How to Handle the Police When You’re Black

In light of recent events across this country – and the ongoing  terrorism of black bodies by law enforcement and the criminal justice system – I have found it necessary to consider what to do when you are confronted by an officer of the unjust law. I am no lawyer, so please don’t regard this as legal advice. I am simply a man with some formal education, a good head, sound mind, well-raised, and – in the eyes of many whites – unfortunately black.

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When walking down the street, or driving a car, or purchasing clothing and toys, you must remain vigilant. You may be harassed by a cop who thinks that you’re up to no good. Who thinks that by stopping you now and putting you down like a dog, they’re paying it forward and doing a service toward the greater good of the dominant society. So beware breathing in public. Beware glancing at a person of another race or walking too closely to someone white. Beware shopping in places where people who look like you may not usually shop due to the history of American wealth being rendered inaccessible to blacks. Beware attending school or church in a place predominantly populated and funded by white people, and if you must, be prepared to be confronted and/or ignored as if your existence does not matter all the while indoctrinated with a racist, reductionist, biased paradigm of the world.

But what about being confronted by the police. Police are here to protect and to serve. But make no mistake; there are a great many cops who pledge to protect the status quo and serve the few. Of course, there are plenty of officers from minority backgrounds who do remember from whence they came and who do care about the majority minority. There are plenty of white officers who sincerely and legitimately care and try to do good for everyone and counter the stains left upon them by their less than savvy counterparts.  But we can’t really distinguish or judge a book by its cover.

There are still a lot of cops out there who will kill you for being black and alive in America, and even more who have considered it yet never have the opportunity to realize their intentions. This is true although cops can’t legally justify killing a civilian unless 1) they feel threatened, and/or 2) a suspect is attempting to flee and evade arrest for a deadly felony. In the first case, which is referred to as “defense of life”, a cop must be using lethal force in order to protect oneself or the life of another innocent party. In the second case, the officer must have probable cause to think that the suspect has indeed committed a serious violent felony. In both cases, you can see how the exceptions can vary and the logic can get sticky.

In the “fleeing a violent felony” situation, it would make sense that the officer would shoot you in the leg or arm in order to disable the suspect’s flight and can then arrest the suspect properly. But racism doesn’t make sense. Listen to me when I tell you that an officer under the influence of racism is equivalent to an armed man/woman who has been under the influence of alcohol and hallucinagins all his/her life and has been given a license to kill. Racism has no logic, no sense, no rationality, no ethics, no morality. Racism makes cops shoot black kids in the street with impunity and choke fathers to death in broad daylight.

Here’s what we can do as citizens of this country to fight criminal police brutality with our dignity and honor intact:

When you are confronted by an officer, be respectful always. Even the most sincere, rational and mature people often have bad days and you don’t want to unnecessarily antagonize any working adult, especially a cop. If possible, try and be calm. Assume the best.

If you feel threatened in any way during a confrontation, call 911 and just leave it on speakerphone.

Also, get into a habit of video and audio recording.  Know the laws about surveillance and recording in your state. If you’re in a public area, then in most states, consent is automatically given by all parties that recording, may take place. Yes, this means that you can record the cops. Even if they snatched your phone or camera, they can’t delete the information on it, but just in case, you should invest in an app that will automatically backup your media. When you record something, your recording and “photojournalism” can’t interfere with the police investigation which means that you probably shouldn’t cross the yellow tape. The site Photography is Not a Crime is a fantastic resource on your rights as a citizen in such cases and even offers tips for such recordings.

Always ask questions. Maintain control of the conversation.  Don’t just answer their questions. They can’t search you or your property unless they have a warrant and/or they’re going to arrest you. Also, if they’re not going to arrest you,  then you really don’t have to answer their questions. Be careful what you say when you do speak. Don’t incriminate yourself without a lawyer present.

Don’t travel alone, if possible. Obviously, a racist officer will not really care, but seeing you with another person could possibly deter their efforts and force then to think twice.

Always carry identification. Carry two forms, just to be safe.

Don’t run from the cops or resist arrest. Understand these words: “lose the battle; win the war.” If you know that they are in the wrong, record it and document it. Show it to a lawyer – before giving it to television and news media or sharing it on YouTube. Let the lawyer consul you to the proper actions so that the tables don’t turn around on you.

If you see something unjust happen to someone else, record it and report it. If you don’t trust the police, like so many of us, give the recording to a lawyer. Don’t try to take justice into your own hands and blackmail someone.  You’ll be stirring up a new pot of mess that takes away from the injustice at hand.

Don’t feel like you have to conform to any public attire standards. As a woman, you should feel comfortable dressing however you please without being victimized and shamed. Men, you shouldn’t have to pull up your pants in order to be taken seriously. The structure of power and perception must change. If a woman is raped or harassed by a cop (or any person), it is not because of how she was dressed or how she swayed her hips. It is because of his own diseased mind and insecurities. If a young man is profiled by as a drug dealer by a cop (or anyone), it is not because of the dreadlocks in his hair and the size of his pants and the fitted on his head. It is because of the irrationality of that officer’s mind. Make no mistake. Even with three degrees, I can still get harassed while wearing a suit coming from a long day of work. So don’t apologize for how you were dressed or behaving. It does not excuse any form of police brutality, profiling, or harassment.

