- Written June 1, 2020.
What might real leadership look like? It would be hard to answer that question if we had no idea what goal protesters were trying to achieve. As it turns out, protesters, to include the Black Lives Matter movement, have been very clear about what they want—and what all of us would want if we were treated the same way by police: Police Accountability. From this goal stem out a number of other issues—not ancillary, not secondary, and certainly not optional—that similarly require attention, but which do not incite the type of reaction that a continuing lack of police accountability does.
Yesterday, I, like all of you, received a notice which read that a curfew would be in effect from 11 PM until 6 AM. Today, another curfew will be in effect, this time from 7 PM until 6 AM and it has pre-emptively been extended to tomorrow, as well. With the news today that, not only did we witness the brutalization of George Floyd, but his murder by asphyxiation, it’s clear to me that the protests should not stop until some elected official stops reciting the “We hear you, we see you,” mantra, and instead stands in front of the police and tells them to stand down. You want a dialogue? Then have one. Anything less, to include press statements delivered through Twitter or the media, is but another action in a long, long list of empty gestures that continue to stifle the goal protesters demand: Police Accountability.
A central tenet of this country is that a system of checks and balances keeps any one branch from exercising or controlling too much power. Abuses may exist temporarily, but excesses and usurpations of power are sure to be corrected by countervailing interests. Right now, what elected officials are themselves demonstrating by establishing increasingly stricter curfews is that they are resting their knee on your necks and the criminal justice system is simultaneously sitting on your back and holding your feet. They have no interest and have had no interest in reigning in this country’s police power. The militarization of police forces makes any distinction between police and the military moot, distinguishable only by the color of their uniforms.
The aftermath of last night’s riots should tell every protester that your elected officials are fine unleashing armored tanks down the street; fully-armored personnel to shoot you with rubber bullets, to choke you with tear gas, to blind you with flashbangs; to beat and bloody you in front of the national media. This is a catastrophic failure of leadership across all parties, across all races, all endorsing—no matter what they say—continued police brutality. Your elected officials have the ear of The Fraternal Order of Police, a law enforcement lobbying group with a membership some 346,000 strong. Protesters must, through necessity, be the check against this currently unchecked, and unaccountable, power. If your mayor, governor, or president are more interested in forcing the peace than give you the time of day, you must, by necessity, remember that they decided to make the easier decision and leave you the loser.
The air of authority is quickly thinning, and if nothing is done to advance accountability, it’ll asphyxiate us all.
2. Written June 1, 2020.
Second night of protests. Look at the armor the police have. Look at their equipment. Look at their vehicles. I marvel at the police sympathizers who worry about their safety. If someone cannot be safe with this amount of equipment, then truly everything will never be enough for the sake of safety. Look at the carnage human beings are capable of committing when they know—when they know—they will not be held accountable for their actions. Every police officer out there knows that the bar is impossibly high for them to be punished for any brutal act they commit of their own volition. Their intervention is sanctioned by the state. Their presence was explicitly requested by the state. Their purpose bears the state’s blessing. The state, rather than agree to hold the police accountable, is instead using the police to enforce its own unaccountability. They must be allowed to do what they have always done, for no other reason than that’s what they have always been allowed to do.
Right now, we can look through Twitter with horrified eyes at what these faceless, generic pawns with tasers and plastic bullets unleash on wielders of cardboard and bottles of milk. Police vehicles are ramming into crowds. Officers are shoving people into the ground. Shots are liberally fired at the smallest sign of provocation—or, more likely, at the sign of lacking provocation. People are being shot inside their own homes. People are being dragged out of their own vehicles. Actions of the police lay bare their pathology, which shows a desire to Incite, Re-Ignite, and Extinguish. They are not offering protection. They, themselves, have hoarded all of the protection in the form of armor, weapons, vehicles, equipment, and the law.
