On Race and White America’s sickening obsession with dehumanizing the dead.
“He’s got a gun!” a Baton Rouge officer says, prompting his partner into an all-too-familiar position.
“You f*****g move, I swear to God,” says the second officer.
It’s been less than twenty-four hours since 37-year-old Alton Sterling, a lifelong Louisianan and father of five, was fatally gunned down by Baton Rouge police officers, and yet to hear the media aftermath – the deliberately chosen summary of his life and the events leading to yesterday morning – one merely needs to close their eyes, scratch out Mr. Sterling’s name and insert it with the countless other unarmed black males killed by police.
Michael Brown. Walter Scott. Samuel DuBose. Freddie Gray. Ayana Jones. John Crawford. Sandra Bland.
The stories follow largely the same narrative: Unarmed black male or female is killed by police, and White America – all too eager/intrinsically trained to isolate the situation and pivot away from the larger, substantively necessary discussion on systemic racial bias in policing – look to “less than pure” events in the victim’s life to defame, dehumanize, and demonize his character. “Michael Brown was no angel,” the New York Times told us, Freddie Gray was “the son of an illiterate heroin addict,” CNN all too eagerly reminded its readers, Sandra Bland was “terse” while Brian Encinia was “courteous” according to NPR.
Alton Sterling is no exception to the golden rule that White America has willfully imposed. Within hours of his death circulating, we were already hearing about his prior criminal history, the children he fathered with multiple partners, the murky legality of selling bootlegged CD’s on a street corner.
Alton Sterling should be alive right now. He is dead because the protection and value of his life was not held to the same standards that mine would have been afforded in a similar situation. There is no argument you can make involving his past, his present, his behavior, his rhetoric, his actions, or otherwise that could seek to rationalize why officers were justified in killing him.
I don’t want to hear about Mr. Sterling’s character. I don’t care what crime he committed.
I am, however, interested in hearing about how a state that felt so strongly about the bogus war on cops that it passed an unnecessary law making it a hate crime to attack a police officer never thought twice about seeking accountability within its own ranks.
How a state with a history of electing neo nazis, KKK, and white separatists to state and local government thinks that “race has nothing to do with it.”
How a country can immediately jump to “what did Sterling do to provoke the officer?” instead of “why wasn’t Sterling’s life prevented at all costs? Could this have been solved without killing him?”
How a country without a functioning federal database of police killings still seems puzzled that unarmed black men are killed at a rate nearly six times greater than their white counterparts.
How a country that inherently views the lives of those killed by police – of any race – as so inherently inconsequential that they have never stopped to study them, for fear that disturbing patterns would become more obvious.
How a media quick to depict Adam Lanza or Dylan Roof as “quiet” and “shy” can’t seem to stop sharing mugshots of innocent black victims.
How my white neighbors will have no problem invoking their white privilege when they say “if Sterling wasn’t so afraid of the police or followed their orders he’d still be alive.”
How my white family, self-assured of their own bias, will still inevitably think back to a time they were pulled over by the police and nothing happened, yet fail to see that whiteness and not their “attitude” is why they emerged unscathed.
The sad thing is that I’m not telling White America something it isn’t already aware of. We see these killings and do nothing. The more liberal side of our white friends and family will pause to acknowledge its atrocity, but they too carry on with their lives quickly thereafter.
Our silence is the loudest form of consent we give towards its perpetuity.
The truth of the matter is that so few of my white friends and family will be moved to action after watching this video, just as so few supported the Civil Rights Movement when it was happening. We read about Dr. King and John Lewis and imagine that we would have marched alongside them, we’re sure that we would have marched alongside them, yet the truth is that so few were.
White America has this systemic infatuation with the term “race relations” because in our mind describing a dominant majority continuously oppressing and dehumanizing a minority sounds better when it is neutralized under the guise of “relations,” as though both sides have room to grow. As though both sides share blame.
The truth is that black mothers and sisters will only stop needlessly burying their sons and brothers on the day that White America reacts as though their child had just been senselessly killed.
It is easier to get out of bed in the morning believing that this day will soon come, but today it simply feels too distant.