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The Status Quo is Unacceptable

I am the daughter of a police officer. I grew up surrounded by cops. To this day, I have never had an interaction with a cop that wasn’t totally pleasant and comfortable for me. I’m also white, female, and cisgendered. So there’s not a lot for cops to go on when approaching me with regard to prejudice. I am very privileged in my interactions with law enforcement.

As I have gotten older, my world view with regard to law enforcement has changed drastically. I have seen things from the perspective of other people whose interactions with the police are not all sunshine and rainbows, as mine have been. I follow the news. I see the brutality that is out there. My growing pains in this area have been extreme, to say the least.

This morning I woke up to find a friend had posted a link to a viral video of a group of police officers violently assaulting pedestrians for jaywalking. Early on Friday morning, Jeremy Kingg, Lou Glen, Matt Wallace, and Rolando Ramiro were walking home. They crossed a street at a crosswalk where the symbol indicated “do not walk.” In short order, several police officers confronted them and asked for IDs. The incident then escalated, with the police shoving and slamming Wallace and Kingg against the wall and then to the ground, handcuffing them, and hauling them to a police car. When the men asked what crime they had committed, the officers said that they had “crossed against the light.”

The behavior of the cops in this case is completely inexcusable. And this isn’t the first time that Austin has had a problem with cops over-zealously policing jaywalking. The case last year involved a female jogger and famously resulted in a statement by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo where he stated that:

At the end of the day, that officer has to stop them somehow. He didn’t tackle her to the ground, you know, it’s kind of interesting what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas. Thank you Lord that there’s a controversy in Austin, Texas that we actually had the audacity to touch somebody by the arm and tell them ‘Oh my goodness, Austin Police, we’re trying to get your attention.’ Whew! In other cities, cops are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas.

I barely even know what to say in response to that. Terrorizing people isn’t OK. Police officers are supposed to serve and protect. And the fact that these officers didn’t sexually assault that woman or tackle her to the ground isn’t something they get cookies for. You don’t get a party thrown for NOT being a rapist or a bully. That shit should be the norm. That’s the BASE LINE for human fucking decency. Along with not brutalizing people for no fucking reason.

The shocking thing to me is how inured to all of this we have become as a society.

At the bottom of the article I linked above regarding the brutality Friday morning, there is a line break, beneath which is the following small paragraph:

Ramiro did an excellent job recording the insanity. Note how he recorded holding the phone horizontally. Note the difference from the usual vertical videos. Make it instinct to record horizontally. Not enough people do.

The fact that we have gotten to the point where we have a stock pile of video taken of police behaving badly is terrible to begin with. And while I’m glad that people are learning from the techniques used in earlier videos so that we can better document brutality when we see it, the fact that this problem is so deeply embedded and ongoing that we need lasting, effective techniques? That is, to me, a sign that we are seriously fucked.

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On Cause Comparison and Cecil the Lion

I mostly haven’t chimed in on this issue online, but it’s starting to really get to me, so I need to say something about it.

After Cecil the Lion was illegally hunted and killed, the internet exploded with outrage. People (read: white people) have vocally and repeatedly voiced their opinions on their respective social media platforms as well as the Yelp page of the dentist who killed him. They have called for justice for Cecil. For the extradition of his killer. Some have even said that the man who killed him should be skinned and decapitated as Cecil was. Which is undoubtedly extreme, but lets you know just how passionately people feel about this lion and his death.

As a response, many social justice advocates have remarked upon the outrage expressed over Cecil’s death. Particularly pointing out that, when black people are killed in this country, the only outrage we seem to see is from other social justice advocates and the victim’s families. But when Cecil died, people who had never even heard of him before were flocking to the feet of the Zimbabwean government to offer support for the punishment of the persons responsible.

Without fail, comments that I have seen from my social justice oriented friends on this phenomenon have been met with all manner of protest and equivocation from white people. They have felt the need to justify their pain in the face of a dead lion. They have said that they have a right to be upset and on and on and on.

Let me say this right now: No one gives a fuck if you care about that lion. I care about that lion. You’re allowed to care about that lion.

What social justice advocates have been remarking upon, if you would just stop being a defensive asshole and listen for a second, is the fact that your feed is silent whenever a black man is murdered in cold blood by a police officer in this country. Or when a native woman dies in her jail cell. Or a toddler gets burned and disfigured during an unnecessary police raid.

No one wants to hear that you care about this thing or that thing. That you give money to the NAACP. That your best friend is a lion and you feel for his loss. Whatever bullshit excuse you want to give. Your equivocation and justification for your lack of compassion and outrage when it comes to the struggles faced by people of color in this country is such an old song and dance that we all know the words. We even have bingo cards dedicated to seeing how many of the usual talking points people hit during conversations about social justice.

Do us all a favor and think about what you are doing when you are called out on it. Surprise us all by doing the decent thing. Being called out is hard. I know it is. I’ve been called out a bunch of times during my time talking about these issues, and even before I started speaking out. It sucks. It’s embarrassing. You don’t want people to think you’re racist. Or that you don’t care. But you have to look at the way that your behavior might say both of those things to the people around you.

The proper response when someone tells you that your behavior is problematic or indicative of a deeper problem in society is not to get defensive and put your back up. It’s to listen. And to examine yourself and why you think what you think and post what you post. Maybe when you do that you will find that turning some of your anger for a lion you never met over to the cause effecting the lives of your fellow human beings is a bit more relevant and rewarding of an experience.

