The Other Side of Police Brutality

The past few years have made many people wake up to the reality of police brutality in our society. Too many innocent lives have been lost to institutionalized racism, including Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and countless others.

This article is not being written to say police brutality doesn’t exist, or it isn’t as bad as people say it is- It’s just as bad as it sounds. I am completely on the side of Black Lives Matter, and am proud to call myself a social activist for their cause.

However, during a Drivers Ed class the other day, I listened to someone speak that opened my mind to another aspect of this issue that the mainstream media and other social activists don’t really focus on. A police officer that came to speak to my class opened up about how police brutality affects him and his men on the force.

Being a police officer is scary. This police officer, who was a very kind, open man, told us quite a few stories about having guns pulled on him (even being shot at a few times) and being beat up by suspected criminals. He told us how every time he leaves his house he is a little afraid for his life, and wonders if he will make it home that day. So, if a police officer believes his life is in danger, he’s going to shoot first and ask questions later.

While I don’t necessarily agree with that, and it certainly doesn’t excuse the mindless killing of many young black civilians, there is an element of truth to his statement. Police officers are people, just like us- and in their line of work, they’re constantly wondering if they will make it home to their families. Hearing a police officer talk about how he is constantly worried about leaving his wife without a husband and his two daughters without a dad did a lot to humanize people officers in my eyes.

Lastly, this police officer didn’t have anything positive to say about his fellow officers on the force who have shot and killed people, especially those who killed unarmed black civilians. In his mind, killing a person is a crime and he regrets every time he has used his gun. But his take on the issue was as such: We should focus on ending the institutionalized racism in our country, which is the true crux of the issue, and working to educate those on the police force about police brutality. I appreciated his view on the issue, as a police officer, and it was an educational experience.




Cultural Appropriation and Halloween

This Saturday is one of the most fun holidays of the year- Halloween. It’s fun to plan your costume and to go out candy-hunting (or, as most call it, trick-or-treating) with your friends. But there is a line that some costumes cross, a line where having fun crosses over into offensive cultural appropriation.

What exactly is cultural appropriation? It’s when a dominant group (for example, white people) adopt an aspect of a minority group’s culture (say, Native American headdresses) and use it as a costume or as a fun fashion accessory. This is a problem for so many reasons. Amandla Stenberg put it perfectly when she called out Kylie Jenner for wearing dreadlocks: “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.” Furthermore, when a privileged person takes an aspect of a minority group’s culture, they don’t have to deal with the prejudice and racism that minority groups have to face on a daily basis.

When we talk about cultural appropriation, we have to ensure that we are creating space for people of minority groups to have a voice. While it is great for white people to recognize that there is a problem, we can’t be the dominant voices in this conversation. We need to be allies to minorities, and work to create an understanding of what cultural appropriation is and how to avoid it.

Part of creating space means not getting offended when cultural appropriation is discussed. Too often conversations becomes focused on white people, to put it bluntly, whining about how their “freedom of expression is being crippled” or that “[insert minority group] is being too sensitive, it’s just a costume.” When I hear white people complain like this, it makes me feel sick. Privileged groups have the horrible tendency to make conversations about themselves, when we really need to be focusing on the experiences of minority groups. If we make it all about white people and how they feel slighted, we miss the point of the conversation entirely.

Halloween is meant to be a fun holiday, and all it takes to keep it that way is a little sensitivity. It is ok to dress up as a specific historical figure that you admire, like Barack Obama or Cleopatra. What is not ok is taking parts of a minority group’s culture (say, an indian spirit dress or dreadlocks) and wearing it as a funny costume, without recognizing the historical experiences of that group, and realizing the social implications someone of that minority group has to deal with for wearing what you have taken as a costume. Cultural appropriation is a massive issue, and I don’t understand all the nuances and complexities of it. But it is important that everyone tries to be kind and respectful every day of the year, and especially with your costumes on Halloween.

#BlackLivesMatter 101

#BlackLivesMatter has been popping up a lot on Twitter and other social media recently, but a lot of people don’t know the meaning behind the words.

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement co-founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. It was created in the wake of the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting (and subsequent death) of Trayvon Martin. The movement campaigns against police brutality in the United States against African Americans. While it began with the death of Trayvon Martin, it has also fought for justice for the countless other victims of police brutality: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, to name just a few.

This movement is a way for people of color to publicly shout that their lives matter. Their lives are valuable. Though they still suffer the horrible injustice of racism, Black Lives Matter acknowledges their worth. It tells the world that they have a place here too.

