This is a rant. You have been warned.
When I was a four or five-year-old, my (white, Irish-American) father used to tell me to duck if we were in the car and a police car drove by. This is not a normal reaction to cops. In kindergarten, we were asked to draw “our heroes.” The other kids drew firemen and policemen. I drew the gas station attendant. My dad has never been a person who trusted the police–shades of the Irish dislike of authority here, despite so many Irish-Americans being policemen–and so, I ducked in the car.
As an adult, that childhood training has created a fairly wary young woman when it comes to police officers. Yes, what they do is often heroic and admirable and tarring them all because of a few mistakes or bad eggs is wrong. But it was pointed out to me in high school that New York City has (or had, at the time) a police force large enough to qualify as the fifth largest army in the world. Why?
I didn’t write anything about Ferguson because, to be honest, I hadn’t been following the case all too closely and I don’t want to say anything when I feel uninformed. But yesterday, as many of you may know, a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict a police officer who used a chokehold on a man named Eric Garner, thus killing him in broad daylight, on the street in front of witnesses, including one who taped the whole incident.
The tape was shown on the news here in New York when the murder happened. Staten Island may be like the bastard stepchild of New York City, but technically, it is part of the city and thus, this is close to home.
Eric Garner was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, six cops surrounded him and hassled him, Garner put his hands up and stepped away and then whomp, those cops took him down. One of them jumped on Garner’s back and used a chokehold–which is banned by the New York City Police Department. Garner gasped that he couldn’t breathe ll times–he was an asthmatic.
I’m an asthmatic. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be in that situation. I’m a law-abiding type, but I’m also petite, female, white-looking, young-looking, and generally dress like a drab. But I also don’t trust cops and if one of them ever tries to arrest me, damn right I’m going to try to get out of it.
Someone on Facebook said that the chokehold isn’t a crime under state statutes. The coroner ruled the death a homicide; the chokehold killed Eric Garner. When is murder not a crime, dude?
Two may be a coincidence, but three or more is a pattern. When you have cases like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner close together, with the same damn result, something has to change.
Yes, we have a troubling racial past. And yes, we have those who are completely blind to the idea that we have deep-seated race issues in this country–or those who like to pretend that they are color-blind, but still whisper the word “black” when talking about black people. Or those who feel that there isn’t a problem at all, that minorities are just being whiny and they should just shut up about racism because hey, there’s reverse racism, too! (White people who don’t get it make me cringe sometimes).
I may not be stopped by a cop because I’m walking around after dark wearing a hoodie, but I know people who may be. Why? Because they’re in the wrong neighborhood. Because they’re the wrong color. Because they were acting “suspicious.” Because cops, too, are people, with the biases and societal programming that we’re all brought up with. Only they’re given cuffs and guns.
I’m not really sure how to end this rant because, frankly, there is no resolution to such a large matter. Keep talking about it, tweeting about it, writing about it, protesting peacefully? What else can we do? It’s ridiculous that we have to say that Black Lives Matter–that Hispanic Lives Matter, Asian Lives Matter, Native American Lives Matter, Mixed Race Peoples’ Lives Matter, White People Lives Matter. But apparently, it needs to be said.