It has been two thousand, seven hundred, and fifty five days since the state sanctioned murder of Oscar Grant. Many of those days, and if it were one it would still be too many, have been marred by the execution of more unarmed and innocent black bodies. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Rashida McBride, and Sandra Bland are the names that come to the top of my head, but there have been so many more.
It did not begin with Mr. Grant. He was not the first, and in all likelihood, the latest will not be the last, though I can hope. It has been going on as long as there have been police forces, the first of which were created in this country with the sole purpose of running down runaway slaves, something too many whites will actually say was OK because they were technically breaking the law. No, black and brown bodies being legitimate targets for official suspicion is as old as this country.
The fault, though, does not lay with the police themselves, at least not entirely. I agree with my more radical friends that policing as we know it needs to be replaced by a better institution, that said, the police did not create White Supremacy, they have just been the whip and shackle used to enforce it. They were not, metaphorically speaking, the finger on the trigger, but the bullet in the gun.
The rest of us, comfortable in what Jesse Williams brilliantly described as “this invention called Whiteness” put the bullets in the gun. We put a bullet in the gun every time we support a war on drugs we know disproportionately affects black and brown people despite higher percentages of use and selling by white people. We put a bullet in the gun with three strikes laws that put more black men in prison than anyone else. We put a bullet in the gun when we support that despite the fact that we know that the private prison lobby fights to keep draconian laws in the books so they have more money coming in, from bodies in their beds and cheap, sometimes free, labor they can sell. It is more than that though.
We put a bullet in the gun every time we clutch our purse closer. We put a bullet in the gun when we pull our children closer. We put a bullet in the gun when we cross the street if there is a black person walking in our direction. We put a bullet in the gun when we call the cops when the black neighbor playing hip hop is being too loud for our tastes and do nothing about the rock a billy blaring three doors down. We put a bullet in the gun when we look at a black person in a nice store as out of place. We put a bullet in the gun every time we leave a public space because we do not out number the black and brown bodies in a margin that is comfortable to us. Every time we engage in these acts, we contribute to the criminalization of being black or brown.
For my fellow white people who so far agree with everything I have said, lest you think we are off the hook, there is more. Every time we failed to challenge a friend, neighbor, relative, co worker when they do these things, we put a bullet in the gun. Every time we do not call those people out when they say “if he wasn’t doing anything wrong,” we put a bullet in the gun. Every time we have refused to speak out because we were too scared or tired of the conversation, as if our families, neighbors, and peers were scarier, more exhausting than having to worry if your child will have their brains splattered on the pavement for jaywalking, we have put a bullet in the gun.
Law enforcement may need reforming, even replacing, but the racism inside police forces is a mirror for our larger society. We have decided that black and brown people are something we need protecting from, so the police, even the black and brown ones, do just that. We have decided, despite the persistent meme from apologists, that no, not all lives matter, and that our comfort means more than the well being of those who have born the burden for our prosperity at terrible cost.
Do not mistake this for a finger wagging attempt to make you feel guilty about your Whiteness. Your guilt is worthless. What we need to do is reflect on our Whiteness and what it costs others. We have to stop lying to ourselves because it hurts to think about. We have to start putting their lives above, way above, our fragility.We need to believe them when they tell us what happens to them. We need to actively challenge White Supremacy. If all you take from this is you should feel bad, then once again, you have put a bullet in the gun.