For as long as I can remember, I’ve campaigned to end the war on drugs. It’s caused increased violence, a loss of rights, and increased addiction. I’ve kept up on the “isolated incidents” resulting in the death of people and/or their pets, of the ruined lives. But yesterday both my heart and my faith in the American justice system shattered. It isn’t often I feel completely helpless. I’m so sorry for the family of Eric Garner; for all the families of those who have been killed by police. It’s obviously sad when anyone has their life come to an end, but to be killed by those we have chosen to protect is a tragic betrayal. If we’re supposed to trust the police to not harm us, why isn’t there the same level of accountability for them as there is for us?
At this point, whether or not Michael Brown’s hands were up has become irrelevant. The death of Brown has sparked a movement that is larger than one single action. So many people who are content with the status quo of militarized police operations are quick to point out that he was a thug, a criminal — and strong armed robbery means you deserve to be killed. If you believe that, nothing I can say or do can change your mind. That is part of who you fundamentally are. What I can teach you is that the issue is much larger than one incident. It is an American problem, and given racial and social prejudices, it is a problem that manifests itself in the black community.
If you’re uncomfortable talking about how this is a race problem, let’s start by talking about how this is a militarized police problem. This is nothing new. Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow:
According to the Cato Institute, in 1997 alone, the Pentagon handed over more than 1.2 million pieces of military equipment to local police departments. Similarly, the National Journal reported that between January 1997 and October 1999, the agency handled 3.4 million orders of Pentagon equipment from over eleven thousand domestic police agencies in all fifty states. Included in the bounty were “253 aircraft (including six- and seven-passenger airplanes, UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-1 Huey helicopters, 7,856 M-16 rifles, 181 grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets, and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles.” A retired police chief in New Haven, Connecticut, told the New York Times, “I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted.”
Now let’s pretend for a moment that every non-indicted officer that killed a black civilian actually was within his or her rights. If officers are using their discretion and aiming to injure whites when they are also within their right to shoot to kill, then they are doing something wrong.
Michael Brown was not shot over stealing cigarillos,and it’s misrepresentative to say that the robbery led to the shooting (and this includes people on my side, saying life is worth more than cigarillos). Depressingly, I’ve heard many people say that if you don’t engage in strong armed robbery (or whatever crime it is when speaking of other individuals), you won’t have anything to worry about. I’ve read countless tweets, comments, etc from people: “I don’t commit robbery, so I don’t care about this issue.“ These people are most definitely saying that if the people who commit these crimes end up being shot, then whatever. Everyone that posted that stupid picture of Joda Cain holding a glock, with money in his mouth and liquor to his side, saying it was Brown and that he wasn’t really innocent, is guilty of this. People act like prior criminal acts make it a-ok when someone is shot. Hell, I’ve got a nolle prossed assault charge that could easily be found if the cops gunned me down. But one assault charge does not mean I deserve to die.
I have read every single page of the grand jury documents. I cycled on this: first I was fully on Brown’s side, as evidence came out I was middle of the road, then when the docs were released I thought I might end up on Wilson’s side. Nope. After it was all said and done, thousands of pages later, I have questions. Maybe it was self defense, maybe it wasn’t. We will never know, and that is the problem. Sure, murder is a legal term and cannot be correctly applied without a trial — but in the vernacular, we use the term more loosely than in the court room. And I’m not buying an “accident.” Not for Eric Garner, not for Aiyana Jones, not for Oscar Grant. Careless, reckless endangerment of human life is a better way to say it than accident. You know what is fucking bull shit? Look at Cory Maye, who was home during a no knock raid on the duplex next door to his. Trying to protect his 2 year old daughter, he killed one of the cops that intruded into his home without announcing himself. HE was convicted of murder and sentenced to death row until, years later, the media got ahold of his story and drew attention to it. If the legal standard for murder is shooting an unannounced intruder in your home, then I think we’re safe to apply it pretty liberally when someone is laying face down on the ground without a weapon and gets shot through the lungs (Grant).
Even if it’s just that accidents are happening, it’s important to hold the police to the same letter of the law that we hold civilians. What message does it send to the community when a cop gets 11 months for shooting someone he knows isn’t armed on the BART platform, but a father exercising his 2nd amendment right and protecting his home gets sent to death row? What message is sent when a cop, 6 seconds after announcing his arrival for a raid, fires his gun into the lower level of the duplex he’s supposed to be raiding, and one of his shots lands in a child’s brain — and he’s simply charged with a misdemeanor? When the fucking MAYOR of Berwyn Heights has his dogs shot in front of him during a botched drug raid, and the PG County PD official response is “We’ve apologized for the incident, but we will never apologize for taking drugs off our streets. Quite frankly, we’d do it again. Tonight.” What message does it send when a cop throws a flash grenade into a baby’s playpen and isn’t charged with anything, while the child is forever disfigured?
At the end of the day, human life is precious. There are certainly instances where force is justified, where it’s necessary. But it’s alarming to me that so many people seem to be okay with the notion that fatally shooting a civilian isn’t a last resort. We work to demonize the dead: you are not defined by your rap sheet, or by the ounce of pot found in your house during a drug raid that results in your own death, or by a photo of you holding stacks of hundreds. Even if you were, cops don’t get to play judge, jury, and executioner.