Content note: terrorism against Muslims, racist killings by police, implicit bias/excuses for police killings
It feels a little bit like the world is ending. Following a wave of ISIS attacks that killed hundreds of Muslim folks and others, the attack in Orlando, and multiple murders of Black trans women, in the last two days police have killed two more Black folks (that we know of), Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I can't think of words to say that don't seem tiny and inadequate. It's monstrous, it's wrong, it's violence and terror. What's worse, the problem of police killing Black people isn't solved, not nearly, and it's going to happen again.
I want to signal boost some resources for Black folks in the midst of all this trauma and grief:
We Can Help Each Other Cope: One Simple Way to Be With Each Other Through Pain Right Now
walking through fire, a gathering of survival strategies by community and allies
4 Self-Care Resources for Days When the World is Terrible
I also want to talk with other white people about what we can do to help and to unlearn and expose and dismantle the anti-Black racism that poisons US culture. But more importantly, I want to talk about taking action, right now, to support Black-led liberation movements.
There are a lot of smart ideas floating around about how to get involved in stopping police violence, from reducing the harm of current systems to building new systems: participating in police oversight boards, demanding and/or creating candidates who will make police reform real, changing laws about police use of force so that police can be held accountable when they murder Black folks, strategizing ways to avoid calling police, and disarming/getting rid of police entirely. I hope everyone will actively participate in those efforts, and I’ve compiled a resource list at the bottom. I hope everyone will do one thing today, even if it's a small thing, because a lot of small things add up to big things.
I also want to talk with white folks who may be feeling the urge to excuse or explain police behavior. A lot of people react to these killings by pointing out that the person killed did some small thing "wrong": didn't respond to commands quickly enough, wasn't "respectful", was perhaps committing some minor crime.
As a lawyer working on civil rights cases involving law enforcement, I learned that folks, virtually without exception, will look for ways to believe that police were acting appropriately. Every civil rights lawyer and criminal defense lawyer knows this; it happens in every case. The laws are skewed to protect police, and juries consistently bend over backwards to exonerate police, even in the most egregious cases.
So when you feel the urge to find an innocent explanation for police behavior, recognize that your reaction is probably not about the facts of the situation you're looking at. Instead, it's a pattern of reaction shared by nearly everyone who is analyzing police behavior.
So what is it about? Well, first, if the victim is Black, it's probably at least partially about implicit bias against Black folks. Implicit bias functions at a deep, unconscious level. Even if we don't think of ourselves as having racist beliefs, our unconscious biases affect the way we see the world. Learn about implicit bias; take a test. It's upsetting and unsettling to realize we're biased, but it's our social conditioning. I have it and you have it. We have to face it before we can change it.
But it's more than implicit bias. As a middle class white person, I was raised to believe that police were helpers; they represented safety--and that's true, for middle class white folks, almost all of the time. It's really hard, actually really terrifying, to entertain the belief that police might not be safe. If we open ourselves to the reality of policing, the truth that our streets contain an occupying force, armed to the teeth and legally authorized to operate with virtually no oversight or accountability, that murders Black folks with impunity, it shakes the foundations of our world. How can it be true? Who am I supposed to call for help when I hear a loud argument next door and glass breaking? Who do I call when my partner is having a mental health crisis and I'm scared for both of us? Not all of the recent police murders of Black people have stemmed from 911 calls, but these are some of the questions we may wrestle with when coming to terms with the reality of policing in the US.
There are no simple answers to these questions, although the links below point to some possible solutions. But we have to ask them. We have to let into our worlds the reality of police violence against Black folks and stop telling ourselves that it's just a few bad apples or people messing up when they interact with police. We have to stop believing police justifications for this never-ending parade of death. We have to let the foundations of our worlds be shaken. We have to get scared. And we have to allow that fear to propel us into action.
See compiled resources and ideas below for how white folks can take action. If you’re at work, be aware that some of the links may contain (entirely justified) cursing:
Fifteen Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality
Facebook post by Ijeoma Oluo
Advice For White Folks, in the Wake of the Police Killing of a Black Person
This Is What White People Can Do to Support #blacklivesmatter
Note to Self: White People Taking Part in #blacklivesmatter Protests
The Conversation We Must Have with Our White Children
Black Kids Don’t Get to Wait to Talk About Police Violence–White Kids Shouldn’t Either
What to Do Instead of Calling Police: A Guide, a Syllabus, a Conversation, a Process
Abolish the Police. Instead, Let’s Have Full Social, Economic, and Political Equality
The Case for Disarming America's Police Force