Last Words: I Can’t Breathe / Why Did You Shoot Me / It’s Not Real / Mom, I’m Going to College

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.

On the right is Dan Bilzerian. On the left is NOT Mike Brown. But that picture was used to convince people Brown was a thug. Hmm...
On the left is Dan Bilzerian. On the right is NOT Mike Brown. But that picture was used to convince people Brown was a thug. Hmm…

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?

Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo

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.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Share your protest stories in the comments. Title inspired by this video. 


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7 thoughts on “Last Words: I Can’t Breathe / Why Did You Shoot Me / It’s Not Real / Mom, I’m Going to College”

  1. Great piece. It echoes my thoughts on the matter completely. Another fun thing that people are starting to bring up are body cams, and how they can help. But I am less optimistic in using those as a solution. We have a video of Gardner being choked to death and that made ZERO difference. And to rub more salt in the wounds, the guy who filmed the incident was indicted.

  2. We’re going on two generations now where the most important thing is “keeping up with the Jonses,” and keeping appearances. A vast majority of the people in this country flat out do not care until it’s on their doorstep, and by then it’s too late.

  3. Interesting read and some good points. I disagree with you on the BART shooting only because it seems pretty clear from the available information the officer intended to use his taser, not his handgun. That’s not an intentional act and not murder, hence the involuntary manslaughter conviction. Probably more training and ability than intentionally shooting someone. Even the video shows the officer himself looking shocked. Criminal and a tragedy, but not murder, and I think it waters down your point to focus so much on that shooting relative to some of the other incidents you discuss.

    And while I may not agree with all of your points, it certainly brings up some systemic issues that we as a country need to address, not just among our police or the criminal Justice system, but at a national and local level.

    1. One thing that is really interesting with the Grant case is that the judge who did the preliminary hearing specifically said there was no doubt in his mind the officer meant to grab his weapon. Of course, we will never know why. Good insight, though. I usually talk about him because it was filmed and easily accessible, and people are more familiar with his story because of Fruitvale Station. Point taken, though — next time I’ll branch out. God knows focus on a questionable case is a HUGE problem in this movement, and it’s nice to get constructive feedback.

      Between legalizing marijuana and large scale protests asking for accountability, I’m the most optimistic I’ve ever been that we will begin to address these issues.

  4. In so much agreement. I wish Michael Brown was a better example of police brutality; and of course I wish there was video of all such incidents from body cameras. As it is, if indeed he was assaulting the officer, the shooting may have been self defense. But it’s not just about that one shooting. It seems like that shooting was the straw that broke Ferguson’s back, so to speak, and that there was a long history of tension there between the police and populace. And Garner and the guy with the BB gun in Walmart were of course much clearer examples of police misconduct and I think got the same results from their grand juries.

    I’d just like to see cops treated the same way as citizens when they kill someone. We’d like to see a trial, an examination of evidence, and a jury decision. If the killing was justified, they should be acquitted. But they should have a trial.

    1. @eep, the average citizen does not automatically have a trial if they kill someone. In most jurisdictions, such cases go to a grand jury to determine whether or not a crime occurred. If the grand jury issues an indictment (true bill), the case then goes to trial. There are many instances, particularly self defense, in which no indictment is issued and the case does not go to trial. Requiring any homicide to go to trial without grand jury indictment, or opening the grand jury process to public access, would be a fundamental change to the U.S. criminal justice system and would not impact just the police.

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