Alton Sterling’s blood had yet to be wiped from the concrete in front of the bodega in Baton Rouge before a few Magical Negroes and their protective white allies started to tell us how we should better comply with brutal police encounters to avoid death. My fingers have grown tired of scrolling past all the facebook posts, do-nothing videos, opinion pieces, and step-by-step guides for black folks on how to comply during deadly police encounters. And then, before the paint dried on the protest signs for Baton Rouge, we witnessed how compliance, too can kill you. Philando Castile was met still with death at the hands of yet another overzealous, implicitly bias police officer.
I have known, since very early, that as a Black person, I should avoid police at all times. I should not talk to police not even to say hi. I should avoid police. I should not ask questions of police. I should not call them in case of emergencies. I learned very early on that their presence was the most visible, brutal form of white supremacy I could possibly ever face in my life. It was best to avoid them.
My most vivid personal memory of police was one hot summer day shortly after Amadou Diallo was shot to death. I was on the northside of Milwaukee, which is and was at the time overwhelming poor and overwhelming Black. I was at my grandmother’s house, full of love, food, spades, and black people. Suddenly, the block went black. It wasn’t an outage as was sometimes common during summer months. The outage lasted 30 seconds accompanied by a level of silence that still haunts me to this day. My grandmother, or someone, I can’t remember, yelled out in remembrance of my brother and cousin who were absent from the home.
When we ventured outside the nightmare began. My brother, not two years younger than me and my cousin not six months older than me, were laying flat on the pavement with rifle barrel guns on the temples of their heads. They were teenagers. And black. And poor. Running through the neighborhood when it was dark and hot. At a time when the police were looking for a black male murder suspect. The fact that nearly half of these police officers were black themselves, never crossed my mind. I just remember police officers’ high level of aggression. I remember the verbal assaults, the physical throwing of my relatives, especially my grandmother. I remember the deep despair and complete helplessness of being fondled, pat down, nearly stripped in front of my neighbors, mother, father, and family. We all were. We were wrestled, nearly one by one as we came out of the house. We were cursed at by black officers as well as white ones. Women and men. And there I was, a straight A high school student, who would go on to serve in the Obama Administration with a master’s degree in tow, was being assaulted on a street corner in the dark by countless “public servants”.
What I know about folks in the aftermath of these recent tragedies and the brutal attacks by police officers is that they want to help. What I am unsure of is if they’ve ever encountered a police officer with a quota to fill on a hot summer’s day in the middle of a poor, black neighborhood. I’m not sure that these Facebook philosophers know what that feels like. I’m not sure they see these as more than mere incidences by as an everyday occurrence in Black neighborhoods.
So I’m going to give a little advice to the police officers and their friends, as a victim of police brutality and aggression, on how they should interact in the event they encounter the 13% of the United States population that self-identify as Black folk:
1. Don’t Shoot. Now this one may seem obvious but with everything that’s going on the truth is, it needs to be stated. The likelihood of someone being armed and ready to shoot you at a routine traffic stop is little to non-existent. You have to be a pathological lunatic of a police officer to believe Black people are shooting police officers that ask them for their driver’s license. It is nearly impossible. You have a higher chance of being shot by a white man in rural Pennsylvania than you do of a Black man, at 2AM, drunk and speeding and armed, in the middle of downtown Detroit. Don’t shoot.
2. Don’t assume someone has a gun. What we know for sure is that you are the one with the gun. You are the one trained in near war-like ways to manage a taillight and yet you find yourself on the fearful end? Yea, no. When you ask them to reach for their license, it’s probably in their wallet, and their wallet is probably in their back pocket. Guns can’t fit in the back pockets of blue jeans. People don’t sit on loaded guns. I don’t know what your simulation guide told you but they don’t have a gun.
3. Don’t tamper with your body camera. There are many organizers who fought long and hard to get you to wear body cameras for the protection of human life. Since you cannot be trusted to do the previous two instructions, we have decided to watch how dangerous you can actually be. Do not tamper with this evidence, it belongs to the people. In the event you do tamper with it, or it magically falls off, the likelihood that you are being recorded killing someone you were sitting on will be recorded. Because again, you can not be trusted.
4. Don’t yell or become belligerent. You should approach all situations calm. These are taxi-paying citizens who have the right to due process and to not be searched by you. Your presence and pay is not mandated by the constitution. There is no reason that you, the armed one, should be offended by people, especially children, not calling you ‘sir’ or ‘mam.’ Check your ego at the door.
5. Don’t rape. The level of state sanctioned violence perpetrated by police officers has seemed to reach a feverish peak with videos surfacing. What is really a known secret in many black women circles is the frequency of sexual assaults by police officers. This is especially true of black trans women and sex workers. When you encounter women who rely on police for protection, do not manipulate their situation by causing further trauma and violence by raping them.
6. Don’t use aggressive force. There is no reason community policing should entail name calling, stalking, bending them over for your sexual pleasure, and strip searching them in front of their neighbors. Why are you pushing people? Why are you kicking and punching and beating citizens? Why are you so utterly obsessed with violence and domination that you prey on black people?
7. Don’t lie. There seems to be a pattern here, as with the recent murder of a Brooklyn man by an off duty police officer. You lie first. He claimed to have been beat up so severely before defending himself during road rage. It turns out, he shot his victim within 1 second of him leaving the vehicle. Don’t lie, officer. There is likely a video and we likely know the truth. We don’t need the video because there is a pattern of behavior, but it helps to make sure Wolf Blitzer doesn’t drag the victim’s name through The Situation Room.
8. Don’t cover for your corrupt partner. What we know is that there is a culture of police behavior that has allowed for these kinds of incidences, regardless of the race of the police officer, to continue to exist. If you see something, you need to report it to the inspector general’s office. You need to record it and give it to your local newspaper but above all, you must speak out against police misconduct.
9. Don’t fight suspension, expulsion, and termination. Call your corrupt, right-leaning Union and tell them that since they are funded by police officers who are invested in keeping their salary and pension, you would rather them not represent you. Tell them that you don’t believe you are entitled to a job, full pension, and administrative desk duty for murdering a cafeteria worker you thought was about to shoot you but reached for a license instead.
10. Resign. I know your ego told you that policing would make a difference. As a police officer you are controlling marginalized bodies through threat and violence. By joining the police force, you are an instrument within the system of oppression. This has made you one of the perpetrators of domestic terrorism on a marginalized community already beset with inadequate health facilities, the city’s worse and least satisfactory teachers, the highest unemployment rate, and a desert for quality food. You have added to the problem of generational poverty by exerting undue trauma on black children everyday. I know your ego told you that you have secured a good working class American job. I know your ego has allowed you to believe that you are above the law because you are carrying it out. It is a terrible culture with an outdated way of carrying for communities and it’s best you leave it.
Listen, police officers are paid by public tax dollars. They are fed by the very people they are oppressing at much higher rates than almost anyone they will encounter in their careers. I know you thought I was going to tell a police officer to go to a soup kitchen or carry some groceries for a needy church usher. But what I really need for the police officers to do is to adhere to these steps.