transcript/)
In responding to the two killings in remarks from Poland, President Obama presented data. He said:
“And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues. According to various studies – not just one, but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years–African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over. After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.
“So that if you add it all up, the African American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population. Now these are facts.”
President Obama also spoke of systemic racism that renders poor communities of color basically out of sight and out of mind to the majority of the people who hold power in the United States. Thus, these communities suffer from a lack of quality education, employment, and opportunity. The president also spoke of building trust between local police and the communities they serve.
There is little trust between the African American community and law enforcement in many cities because the police in all too many cases are not in the business of protecting and serving the community. They are in the business of controlling black bodies. From the earliest days of the republic, from the days when African Americans were present to provide slave labor, the patrols existed to keep the slaves on the plantation. Known as paddy rollers, their job was to track down runaway slaves. It may seem as if I am making a very long historical leap from the slave patrols to local policing in the 21st century, but I do not think so.
The logic of race in the United States, the logic of white supremacy had to define the enslaved in contradictory terms, both sub-human and super-human, infantile yet dangerous, happy and docile yet oversexed and brutish. This was necessary to provide an immoral moral justification for slavery. It was an immoral moral justification for Jim Crow legal apartheid in the United States. It was the rationale for keeping white women from black men lest they marry and produce black children. Only two white people can produce more white children.
So, the question becomes: what do white police officers see when they see an African American person? What are they trying to kill when a killer cop shoots a young black man sixteen times, or takes three seconds to kill a 12-year-old? Do they see a human being worthy of respect, or do they see a sub/superhuman dangerous brute whose body needs to be restrained and controlled by any means necessary? Do they see an opportunity to demonstrate their own superiority over the Other? Do they see a threat to whiteness itself, and therefore a threat to their own existence?
When Jesse Williams spoke of a restructuring of function for both the police and for ourselves, I took that to mean that our function is to make certain the police exist to establish justice and the rule of law in our communities, not their current de facto function of controlling the movement of black bodies. To restructure the function of police, We the People have to take our responsibilities as citizens seriously. We have to register to vote, inform ourselves about the issues and then vote in federal, state, and local elections. When called to serve on juries, we have to go and not try to shirk that responsibility. We have to pay attention to elections for judges. We have to make sure that policing policies in our communities conform to the standards outlined in”The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.” One suggestion in the report is training on “implicit bias and cultural responsiveness.” (http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf)
When any of us lose a loved one to violence, it is a death that ought to affect us all. These are our sons and daughters who are losing their lives at the hands of those we have the power of the state behind them to exert deadly force. They ought not to be able to kill citizens who pose only an imaginary threat without punishment. This means that it is way past time that killer cops go to jail. It is not enough to give multi-million dollar payouts to the families of the dead.
As I write this essay, police in Dallas have lost four or their own to sniper fire that occurred during a protest rally. These gatherings happened in various cities across the United States. Now four police officers in Dallas are dead and seven more have been wounded, some seriously. The situation is still unfolding, so I do not know how it will end. This adds tragedy upon tragedy. Death upon death. Grief upon grief.
This kind of lawlessness is the reason why there must be justice for police officers who kill unrighteously. The founders knew that the first purpose of the government of the United States is not to keep the country safe, but to establish justice. They wrote: “We the People of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.”
In effect, they were saying: No Justice; No Peace.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”