This movement isn’t denying the worth of other lives. A common response to #BlackLivesMatter is to reply #AllLivesMatter, or even worse, #WhiteLivesMatter. Often, this hashtag is thrown around by whites who are uncomfortable discussing the realities people of color face. We already know that white lives matter- history has proven that point time and time again. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is an opportunity for a marginalized, oppressed group to stand up and have their voices heard.

We need the #BlackLivesMatter movement because racism is an institution in this country. We read about protest after protest after protest because black children, men and women are continuing to be murdered by the people sworn to protect them. People of color are disproportionately the victims of traffic stops, random searches, etc. Prison populations are have disproportionately more black inmates than white. We need #BLM because, in the current state of affairs, black lives are not treated as if they matter. And that needs to be changed.

Why I Hate the Phrase “I Don’t See Color”

Racism, unfortunately, continues to be a problem in society. While we may want this problem to end, and for everyone to be truly equal, pretending like it doesn’t exist won’t improve the situation. By saying you’re “colorblind,” you’re not working to end racism- you are running from the issue.

While someone that says they “don’t see color” may have good intentions, meaning that they see people as humans and their opinions of them are not affected by that person’s race, it actually achieves the complete opposite. The problem isn’t that people are of different races- that’s a beautiful thing. The problem begins when people wrongly believe that one race is “better” than another.

The concept of colorblindness negates the cultural values, norms, expectations and life experiences of people of color. While one white person might be able to “ignore color,”, the whole of society doesn’t. Denying someone what is an essential part of their identity is, in actual fact, a form of racism. It’s erasure- which in the past, has been used to dominate marginalized groups, like in the times of colonialism.

Furthermore, colorblindness is used to avoid the uncomfortable topic of racism. While it isn’t always easy to talk about it, the only way we can ever actually improve the situation is to have those difficult conversations. We need to acknowledge the fact that racism exists, and it sucks, and we need to actively work to change it.

So the next time you’re tempted to say, “Oh, I don’t see color!”, don’t. Acknowledge that individual’s race. Ask them about their experiences, if they are comfortable sharing. Attempt to understand them, and really listen to what they are saying. Because we aren’t all the same race- and that’s a beautiful thing.

Rebel Wilson: Police Brutality Is Not A Joke

I love Rebel Wilson. I thought she did an amazing job as Fat Amy in the Pitch Perfect movies. She is funny as hell, and a killer singer. But last night, she did something that wasn’t so funny.

When presenting the Best Hip Hop video, she said “I know a lot of people have problems with the police. But I really hate police strippers!” In an attempt to make a joke about strippers, she trivialized the very real issue of police brutality and offended a lot of people who have suffered because of racist policing policies.

Just like we don’t make rape jokes, and we don’t make homophobic jokes, we shouldn’t be laughing about police brutality. To do so is to hurt the families of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and the countless others who have died at the hands of the police. Their deaths are not funny, not to their families and friends, and not to the people still fighting for justice.

I don’t believe that Rebel Wilson intended to do harm with that statement. It was misguided, and a bad choice, but she isn’t a bad person. I would like to think that this is a learning experience for her, and from this point on she can be a voice for the Black Lives Matter movement. But first, she needs to understand why trying to make a joke of police brutality is a problem.

Sandra Bland Was Murdered.

Since Sandra Bland’s arrest earlier this week and her subsequent death, there has been a multitude of conflicting reports. There were numerous inconsistencies- from the dash cam not capturing the entire altercation, a mugshot that seemed off, and her being found dead in a cell three days after her arrest, supposedly of suicide.

Autopsy reports claim that Sandra Bland hung herself. However, the public cannot accept this. Even if the police did not actually put the gun to her head, they allowed her to fire it. They put her in the situation that led to her death.

We live in a country where the police hold the power. They can stop whoever they want, whenever they want. They are allowed to hold racial biases and discriminate. Of course, this does not account for all police officers- some are honorable, and do their jobs. But, increasingly, there are more and more instances of police brutality, with inconsistent reports and the police escaping punishment.

It has been just under a year since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. It has been over three years since Trayvon Martin. We aren’t seeing justice- we are seeing an increase in racial bias in police departments and protection of officers who act on those biases. As citizens of this country, we have a duty to stand up for those who had their voices taken from them. We have a duty to stop police brutality, and honor those who have already been lost. Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and the countless other black citizens who have been murdered by the police deserve to have their names remembered. We will say their names, loudly. We will not forget. And we will fight.