It takes a special kind of patriotism to be Black in America. To exist in a country that does nothing about its persistent history of violent racism.
It hasn’t been two weeks since I told you we needed to do something about this. But here I am again, unable to breathe from crying so hard, and still better off than Eric Garner, the 43-year-old American man killed by a New York police officer who thought it was good law enforcement to wrap his arm around the neck of a human being, apply pressure to his chest on the ground, and ignore repeated pleas for oxygen. To ignore Garner’s cries of “I can’t breathe” 11 times.
And here I am again, unable to breathe from crying so hard, and still better off than George Floyd, the 46-year-old American man killed by a Minneapolis police officer who thought it was good law enforcement to kneel on the neck of a human being and ignore repeated pleas for oxygen. To ignore Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” for almost nine minutes.
You read right. I didn’t call Eric Garner and George Floyd African Americans, though they were Black. I called them Americans because that is often lost in these discussions. And the repetition in my words is also on purpose. I can’t believe we are here six years later [Garner was killed in 2014].
It takes a special kind of patriotism to be Black in Eric Garner’s America. In George Floyd’s America. To exist in a country that does nothing about police brutality and nothing about guns and nothing about its persistent history of violent racism.
To be Ahmaud Arbery, shot by a racist former cop and his son—self-designated vigilantes. And, don’t ask me what Arbery was doing prior to the shooting, as if that should somehow explain it. He was jogging, unarmed, period. According to reports, he had been averigüando in a nearby home in the middle of construction. What? You’ve never been curious in your life? Stepped where you weren’t exactly supposed to be? Should you have died for that?
And what was worse was how it took over two months to arrest the shooters because members of current Glynn County law enforcement in Georgia appear to have conspired to cover things up, probably thinking they’d let Arbery’s life slide until we forgot about it.
It takes faith to live here and pay your taxes if you’re someone who loved Breonna Taylor. The 26-year-old was shot eight times by Kentucky police. Inside her home. While she slept.
This is why we say, “Black lives matter!” Because all lives are NOT under systemic attack. Black people are. Just because they are Black. (I say “they” because I no longer call myself Black. Here’s why.)
We are all part of this. You know why? Because we keep trying to make sense of these killings by finding reasons. We accept institutionalized rationalizing for hate, plain and simple. “Well, why did he have to be out so late at night?” And, “why didn’t he raise his hands fast enough?” And, “why was he wearing a hoodie, making him look like a hoodlum?” (Some white people thought a hoodie was something you wore when you belonged to a secret teen crime syndicate before Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a cop wannabe.)
Don’t fall for it. It is a trap. We are fed a reason so we can have an excuse to let death slide. So we don’t realize the question is flawed. There is no reason to ask for a reason. Police officers shouldn’t kill people unless their lives are in IMMINENT danger, and they must use de-escalating tactics before using force. When they don’t, their use of force is inappropriate, illegal, and sadly, often fatal.
There is no reason to beat, humiliate, or kill a person already in custody regardless of how so many police departments use clever phrasing to make killing legal in unwarranted circumstances.
And it doesn’t help that statistics on this topic are messy. That different states define “lethal force” in different ways.
In January, the federal government launched its National Use-of-Force Data Collection site, which breaks down dozens of variables that include fatal and non-fatal injuries in a variety of police encounters. But data submission is entirely voluntary and what data there is has not been subjected to an independent external review. This is what I mean by systemic. They take three years to complete the project and then they make sending inaccurate data voluntary? Is that what you do when you really want to know?
It’s exactly how we end up with statistics that say white people are killed by police at a higher rate than people of color when you know that is not what is clear for all to see, right? (It’s a bit like coronavirus numbers. You know those official numbers have no way of even being close to true, to what you see around you. But there they are.)
Still, here are some pretty black-and-white (pun intended) statistics for you:
In 2019, police killed 1,099 people. 24% of those were Black, even though Black people represent only 13% of the population. The same study showed Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. And 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than white people.
Those are national statistics. When you focus on the states, things get worse. Black people are six times more likely to be killed by police in Oklahoma, than in Georgia.
And in the following cities, police kill Black people at a rate higher than the U.S. murder rate: Reno, Oklahoma, Santa Ana, Anaheim, St. Louis City, Scottsdale, Hialeah, Madison, Las Vegas, Spokane, Riverside, Albuquerque, Orlando, Kansas City (Missouri), and Phoenix.
So, listen, I can’t keep crying. Crying won’t save anyone. But here’s what we—yes, we, meaning everyone—can do. Don’t keep telling me how non-racist you are. Show me. You can start here:
- Don’t excuse racism. Don’t look away. When something like the killings of George Floyd, or Ahmaud Arbery, or Breonna Taylor happen, we need to face it. Read about it. Read several sources. Understand the circumstances of what happened. Make up your mind about it. Know what you think.
- Then call to check in on your Black friends. Ask if there is anything you can do? Are they going to mobilize? Can they let you know the next time they need more bodies at a protest? What do they need that you could provide?
- Don’t allow people to be racist around you. When a person in Miami tells me that they don’t want to live in “el área de los negros,” I give them hell for as long as they will listen. Suffice it to say, I give a lot of hell. So effing what if another racist person stops being my friend?
- This is partly about being outspoken on this topic and raising awareness. Write an opinion column, speak at an event, volunteer for projects to promote racial unity.
- Say it out loud: a) we should all be treated equally, and, b) what is happening with the police and African Americans in this country is a crime, both individual and collective. This is brutality fueled by hate and too many times sanctioned and protected by the state, from prosecutors who don’t file charges to juries who acquit white officers, despite all evidence pointing to the shooters’ guilt.
- Visit the useofforceproject.org. Find out what the policy is where you live. Beyond race, 1,099 deaths at the hands of police in 2019 alone, are just way, way too many.
- Give people hell. If your local station newscast only describes suspects of crimes when they are Black, and does so like this: “Black, six feet tall, 180 pounds,” call the station, ask for the general manager (the news director’s boss) and give them a piece of your mind. Post the result of your conversation on every social media platform. And send it to me too. I’ll share the thing.
- Demand action from your representative. Click here to get their number. Call and ask where they stand on ending police violence.
- Sign up for the #StayWoke campaign to end police violence at the grassroots level.
- Share this column with at least 10 people and ask them to do the same.
‘Cause I told you [see my op-ed below] two weeks ago we had to do something. And you know, in your heart, that it will happen again, and that, unfortunately, it won’t be long before it does.