These are just some things on my mind right now. God bless you and the families of those young black men who have lost their lives to the hands of police stupidity. Pray for our criminal justice system, our communities, our children, and our future.

My Right to Exist is the Same as Yours

For some time now, I’ve been aware of the argument – the one that arises whenever a particularly sensitive issue of race and genocide in America erupts – that America is not for black people, that we are strangers in a foreign land, that we don’t belong here and that’s why these things continue to happen.

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That may have worked for my enslaved ancestors, but I do not buy into this narrative. I belong. I am just as much American as anybody born in this country. I was born in a small, working class city in southeast Texas that has been at the center of and gave birth to the American oil and gas industry for over a century. The family around which I grew consists of educators, small store owners, medical professionals, engineers, electrians, coaches, and even war veterans. I don’t have to look far or dig deep to see the impact that my family has had on the socio-economy of this nation.

By claiming that America is not for me and my people is blatant disrespect, but the argument doesn’t come from whites; It comes from black people like me. How can we devalue our place in this country and accept the notion that we don’t belong here? I am not Other. I am not a stranger. I am just as worthy of the air and land and water as anyone else here. I will not reduce my family and my self to the category of outsider and neither should you.

The real problem is that America has been built and continues to operate around a system that devalues the black body. We live in a modern day apartheid. White superiority informs American policy and economics. White privilege infiltrates education and law. It is this complex of privilege and superiority that seeks to tell me that I don’t belong here, that I am a stranger, that my existence in America is unnecessary and unwanted. If my existence here doesn’t matter, then of course I can be unarmed yet still shot down on the street in broad daylight by Ferguson’s finest for no real reason. If my existence in America doesn’t matter, then white cops can kill black boys, choke black fathers, and harass black students with relative impunity (i.e. “administrative leave”). Michael Brown, among others, is dead because to much of white America, his existence does not matter. In the system on which America thrives, Michael Brown is an anomaly, a stranger, a blip, an outlier in the grand American design.

Why, then, am I still alive?

You and me, we are expendable pieces in a puzzle that has already been put together and continues to fashion its own parts to fit while we are to be left inevitably on the margins. That is the reality that so many people in this country have to deal with daily. We are on the outside, constantly fighting for a way in, for recognition, to be heard. All the while, we marginalized folk become guinea pigs and target practice for systems of oppression. That is what [they] say about us. To [them], we are “other” and don’t belong. We should not uplift this mentality. By saying that we ourselves don’t belong is self-devaluation and a form of othering as well.

This mentality is what I argue against. We, blacks in America, should not buy into it. You belong. I belong. We belong, just as much as anybody else. You are not a stranger and this is not a foreign land anymore. Don’t let this system take away your self worth and your inheritance, your right to breath this air and walk on this ground. This country does not belong to any singular “people,” even if a certain group maintains control over its interworkings. We must realize that we are all human. We are all Americans, but in order to achieve this ideal, things as they are must change. There must be a shift in thought.

The way things change is that the white power structure must understand and acknowledge that we belong and that we are not Other, that we are not strangers, expendable pieces and outliers. Our lives matter just as much as everyone else’s. I am because we are and I reserve the right to exist in this land without terrorism, genocide, and hypersexualization. Read that again. I don’t deserve rights because no man can give to or take from me anything that God has already promised and justified for me. I have rights already. I reserve them. That means you must respect and honor them unconditionally. That means I have an unalienable right to exist and to live in peace here, in this country, and to pursue happiness in liberty without the threat of my life being stripped away – through jail or death – because of the color of my skin. We, blacks, must also continue to value ourselves as equals, never bowing to any man nor allowing any man or woman to bow to us. Respect starts on the inside, with the self.

No one can determine my worth but God almighty. Whether you care to acknowledge it or not, we are all His children. This land is your land; this land is my land. I am an American. I am human. I am a man, and I am here to stay. Recognize.

Mandela, Mike Brown, and Me

 

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By now, you know the name Michael Brown. By now, something should come to mind when you hear the name Ferguson, Missouri. It’s been a sad week in America – sad because we still have to protest, because our rights are still not recognized. It’s sad that a white man can massacre a dozen innocent and unsuspecting people, then walk out alive, be granted a trial, and be declared mentally ill. All the while, white cops go unchecked when they shoot black boys mid day in the middle of the street for possibly fitting a description of someone who may have lifted some cigars from a store. I still struggle with the bleak reality in which we live – 2014 in the United States of America. In order to better cope with such tragedies that happen on a regular basis, I’ve turned to comforting figures and mediums that seek to explain my broken heart, my fear, my anger. The Bible has offered me hope and peace. Langston Hughes has offered me understanding. But now, I look elsewhere, to a man who knew first hand white supremacy and the legalized terrorism of black bodies. His name was Mandela.

