A cop is a cop. He may be a very nice man.
I don’t have time to figure that out.
All I know is that he has a uniform and a gun.
James Baldwin, James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, Soul!: A Conversation, 1971
It’s 1983 in Beaufort, South Carolina, and the film, The Big Chill is released. It played to mainly a white audience of my generation of late 1960s and early 1970s college students, activists—supposedly conscious citizens opposed to the Vietnam War and racial injustice.
It was a nostalgic look back on the past, what used to be. For some Americans. It’s a nostalgic look back today, too, for some Americans. Things aren’t the way they used to be, for sure. But, then, it all depends on the demographics. Which boxes do you check off on inquiring applications. Old categories from the era of slavery in the US still matter. No need to look back to the past.
In that sense, for all of America’s technological advancement, very little has been transformed its mindset when it comes to race and the continue violence of injustice and police brutality.
Black Americans, consisting of 12.5% of the country’s drug users make up 29% of the country’s citizens arrested for drug offenses.
In the film, used-to-be “protesters,” graduates from the University of Michigan’s campus at Ann Arbor come together again to attend the funeral of an old college friend who committed suicide in the home of Harold and Sarah Cooper. The Coopers, played by Kevin Kline and Glenn Close, have a winter home. The one the film’s viewers are privy to see isn’t it!
It’s obvious by the largess of the house that the Coopers have done well for themselves, at least according to the standards of the bourgeois playbook in the 1980s. Harold is a business man who can retire early and Sarah is a medical doctor. There’s a Tom Selleck-type Magnum, P.I. television star, Sam Weber, played by Tom Berenger and real estate lawyer, Meg Jones, played by Mary Kay Place, who used to work in the “slums” when she thought she would be working on behalf of Huey and Bobby. JoBeth Williams plays Karen Bowens, a mother and housewife to a man who makes enough to provide her children, as she always wished. Chloe, played by Meg Tilly, shared a little cabin off from the house with the dead boyfriend, and Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gold, a journalist with People magazine, is looking for investors to help him open a nightclub like “Elaine’s” only better.
William Hurt’s character, a damaged Vietnam vet, Nick Carlton, on the other hand, is another matter. He dropped out from a career as a psychologist with a radio talk show.
While most of the gang is inside preparing to watch the Wolverines on television in the Cooper’s den, they hear a commotion outside, and, of course, it’s Nick coming back to the house, escorting by a police car. After an exchange of words, and a sad bit where the officer, willing “to forget the whole thing,” challenges Sam, a “hunk” of a man, to jump into Nick’s open Porsche 911 convertible, just like J. T. Lancer, Sam’s television character.
It doesn’t go very well.
But finally all is well, and Harold thanks the police. The policeman drives off and the friends return to the house.
Harold is just ahead of Nick.
“Since when did you get so friendly with the police?”
Nick repeats his question, and Harold turns to face him. He’s angry.
“...[T]hat cop has twice kept this house from being ripped off. Happens to be a hell of a guy.”
I live here! I live here! I’m dug in!
He doesn’t need someone like Nick, with his adversary relationship with the police. And life in general.
Down a private road, behind a gate, among the beautiful Bodacious and Angel Oak trees, life is good for the Coopers in South Carolina. And the police help protect that good life.
Urban Renewal swept through the US, removing Black people from urban settings, from homes, from apartments in HUD and non-HUD housing—disconnecting Blacks from their small businesses, children from their schools. And while these homes, apartments, neighborhood of small business owners, and schools were severely neglected by absentee landlords, including HUD, and government agencies that should have cared to for upkeep of streets, the residents still fought to remain in place.
But someone channeled Nazi Germany because there’s always a history, a trace. It wasn’t the furniture or the personal items or the gold. It was the land. Whole swathes of real estate—no longer protected for the current occupants.
Once the Black Americans were removed, whites could return to the cities, to high-rise apartments with electronic access only and 24-hour guards. And gates. And police protection.
And I have to say it because it has to be said again: the Black bourgeoisie cashed in too. In a position to speak out on behalf of the whole of the Black community, the Black bourgeoisie chose to look out for Self and family. They waved the white flag of surrender and wore the Kente cloth and practiced a brand of pseudoAfrican nationalism that tooted their “achievement” as having arrived too in solidarity with systemic racism. Offering no challenge to the capitalists or to the ideology of white supremacy, the bourgeoisie in the bronze cages allowed white America to believe it had nothing to feel guilty about. White America need not give up anything, particularly not it’s extension of safety and protection to Black America.
