Editor's Note: This commentary is part one of a four part series on racism and the over-policing of African-Americans and other people of color.
In mid-July, I was sitting in a truck stop in Jackson, Miss., listening to President Obama’s message to the nation; filled with heart-felt sorrow and pearls of wisdom over the killing of five police officers in Dallas.
Next to me was a table of retired men who congregate to pass the time. They were in their 70s, possibly older. What drew my attention was the reality that as children, prior to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, these Black and white men could never have shared the same table. They would never have dared to eat together, much less pass the time of day together, as equals and without hostility and rancour.
And so I know, things can change in America. This is what I hang onto as I face tomorrow with fury, and as much hope and optimism as I can muster. All are very much needed.
My feelings have now changed. Why? Because a few days later, on July 25, the North Miami police shot an unarmed man trying to prevent them from recklessly shooting an autistic patient. Charles Kinsey is a behavioral therapist who laid on the grounds with his hands up and asked police not to shoot because he was attending to an autistic patient sitting in the middle of the street.
Mr. Kinsey repeatedly told police that there were no guns, that the man was autistic, that he was a behavioral therapist present to resolve the situation, and pleaded with them not to shoot. The police shot him anyway.
What has this country come to? Police officers are out of control. Their fears and unconscious biases are now guiding their decision making even more so than in the past. Can I retain the same belief in hope and optimism that I held a few weeks ago? I truly wonder.
A righteous anger
I am angry today. Yes, today I am an angry Black woman. I am angry over police being excused from unjustified killings of Black people, and I am angry at Black men taking justice into their own hands and killing police. I am angry over police shooting an unarmed Black man lying on the ground with his hands up and telling them he has no gun. I am angry that the police justify their actions by saying it was an “accident” and the person they intended to shoot was the unarmed Latino autistic man. Really? How can they with any integrity justify this behavior?
I am angry because America has forgotten its history of injustice against Black people. We tolerated centuries of unlawful incarceration as slaves. We tolerated the rape of Black women and the lynching of Black men, women and children. We tolerated being treated inhumanely while trying to retain our humanity.
We as Black people live in a country where the state continues to find ways to justify state-sanctioned violence against Black people (and also Brown people, and now as Muslims) – for moving their hand to produce a license, for selling cigarettes on the streets, for questioning why police have stopped them for the umpteenth time, for playing with toy guns, for laying on the ground with hands in the air, for being autistic – I am angry America.
We have created a culture where Black people (and any non-white persons) are presumed guilty for simply being Black, and no matter how many grand juries dismiss the charges levied against police of homicide, second degree murder or unjustified killings, they can never wipe away the stain of injustice that the United States Justice Department has documented (in its investigation of the Ferguson, Mo. police) permeates most police departments in America. And it doesn’t matter if the police officer is a woman, Black, Asian, Latino, there is a serious bias against Black people, Brown people and Muslims that is woven into the fabric and structure of our law enforcement agencies. The police are the most dangerous threat to the lives of Black, Brown and Muslim people today.
We are presumed guilty; every gesture made by us is presumed to be threatening; our size is considered to be automatic cause for fear and violence against us; and our passionate pleas and outcries for justice are interpreted always as “angry” and never justified. Even when we protest peacefully, our very acts of protest and non-violent civil disobedience are met with state-sanctioned violence, state-sanctioned media characterizations of us as instigators and not American citizens exercising our right to assemble and free speech.
The weight of racism on our shoulders
I am angry America, but I am also very tired … tired of a country that seems to have a chronic malady of historic amnesia. For more than 60 years, I have carried the weight of racism on my shoulders, as has every person of African descent in the Americas – not just in the United States. And, now that burden has been placed on the shoulders of Brown people, Muslims, and people of different sexual/genders orientation.
America, you have a soiled history. You lynched Black people without cause for decades; now you incarcerate us, criminalize everything we do, even at very young ages where Black children who throw temper tantrums are put in handcuffs and jailed, while white youth who commit unspeakable acts of mass violence are described as “mentally ill.” There is no profiling of the young white men who have committed mass murder, but our police forces and our state agencies like the FBI and CIA, who are supposed to be “objective,” immediately profile all Muslims, because of the actions of some, and all Blacks because of the transgressions of a few.
If there is to be any hope for us as a nation, if just a glimmer of saneness can seep into the madness of racism and prejudice that seems to have infected us today in 2016 more so than a decade ago, now is the time for it to shine, to become visible, to influence the minds (and hearts) of those who would rather incarcerate or kill us than protect us (the police) and those who wish to take revenge (those shooting police officers doing their duty).
All are symptoms of the insanity that racial hatred, racial biases and racial prejudice have produced in our country. If ever there was a moment for us as a country to join together and be willing to be uncomfortable in order to confront our differences, our personal and institutional biases, our own feelings of fear that fuel our belief in other’s inferiority; this is it. This is the moment for America’s healing if we are ever to reclaim our humanity.
There is simply too much violence by biased police against Black citizens as people of color live everyday with the disinterest and racial fatigue of white America; and now, the kettle has boiled over and there is unjustified retaliatory violence against police by prejudiced Blacks.
Where will it end America? We are creating our own “killing fields” in the same streets where our children play, and where our parents and elders walk. No one is safe. Police can disarm white men with weapons but they shoot unarmed Black and Brown men. And, as angry as we may feel, there is no justification for taking the life anyone simply because they wear a uniform. It must stop. This racial insanity must stop … now.
America needs a healing. America needs a healing to reclaim our humanity.
Irma McClaurin is an award winning columnist, who 2015 received the Black Press of America’s Emory O. Jackson Column Writing Award from the NNPA. She is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News, a consultant, an activist anthropologist, writer, motivational speaker and founder of the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive at University of Massachusetts Amherst. More about the author can be found at www.irmamcclaurin.com.