If you are protesting, please understand you are dealing with a police force that has gotten away with it for decades. Your act of bravery may well be your last—you will not be forgotten. The officer that slams you to the ground, the officer who shoots your eye out, breaks your rib, and causes you to seize, will not be prosecuted. He will do what he did, then he will walk away and do it again until there are no more people to do it to. And tomorrow, he will be excited to do it all over again. The perpetrators are too many—they cannot be identified. Their conscience is now the group’s conscience, and the group sees what they’re doing as beneficial. Trump is waiving a Bible behind them. Representative Matt Gaetz is repeating Trump’s words that riots are a sign of weakness. Should you die, there will be no justice for you because it will be impossible to know who your killer was. You will be another name to add to the list of names that has become exhausting to recite. I support what you do—I fear you doing it.
Tragedies and genocides have been started with far less. It is increasingly concerning to me that Trump’s methods of communication are not blocked. They are left up in the public interest so that we all might point, in retrospect, to the exact spot when it became too late to stop what was happening. All the Rwandan genocide needed was radio. In India, Whatsapp was used to spread anti-Muslim sentiment. Trump wields greater reach than all of the world’s worst dictators and men of violence. Trump’s allies are becoming more and more emboldened. He shows no sign of penitence, no regret, no awareness over the impact of the Tweets he sends out. The President of the United States has openly called for the death of Democrats. The President of the United States has openly called for the hunting down of “Antifa”. The President of the United States, the most powerful man on the planet, has announced that rioters will be met with gunfire. If a few nights of protests are as bad as it gets, it will truly be a miracle.
3. Written June 2, 2020.
You cannot be made to love anything. For whatever reason, love does not flower out of force. Love is an organic reaction that follows from the congruence of respect and admiration. To be told that one must kneel, that one must stand, that one must show respect when love isn’t behind any of their actions, is to force cruelty onto others. From blind allegiance stem no acts of love; neither from silence when a blind eye is turned.
The world is complex, we know that. Our personal experience has taught us it is possible to love one part of something and detest another. With every year that passes, we have looked back with disappointment and pride, one perhaps more outsized than the other, but both present in some form. Imagine if for decades the thing that made you ashamed came up year after year after year. Imagine being told—as a community, a people, an entire nation—that your concerns were heard, that the hateful actions that led to this press conference were disavowed, only to find yourself hearing the same speech again the following year. And the year after that.
The pace of change is now recordable. We only grow more ashamed when we see the slog to which progress has been reduced, while onlookers ask it to take a break. We are only confused when we see factors continuously checked off—factors which we hear, if met, will lead to change—yet nothing happens. Do not damn us if we grow restless. Understand why we do. It cannot be that this present moment in history feels like a re-run of a past episode—and yet it does. To feel a sense of déjà vu that harkens back to an era that you did not even live through, is to be subjected to a cruel lesson of civil impotence. To feel an extrasensory sensation that those you know may be seriously harmed, if not killed, is to be asked to appreciate the mortality of others. I do not want to start thinking in a proactive manner the last moments I might have shared with someone. And yet this is where I find myself.
This isn’t hysteria. Do not diminish the present outrage to an overreaction. The highest levels of government are not concerned for the safety of protesters. Police forces look like mercenary groups. Not one of them will be disciplined for their present actions. The actions of a few, if there even are any, protesters are giving the police free reign to enforce arbitrary barricades on all protesters. The enforcement of an arbitrary curfew is giving police a chance to see how much a baton can bruise, or how little force a shield needs to topple a bystander—how much horsepower the Humvees have. There is no love behind their actions. There cannot be.
As I am proud to know so many of you who are willing to go into the streets and protest, I remain fearful for those who do. Your commitment to make a positive change in this world deserves a Hollywood star. Your voice and actions that stand up for others deserve memorialization in stone. Your time, your care, your patience—these deserve respect and admiration. You are the heroes that our children will look to, if yours don’t already do, whenever they wonder what can be done.
You deserve love because you are the only ones fighting for it.
4. Written June 2, 2020.
Does this glorify violence? No, it exposes it. For those who only hear about police brutality and think it is limited to the confines of a few bad apples, think about this: These clips only capture the conduct we *know* about.
In every scene here, I want you to ask yourself, “What was the problem?” In every scene here, I want you to ask yourself, “Why did nobody stop him?” In every scene here, I want you to ask yourself, “What did he/she/they do to deserve that?”In every scene here, I want you to ask yourself, “What has changed?”
In every scene here, I want you to tell yourself, “This is a problem.
“In every scene here, I want you to tell yourself, “This needs to stop.”