The Black bourgeoisie forgot it was Black too. And Black lives don’t matter in America’s history of violence.
It’s like Joe Biden who forgot what side he was on when Anita Hill tried to be heard. Biden forgot his support for legislation that helped to criminalize economically poor Blacks. There’s the Biden under Bill Clinton writing the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, putting 100,000 more police on the streets. Committed to “law and order,” Biden has played a role in forming the mentality of police officers who in running roughshod over Blacks and Latinx communities learn to associate anti-police brutality, anti-prison, anti-ICE activism as liberal thinking and, therefore, soft on violence. In fact, anti-police brutality, anti-prison, and anti-ICE represent the activism of pro-human protesters who are sick and tired of violence—state violence perpetrated against the most vulnerable Americans—made so because of these heavy-hand policies and laws that are the foot on the necks of Black Americans.
As filmmaker Michael Moore reminds us, $600 billion is spent annually in New York alone to run a police department that looks more like a military brigade. So armed and readied for battle, too, for how is it not possible for most police officer to ready themselves for duty in the morning thinking while attaching the all the weaponry and the armor mentally comparing themselves to the soldier trained to conduct combat overseas—among another people of color.
“Urban renewal” did a number on the most vulnerable populations, the already hunted population with in the cross hairs of paid-for-by-fellow-taxpayers police weaponry. Who needs a war in overseas? When shinny new high-rise apartments and condos went up in areas once blighted in poverty, few Americans noticed the destruction of lives, homes, apartments, businesses—except for the police. And the prison industrial complex. I remember in the late 1980s and 1990s, encountering so many students majoring in criminal justice. That’s where the money was at!
So here are some students on the criminal justice to law school track and here are my other students, marginalized by the way the way they spoke and dressed, having experience already with the criminal justice industry. And it wasn’t pleasant.
All Black America asked for was to be protected by the same justice as white America receive from law enforcement.
It’s no surprise then that so many from the striking of homes in urban areas in America found themselves “outdoors,” becoming sitting ducks for heavy-handed police protection services. “Outdoors” meant living on street benches and viaducts at night and passing the newly built gated communities during the day. Remembering you are a veteran of the Korean War. You are a Vietnam War. You are somebody! But the city mayors aren’t there to protect your rights. You have no address and, therefore, are ineligible to vote! You are economically poor, Black, Latinx, Indigenous. You are BoBo and Lakisha, not Christian and Kristan.
You have a record. Or you don’t have a record. No matter. The 1994 Crime Act in all its amendments is there for you!
A little something to relief the pain of being Black while breathing in America will cost you sometime in the land’s fine facilities.
Or maybe there’s a relative or two. You can move into that cramped two bedroom, or, is it just one, how to tell, with the children and adults, if that room off the side is a bedroom or storage room. If there’s income, it’s not sufficient—not enough to move and go where? The old neighborhood where the whites now live behind gates, paying upwards of 3000 per month in rent or mortgage? Even the SROs are being torn down for more condos to be built. It’s a boom for the city’s finest residents and others relocating. It’s just not for you.
Frustration sets in and arguments break out between son and mother, father and teen daughter, aunts and nieces. And what becomes of the mentally ill cramped in with the young nieces? What to do about the diabetic aunt no longer in walking distance of Walgreens or CVS? Becoming dependent on a working nephew or son with children or daughter too far to come now adds more stress to an already stressful existence. The city’s public transportation is too dangerous after 8:00 pm. Sometimes too dangerous at any time. The grandmother with Alzheimer has to move in, and there are restrictions on how many people live in the apartment. So for how long can she stay before there’s a move of someone?
There is always the young 20-year old brother who just can’t do it. Tries, but can’t seem to stay long at McDonald’s because some teacher decided he wasn’t college material and, if not of college material, then of no worth at all. At least in his eyes. No one will come along to him and say, time to take a year and go to Europe. See the world. Come back all fresh… They tell that to the sons and daughters in those gated communities—not in the cramped one-bedroom apartment. Besides, in Europe, you might begin to think you are human and not America’s punching bag!