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Black Lives Matter: Sandra Bland

It seems as if I wake up every day to the sound of another name. Like a gunshot. They ring out over social media.

This week it was Sandra Bland.

I didn’t know who she was last month. Last year. She wasn’t a friend. Wasn’t someone I knew. But I knew her story as soon as the hashtag popped up on Twitter.

#WhatHappenedToSandraBland.

I already knew what happened. A moment of digging into a link posted by a friend yielded the details.

She was 28 years old. Younger than me. But she was vocal like me. Specifically, she was vocal about police abuse. Like me.

The difference between the two of us was that Sandra was a black woman. And there are consequences for being a vocal black woman that there are not on the table for me as a vocal white woman.

They found Sandra dead in her cell in police custody on July 13th.

The initiated a federal investigation on the 16th. They thought she might have been murdered.

Then they released the dashcam footage yesterday. And it did not come anywhere close to exonerating the police. I will not share the video here. You can go and look for it. I watched it once and I will never watch it again.

A summary, though, for those of you who want to avoid watching it.

In the video, officer Brian Encinia pulls her over. After a brief exchange, he tells her to put out her cigarette. She refuses. He asks her to step out of the car. When she refuses, they argue for a minute until he tells her to get out of the car again and threatens to “light her up” with his taser. Then he moves to arrest her on the sidewalk, out of view of the dashcam. There is some kind of physical altercation on the sidewalk, out of view, and Sandra is arrested.

Far from exonerating the officers, this video was troubling to it’s very core. She was being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. She is not required to put out her cigarette during a traffic stop. There was no reason for the officer to have her exit the vehicle. And the sound of the scuffle off where the cameras can’t see was disturbing in the extreme.

Today, the latest news is that the video appears to have been edited. Which just makes everything worse. It’s clear that the footage has been doctored within the week that has passed since Sandra’s death. In the video, the footage appears to have been looped and edited several times, with cars appearing and disappearing and people walking out of the frame multiple times.

I just… the thing that keeps getting to me about all of the deaths and abuse that we have been seeing is the brazen way that they are perpetrated.

It’s obvious that Sandra’s death was wrongful with even a cursory glance at the facts. It’s obvious that she did not need to be arrested. It’s obvious that the officer’s behavior was out of line. It’s obvious that the video was doctored.

And yet, as with all of these cases, I hold out no hope that Sandra’s killers will see justice done. At most, they will get fired or something. They won’t stand trial for her murder. They won’t suffer for the way that she suffered.

It’s horrible to feel the truth of that. The immunity that police enjoy in these cases. Because really, every time this happens, it erodes my faith in the justice system a little more. It takes away from the ability of people of color in this country to feel safe in their own neighborhoods. It erodes the ability of good cops to do their jobs safely.

The more this happens, the more we lose. I just wish someone in government would wake up and see that and do something.

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#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

I don’t even have the right words for this, I’m pretty sure. But I’m going to give it a shot. Here goes.

In the wake of the shooting in Charleston two weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that anything could make me more sad. But the thing about racial violence is this: It never really lets up. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse or you couldn’t get any more sad or disheartened over the state of things, racial violence heaps on another serving of disgusting nonsensical hatred.

In the last ten days, 8 black churches have been burned in the Southern United States. The FBI is looking into arson as the cause of these fires. Two of the church fires have been blamed on falling branches and faulty wiring due to the turbulent weather that has been sweeping through the south this past week.

Honestly, I don’t know how you can look at what is going on here and see anything but retaliation. Any other month of almost any other year, I would be willing to see faulty wiring blamed as the cause for a fire in a church with a predominantly black congregation. But not this month. And not these churches.

Racists have a history of targeting black congregations as a place for violence. During the height of the civil rights movement, black churches were the main gathering places for large groups of African Americans. They served as meeting places and social settings as well as places of worship. More than that, before African Americans were granted the right to vote in elections, they were able to vote for officials in their churches. They were able to enact some kind of control over their personal political spheres without being overseen by the oppressive white majority.

The photo that I chose for my header image for this entry shows the Congress of Racial Equality and members of the All Souls Church marching in memory of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing victims on September 22, 1963. The bombing of that church occurred on the morning of Sunday, September 15th, 1963. Four members of the KKK planted sticks of dynamite beneath the front steps of the church. The explosion killed four children and wounded 22 other people.

In the 1990s, there was another spate of church burnings in the south.

The most recent racially motivated church burning on record occurred on the day that Obama was inaugurated as president.

Fifty-two years later, we are still dealing with this shit. And it’s not like it ever went away. It’s not even like the 60s were the first time a black church was ever targeted. Like the worship of the confederate flag, the burning of black churches emerged during the civil rights movement as a way to frighten black people back into what white supremacists considered to be “their place.”

Fifty-two years after the civil rights movement, I look at the news and see young women being manhandled by racist officers. I see a white man killing black people because he was rejected by black women. Churches being burned because, in the wake of a mass shooting in a church, the racist symbol that is the confederate flag finally came down from in front of courthouses and state buildings throughout the south.

I still can’t believe that the confederate flag was even flown for this long.

I am constantly baffled when I look at the news or talk to my friends and hear stories of racial violence and oppression. I keep hoping that things will get better. That the world will somehow wake up and say, in unison, “that’s enough.”

But I keep being disappointed. Sometimes it feels like the civil rights movement didn’t even happen. In a lot of ways, we are still living in 1950. The only difference is that racists today know not to use the N word.