The dying American dream of equality
Some would say it would be politically expedient for me to sit on the sidelines and say nothing of the emotionally charged situations involving Eric Garner, Ferguson, and police brutality in general. However, neither during my years in high school football nor in life do I like to sit on the sidelines.
Before I was old enough to date or drive a car, well before going to prom, my mother taught me how to safely interact with the police. She, like all the other mothers of black boys in this and every other city, feel it their maternal obligation to ensure that their brown sons know the reality of their life when it comes to interacting with the police.
It is a reality loaded with fear. The fear that her son will say the wrong thing, be in the wrong place at the wrong time, look like the wrong person, be dressed the wrong way or move the wrong way and lose his life for it. Every mother, father, grandparent or caregiver in America has made this one of their primary parenting lessons when raising a black boy. Even non-black parents and guardians of black boys have this same conversation. It is an inescapable reality for black males that you must be more alert, more respectful, and less offended, when dealing with the police.
In my daily work I have found that the police in my area have treated me with respect. When I have been stopped in my vehicle I have normally been treated fairly. I’ve had the pleasure to work with them as we work together to serve my district. Unfortunately, I do not live in a suit and tie; I don’t have the seal of this great state branded on my forehead. Though I have never been convicted of a crime, I still carry around the responsibility of acknowledging and accepting the general societal fear of the “black thug” archetype. The one that says when angry I look like a demon, or Hulk Hogan. The one that says I have murder in my blood and superhuman strength, little to no moral compass and little value or respect for human life, and should be treated accordingly. Yet, new conversation surrounding police brutality is salient only because it is now inescapable; it permeates our social media, our newscasts and our radio airwaves.
At no time in my life am I more acutely aware of this view of my personhood than when dealing with the police. It is during those times when I have to recall the “lessons” as taught to me by my mother: Don’t talk back! Even if you are being belittled; even if you have been insulted; even if you have been ridiculed, profiled or stereotyped; Don’t EVER TALK BACK!!!! Keep your hands where they can be seen! Not on your crying baby, not reaching for ID, not answering the phone, not anything! Answer all questions calmly, questions like when did you get out (of jail), do you use drugs, have you been drinking, do you realize this is drug neighborhood you are in (outside of my own house).
This is not a new reality! This view wasn’t crafted in the minds of the black community because of Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diello, Eric Garner, or Oscar Grant. The black community has grown too used to seeing its men gunned down and their assassins receive the protections that weren’t afforded to the victim. I was raised on the history of the Freedom Riders murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., by a mob organized by the very same police who were sworn to protect those very people murdered by them. My grandmother was a young teen and has haunting memories of Emmett Tills’ face battered and torn, a boy slaughtered by racist white men who were later protected by the justice system.
And now, I too have lingering scars dealt to me from a system that has sworn to protect the very rights that it disenfranchises me from. Rights guaranteed to me, like: LIFE and LIBERTY. Unfortunately, this view of both the judicial system and the police that serve it, will more than likely continue to be a trans-generational one. Because the madness that feeds these views continues to go unchecked.
While I realize that police brutality is not the only threat to my life – given the threat of violence from others who look like me is very real – the equivalency of black-on-black crime to police brutality is a false one. There are criminals in all communities. White-on-white crime is at epidemic levels with 86 percent of all violent crimes committed against whites perpetrated by whites. What is unique to my existence is the threat of the protectors.
State Representative Harris doesn’t fear his protectors the same way that Jordan does. Representative Harris had recourse when he was told by a Capitol police guard that his membership pin could’ve been stolen, and he couldn’t be granted access to his work via a member’s entrance (this really happened). It is my duty to remember that most of those who live in my community, and communities like mine, feel that they have no recourse. Their only option is to suffer degradation.
Even if I choose to ignore the reality of my neighbors and enjoy the resources that I have as if we all had them, when I take off my suit and tie and I remove my member’s pin and I remove my state seal cufflinks, I am just Jordan. Jordan wears jeans that may sag, hoodies and fitted baseball caps. I listen to hip-hop, I frequent my corner store on foot, I eat Skittles and drink Arizona iced tea — none of which are reasons for me to die, yet all of these things seem to be reasons that people have died.
What made me decide to write about my feelings was something that I thought wasn’t being addressed. We speak about racism, we discuss police brutality and we even talk about the miscarriages of justice. What we aren’t talking about is the adjustment that we have made to accept all of those things. The anger I felt when I realized that I was not surprised by the outcome of any of the non-trials. We should all be pleased that the country is engaging in a dialogue about race and racism, policing and police brutality. That conversation is long overdue. I anticipate it to be a very uncomfortable one, because many Americans are blissfully unaware of the reality that some Americans live with and live through.
This is why in socially and culturally diverse circles, there was an argument about what would happen to the officers, transit cops, parole officers and town watch persons involved in taking a young black man’s life. While in private, less culturally diverse circles, people knew exactly what would happen. Although in the streets you see outrage, what is shocking is that you don’t see surprise.
Our government and justice system is based on those that consent to be governed. Our set of laws and our form of justice is based in the belief that we all get the same justice. Yet the events of recent times, coupled with our collective history, remind us of something different. It reminds us justice has yet to roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I believe that means in my community, people are no longer dreaming the American dream, we are no longer looking for equality under this system and the hope for equality is dying; events like these are killing it. Hope asks that we continue to strive for equality, that we attempt to recreate the proverbial dream in our children. In order for this to happen all of us should be held accountable. Not just the black men whom you fear, but those amongst us who fear them without reason. Not just the officer who choked Eric Garner to death, but the ones who stood idly by and did nothing to stop him. Not just the teenager who guns down another teenager, but the ones who witnessed the killing and didn’t report it.
We are all accountable to this dream, and we are all killing it.