Relatives love him at home. That’s not the problem. And it’s that he can’t expect the same safety net or the protection as white Americans receive—without asking. Begging—as his mother used to do when asking a don’t-give-a-damn building management to remove the toxic atmosphere of former residents, roaches and rats, as forcibly removed from newly-minted apartments so as to not to be found coexisting in the newly-installed kitchen cabinets and around bedroom corners in the homes of those valued new comers.
In the meantime, Black Americans, consisting of 12.5% of the country’s drug users make up 29% of the country’s citizens arrested for drug offenses. After spending time behind bars, the real crime commences because it’s white America’s false recognition of what makes them unsafe that brings about the convergence of the criminal justice system and young Black youth.
The 20-years old, newly released from prison, scrambles to find work even while he has to check off that box: Have you been convicted of a crime? How is white America protected by a criminal justice system sitting on the neck of young Black people? The young man is to do what now? And vote—that’s out! Forced out of his home to the street, he is further marginalized by a system in which he only represents a number, a demographic—to aid in the further funding of the police! For his body, his very existence, there will be one more Glock, one more MRAP land mine vehicle, one more armor, one more night-vision goggle, one more plains clothes team is assembled, trained, and deplored into areas in need of protection. According to a New York Times article, it was a plans clothes team that spotted Amadou Diallo and shot him 41 times. It was a plains clothes team that spotted Sean Bell at a bachelor's party and shot him 50 times.
It’s war declared on the Black body “protects” white America’s property!
And the rest is, as they say, a collective “come to Jesus moment.” It’s the precariousness of living while Black in America and the police, firing on anything dark. And precarious.
The police do look to keep the neighborhoods of folks like the Cooper’s safe. They are paid to man the battlefield and keep a tight surveillance on suspicious characters roaming the area by foot or car, lingering too long in front of a neighborhood grocery store or walking down a street where the majority of the residents wear suits and causal khakis and not hoods and jeans. Maybe the walk is to just reflect. The jogging helps to figure things out. The loose cigarettes puts a smile on a few faces. But you never know when a police car will stop near you, and it will always seem as if the officer wants to know to whom do you belong? Are you not with the system—an escapee? On parole? What master is missing you? It’s not your safety we have in mind. Because we don’t protect you!
And you can hear the question from those resisting the insinuation of their belonging as an object teetered to a system: Why are the police here? It’s Eric Garner. Why are the police here? It’s Atatiana. It’s Breonna. George. Rayshard…
Why are the police here?
In the last vestige of my neighborhood? At my car? On my yard?
Today as I write this article, several Blacks have been found hanging on trees. From Los Angeles to New York, law enforcement would like us to believe that Black Americans are hanging themselves. The possibility that these deaths represent retaliation for the Black Lives Matter protests happening throughout the US and around the world isn’t considered. And the response to Black people asking for justice, asking to be treated as human being is to hang us, to shoot us as we try to escape a situation that is bad before the encounter between a white officer and a Black even materializes.
What did Rayshard Brooks see in that officer’s eyes? What did he hear in that voice, a voice that would have channeled slave bounties? What did he see when he turns and runs? The bounty hunter in the uniform of the police?
The old days have a way of returning in America just when you, as Black, in your bed sleeping or walking on the street, forget, and think you are safe. And when you think you’re be protected by the police—the police arrive while you are asleep in your car or when you are in your apartment, in your kitchen. The door opens and you are fired upon.
And I’m so tired of the must-see-video of one of us being shot in the back, shot while jogging, shot while just being a teenager or preteen. So tired of it all!
We are never in a safe space and never can we expect protection from the law enforcers.
As I write this article, it’s Juneteenth, for years, a day that generally Black Americans celebrated among ourselves. Today, because of the protests of Blacks and allies throughout the country and the world, protests as a result of the police killing of George Floyd, the world is celebrating with us, Juneteenth.
Most of the world. There are and will be some who are anti-human, let alone anti-black.
I am about two feet from a wall that divides my living room from that of my white neighbor in her fifties. In the last three months, since the COVID-19 lock down here in Wisconsin, she has displayed evidence that something is wrong. And while I’m not a psychologist, I have been Black for over 66-years and have studied and taught white supremacy long enough to know the evidence of racism and it’s shade of sexual perversion. I’ve seen and taught the photos of happy picnic attendees, in the foreground, smiling into cameras while, centered, in the background, a Black body hangs from a tree after having been tortured and brutalized. Somehow these happy Americans seemed to have received the pleasure they sought now that the deed was done. For this Sunday. There will be another to come. Thousands yet to come and be offered to the god of violence.
