I got confused while watching the news this morning.
There was grainy cell-phone footage of a black man shot by police. But the details were all wrong.
This wasn’t a story about Alton B. Sterling, a 37-year-old man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who was shot multiple times by police early Tuesday morning. He’d been engaged in the dangerously criminal act of selling CDs in front of a convenience store.
This was the story of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old man in Minnesota who was shot four times by a police officer Wednesday night while his girlfriend and young daughter looked on. He’d been reaching for his license, as the officer had requested.
In a powerful New York Times opinion piece yesterday, Roxane Gay expressed the anger and frustration many of us feel; the pain and fear felt acutely by people of color in this country:
I don’t know where we go from here because those of us who recognize the injustice are not the problem. Law enforcement, militarized and indifferent to black lives, is the problem. Law enforcement that sees black people as criminals rather than human beings with full and deserving lives is the problem. A justice system that rarely prosecutes or convicts police officers who kill innocent people in the line of duty is the problem. That this happens so often that resignation or apathy are reasonable responses is the problem.
It’s overwhelming to see what we are up against, to live in a world where too many people have their fingers on the triggers of guns aimed directly at black people. I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to allow myself to feel grief and outrage while also thinking about change. I don’t know how to believe change is possible when there is so much evidence to the contrary. I don’t know how to feel that my life matters when there is so much evidence to the contrary.
I am tired of writing this blog post. Tired of chronicling the deaths of too many people of color. Police killed at least 346 black people in the U.S. in 2015. Sometimes I want to just look away.
Of course, looking away is a luxury – it would never be me shooting that cell-phone footage; watching my boyfriend die in the back seat of my car while my daughter looks on; finding the strength to narrate while an officer points his gun through my window. That would never be me.
I was struck by something a Minnesota official said in response to the shooting of Castile. He was visibly shocked. “Things like this don’t happen here.” ….”Often.”
That sentiment strikes me as the problem.
I’d like to think that something like this would never happen in my city. That if I ever witnessed such a horror I would jump in and save the day. But ignoring the fact that I’d more likely be frozen and dumbfounded – this brutality doesn’t need heroes. It needs deep, systemic, and collective change.
Until then, these deaths will continue to happen everywhere. Black men will keep dying.
Earlier this week, the Center for Popular Democracy and Policy Link, in partnership with protesters and street-level organizers released a report detailing what cities and towns can do to end police brutality.
Mic has a good write up synthesizing 15 concrete steps citizens and local governments can take to affect change. I recommend reading their article and reviewing the report, but here are the 15 actions every municipality should take. This is how change happens:
1. Stop criminalizing everything.
2. Stop using poor people to fatten city budgets.
3. Kick ICE out of your city.
4. Treat addicts and mentally ill people like they need help, not jail.
5. Make policy makers face their own racism.
6. Actually ban racist policing.
7. Obey the Fourth Amendment.
8. Involve the community in big decisions.
9. Collect data obsessively.
10. Body cameras.
11. Don’t let friends of the police prosecute the police.
12. Oversight, oversight, oversight.
13. No more military equipment.
14. Establish a “use of force” standard.
15. Train the police to be members of the community, not just armed patrolmen.