In every scene here, I want you to tell yourself, “Nothing has changed.”
In every scene here, I want you to realize: “This is what police brutality looks like. Systemic refers to something that happens all across the country, and it is purposefully designed to happen that way.”
I want you to look at it. I want you to know that these are but a few clips from a trove of examples. Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor…the list goes on and on.
Link to video here.
5. Written June 5, 2020.
It is an uncomfortable reality when one admits and realizes that they were brought up with racist feelings and beliefs. As a Hispanic man, I know I speak for just about every one of our people when I say that racism in our cultures is the same, if not more blatant, as it is here. Dark-skinned and indigenous peoples bear the brunt of our commentary, but the same played out mockery toward Asians, Indians, and everyone else that could be stereotyped—a mockery that should be eventually outgrown here—is not the case back home. Our societies have been largely influenced by the media we consume, such that those of us who are lighter skinned bless our luck, and so do those who are darker than us. Oftentimes, our first experience as the subjects, rather than perpetuators, of racism happen here, in this country, when we realize that those with a lighter complexion tend to favor themselves over us. We, in turn, favor those who look like us and rest on our second-tier supremacy wherever we can. It takes friendship of those you were pulled away from and persistent conscientiousness for us to undo years of fear-based prejudice. And yet, racism lingers.
I choose this term, “dark-skinned,” deliberately. In writing this, I wonder about the endless debate that revolves around how one defines a black person. People of mixed race often comment that they’re not sure which race they belong to. Seemingly benign racists think that Barack Obama’s demeanor and appearance should serve as a model for other black people. Obama, himself, took flak when he derisively commented on what pro-Black communities consider a part of their culture. It would seem a heavy burden for a people to define themselves when it is absolutely impossible for everyone in that group to fit into one mold. It would seem a heavy burden, and yet police actions have made clear such a categorization. You’re black if you’re darker than the officer confronting you. And let’s not forget internalized racism.
It is another uncomfortable reality when we realize that white police officers are not the only ones responsible for the killing of black men and women. Philando Castile was killed by a Hispanic officer. Charles Kinsey was shot by a Hispanic officer. George Zimmerman is of Hispanic descent. Derek Chauvin rested his knee on George Floyd’s neck, but three other officers, two of which appear to be of Asian descent, have also been charged with Floyd’s murder. I do not write this to deflect from the violent and murderous actions primarily perpetrated by white officers—this isn’t some exercise in what-about-ism. Rather, I seek to take into account the instances that do not neatly fit into a narrative strictly of white supremacy. For officers who cannot explain why they started shooting, as was the case in Castile’s death and Kinsey’s injury, they fail to admit or realize that a fear based on racism triggered them. The darkness of the skin of those they confront of their own volition begins to tear away at their ability to reason.
Watch Sandra Bland being pulled over. Watch the whole video and tell me you’re not terrified that could be you if you are darker than the white cop who pulled her out of her vehicle. There was nothing she could say, indeed she said just about everything one could say, that would bring the officer back on the path of reason and understanding. He rested on his authority and was increasingly aggravated when Sandra wouldn’t do the same. The fact that CNN advised protesters to abide by an officer’s orders, to act as a tame animal in the face of a capable predator—even when you’ve done nothing wrong—tells you the balance of power is wildly out of proportion. As has been pointed out by others online, the Michigan “protesters” who descended on the capitol with fully loaded weapons were treated with respect and restraint; maybe, just maybe, because their skin tone stood in parity with the officers who confronted them. Not that we needed any more examples of disparate treatment, but you can probably imagine how a similar gathering of black gun owners would be met by the authorities. Countless of examples exist where the same or lesser conduct, when done by a darker-skinned person than the one commenting or observing, is ripped apart. Lebron James’ calling out of Fox News’ Laura Ingraham is but the latest example—she defended Drew Brees’ comment about the flag but damned Lebron for criticizing Trump. Need another example? Keep scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed and see who empathizes more with a lifeless storefront than they do a lost human life.
Black lives matter because I have seen how, across two cultures, dark skin rests on the bottom of the societal totem pole. Until a black man can shout as a white man does over something “ridiculous” without fear of a fatal confrontation, black lives must be made to matter.