The neighbor loves nothing more than to set her sub woofer at bass and place a speaker on the wall that separates our apartment. It’s a daily occurrence, a ritual, she makes no attempt to conceal. And for hours at a time, the floor is alive and chair I sit in vibrates to the beat of her music.
If I am thinking about the spade of police killings of Black Americans, or thinking about an idea for another article, or reading, or playing with my cat, cooking, sick, just not feeling well, need to make a series of calls to set up appointments with my oncology team or talk with my sister—it doesn’t matter. She can rev up the system and I’m surfing on waves. Or, set low, it’s just tingling.
Either way, the white woman has my attention. I’m to know she’s there and in control.
And if I don’t acknowledge her, “Yes, ______, I know it’s you!”, then there’s the alternative. The chokehold! I first see it rise in my cat, as he shakes his head repeatedly while looking at me for relief. But what can I do? My ears begin to feel pressure, as if in a plane at lift off. My head begins to ache, but it’s not a typical headache. Instead, tt’s the high frequency from the powerful stereo system that we seniors, in a senior complex, complained about before the lockdown. The stomping and pounding of an angry white woman with a powerful stereo was alarming to us, over a decade older, with compromised health issues. But then, like the monster in a horror film, this white woman turns slowly and menacingly from the white women neighbors in front of her to the Black woman, right next door.
Isn’t this a terrorist in dreads?
A Black woman! No Black woman should dare complain to management about this white woman—without there being consequences!
At times, I think, this woman doesn’t seem capable of understanding she is inflicting pain. But then she seems to enjoy it. Here, in the face of her dog walking business coming to a stand still for months, she can make entertainment, some distraction. Here, in her home, she is powerful. Knowingly or unknowingly, she joins a historical and continual response to the presence of freed Black people after the Civil War. She, someone among the over 40 million without employment, is still white, and is still permitted by a collective “innocence” that is American ignorance on how white supremacy functions in everyday America, to control a Black woman, someone with one too many books, and one too many degrees. Isn’t that why Reconstruction collapsed? Isn’t that why Tulsa, Oklahoma happened?
Someone who believes Black lives matter—how dare her—and live next to me!
I’ve written about management here in this predominately white senior complex in a rural area of Pleasant Prairie. Gas lighting has been the outcome of my encounter with the company hired by the investors, capitalists seemingly less concerned about my Black live in this building, at least. While COVID-19 is killing a disproportionate number of Black Americans because of the economic disparities this country sets in place to keep a chokehold around Black people’s collective necks, and while the shootings of Blacks has brought Americans of all races out into the streets for weeks, the investors have seemed to wash their hands of the torture I’m experiencing. They notified her of their “inspection” of her apartment and found nothing that would create the problem I mentioned to them. I believe, she didn’t even own a stereo! Just a smart phone!
Check out the website Nextdoor on the use of high-tech and sonic equipment to target Black neighbors. Back in 2015, the CEO was interviewed by Gayle King after his site become a place for racists to virtually congregate and share tactics on how to annoy neighbors, particularly Black neighbors. All you need is a smartphone and apps.
Of course, as quickly as the stereo and accessories disappeared is as quickly as they returned—not to blast neighbors out of their stupor, but to harass me. White neighbors complained first, back in December, when the woman arrived in the building. I joined the original complainers in March. Somehow, as I told the white tenants, my complaint will not sit well with the troublesome tenant and the management.
For her, months later, it’s as if I’m discovered, and right next door, on the other side of her living room wall. Imagine Columbus just saying to himself, oh, well, just let the inhabitants remain in place. Live and thrive—while of darker hue…
Easily candidate for “bully of the year,” my white neighbor isn’t tolerating restrictions on her “freedom” very well, is she?
Have you called the police?
What I’ve learned is that this particularly expression of American madness isn’t a task for the police, law enforcement. When I’ve called the police, generally in the middle of the night, I’ve asked that they don’t come to my apartment—in part because of the COVID-19. But mainly, because I don’t want to be shot dead for calling on a white woman. Historically, that scenario isn’t advised for Black Americans. I can’t wait to see if the police arriving will be “nice” or not.
Then, how do you describe the new tactic used against me, if it’s no longer stomping and pounding, and the police can’t hear the stereo behind the steady hum of white noise behind her door?
She is them, and they are her. I know that all too well.
Two beefed up white guys, I imagine from past experience, show up. Bullish. In the middle of the night, the two see a dark face. Never mind an older woman. Never mind a woman barely over 100 pounds. A wellness check on Atatiana Jefferson and in seconds, she’s dead. Breonna Taylor, an EMT, sleeping after her shift, never finds out that hers, sorry, was the wrong house.
They’ll appear frightened of the darkness. Where’s the light? Where’s the light? And one of them will point a flashlight at me and then behind me. All of this taking place so rapidly as to set my heart to racing. What have I done? What have I done?
The police shouldn’t be called to a scene like the one I described above—unless, the neighbor is wielding a knife or is pointing a gun at me. What are the police to do? Reinforcing a lease contract regarding noise or disturbance, loud or otherwise, is the responsibility of management. So when the police come expect them to be angry. In an idea world, they shouldn’t be. But this is America! What they see is a Black person who has disturbed them! Disturbed their lunch. Or interrupted the writing of some report.
And as for the possibility of a mentally ill person, someone behind a door they are asked to knock on—well, should this “wellness” check be a task of the police? And, ultimately, anyone behind that door doesn’t have to open it.
The police show up with guns. They know how to use guns, rubber bullets, and tasers—military-style gadgets as outrageous as my neighbor’s misuse of a stereo system and military-style surveillance accessories. The mindset that creates an environment in which I sit in fear of the white neighbor and the police is that same entity which must be eliminated! It’s this corruption of thought that makes for an unsafe environment for Black Americans.
The police are not trained to resolve racial harassment! Who are we kidding? I know before I pick up the phone at 2:00 and 3:00 am in the morning. Policing, as we know it, is what protected the slaveholder from my enslaved ancestors and protected the rights of Americans to erect Confederate monuments in honor of criminals who served to maintain the institution of slavery.
Under the current situation, police, for the most part, recognize in Black Americans a potential, if not, criminal element. And a fascist idea of an enemy within unites all who are not symbolic of racial impurity.
How will the police make me feel safe? They are taught by a racist society to see a “tainted” person, someone “contaminated” and not 100% Americans. How will they protect me from someone intent on revenge and doesn’t care if she hurts or sickens or worse another human being?
How many times is this scene played out in America? How many times will Black forced to move from one neighborhood to the next, usually white enclaves, where we are unwelcome, and where we are guaranteed not to receive the same protection from danger that white Americans take for granted?
Police will recognize my white neighbor’s rights before they even see me as a human being anywhere I move within this country.
There are some in the police department who I think do understand. But that’s not all of law enforcement in this town. It’s certainly not true of Wisconsin, a predominately white state, that manages, year after year, to rank among the top states in the nation for incarceration Black Americans.
To appeal to civil rights agencies, such as the NAACP or the Legal Action groups, is often futile. White supremacist policies and laws set the bar set so high as to permit only specific cases of the most outrageous, that is, murder at the hands of police or vigilantes, to be brought to the attention of the courts. Good luck if you try an appeal to Aging Disability and Resource Centers or even tenant Rights resource centers. They are overworked, underfunded—and this isn’t unintended on the part of a capitalist system that doesn’t do so well when it comes to serving and protecting anyone but the wealthy and powerful—let alone Black Americans! In the meantime, the countless, day-to-day violations of Black citizen’s rights are silenced.
Bear it and grin while you’re at it!
Looking to policies and laws that recognize Black as the terrorist rather than recognize the practice of white terrorism must be changed and not reformed, but erased and replaced with humane and democratic laws practicing social justice as a norm.
The white supremacy of capitalists upholds the racism of the many.
I don’t believe we can change the mindset of those Americans committed heart and mind to hate and the oppression of others. For all their electronic gadgets and weaponry, Americans can’t take up the short time we have to confront a pandemic and a warming planet, with people who won’t bulge.
We are our own protection. We must collectively change the system that chokeholds us in its entirety. The mindset of young Americans and future generations is counting on us.
Nothing is certain, but inaction is surely death.