I’ve been reading and listening to Nelson Mandela – pre-prison, pre-President, pre-Nobel Prize Mandela – to find solace and empathy, guidance in the midst of civil unrest in Missouri, America and the emotional distress in my own heart and mind as a black man in this country. I came across his 1962 trial statements, and found these words as he defends his own right to a fair and just trial:

 

“[The whites] suppress our aspirations, bar our way to freedom, and deny us opportunities to promote our moral and material progress, to secure ourselves from fear and want. All the good things of life are reserved for the white folk and we blacks are expected to be content to nourish our bodies with such pieces of food as drop from the tables of men with white skins. This is the white man’s standard of justice and fairness. Herein lies his conceptions of ethics. Whatever he himself may say in his defence, the white man’s moral standards in this country must be judged by the extent to which he has condemned the vast majority of its inhabitants to serfdom and inferiority.

 

We, on the other hand, regard the struggle against colour discrimination and for the pursuit of freedom and happiness as the highest aspiration of all men. Through bitter experience, we have learnt to regard the white man as a harsh and merciless type of human being whose contempt for our rights, and whose utter indifference to the promotion of our welfare, makes his assurances to us absolutely meaningless and hypocritical.”

This seems like someone could have said it today, but it was in 1962. Why have things not changed? Yes, Mandela was speaking about apartheid in South Africa, but is the systematic racism and genocide of black people in modern America any different? Every day, the white legal and economic system in America conspires to segregate and repudiate blacks for simply being black and in this country that they want to call their own. It is a country and an American culture that black people built and maintain. But it is the ruling society that tells us we are still strangers in a foreign land and are better dead or in jail than alive. Mandela’s voice rings on and speaks to us, to me, today.

I encourage you to read the entire trial statement as well as many of his other speeches and works. Mandela fought for hope and liberation and would not stand for partial freedom or surface freedom. He understood that things run deeper than that. He understood that when white police officers kill black boys, in the back, for no good reason, there is hate. But he understood that hate is taught, not inherent. Hate is something that can be replaced with love and respect and empathy. That, I believe, is the freedom for which he was prepared to die.

 

Which Phone Should I Get?

I’ve been thinking about upgrading my phone now for some time. My Samsung Galaxy S3 is getting old – no, it’s already old. The battery last about as long as a carrot soufflé and I’m constantly having to restart it because of it freezing up. Sure, maybe there’s a virus. Or maybe there is some conspiracy happening. Yes, I’m convinced that there is a smartphone conspiracy happening. I think that whenever a new model comes out, the phone makers start to dial down the support on older models and begin to cause weird things to happen to them so that consumers – like me and you – will be tricked into buying the new model devices. It keeps happening. Think about it. As soon as the iPhone 6 comes out in September, or October, or November – whatever – all your iPhone 5s’s are going to start mysteriously acting up like never before. I experienced it with the Galaxy S3 twice so far, and my friends who have iPhones have experienced it as well when new updates and models have come out.

So, now I’m trying to decide on whether I want to get the new Samsung Galaxy S5, the HTC One (M8), or the LG G3. I’m going to stick with Android because I love it and because I don’t really want to join the Apple tree. It would be against my personality to do so.

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I really like the HTC, but it has a stupid name and it doesn’t really stand up to the other two when you look at the features. The only thing it has going for it is the really sexy design that feels like you’re holding something premium and expensive. It’s like the iPhone of Android phones. Now, the LG G3 also feels premium and it’s lighter and bigger than the HTC, and the screen is the best of all phones on the market. Looking at the thing makes you feel like you have the vision of an eagle. It’s truly remarkable. Oh, and the camera is super quick. It supposedly uses the same laser technology that cops use when they do their speed traps – cool, right?

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But the Galaxy S5 is still awesome and it’s water resistant and has a fingerprint scanner. And it’s Samsung, so I’m already used to the interface and most of the features. I don’t really feel like learning a whole new system. But the Galaxy S5 doesn’t look or feel as premium as the other two. It feels like a cheap piece of plastic in comparison.

What do you think? Has anyone out there purchased any of these phones? Is anyone having the same thoughts I am having?

Bay Windows

I went back to Boston a little over a week ago.

Some of my students were graduating from high school, and I couldn’t miss it for the world. It took me forever to get there, but 10 cancelled/delayed flights later, at 1:30am, over 12 hours late, my plane landed in that fancy airport in Massachusetts Bay.

I had a wonderful time there reconnecting with old friends, colleagues, coworkers, students, housemates, etc. It was nice to get reacquainted with my old job and get to know all the fantastic new things that are occurring these days. Most importantly, I got to see my old students again, and that was all I needed to remind myself of the example I am setting for them.

You see, all I want to do in life is help people. Everything I’ve ever wanted to do involves some facet of helping people. I wanted to be in the Peace Corps, on two occasions. I wanted to be a lawyer – a defense attorney – once upon a time. I enrolled in college to be a psychiatrist, but that didn’t quite pan out. Now, I’m an educator and I love it. It’s my way of giving back to the community. I’d do it even if I didn’t get paid – but I do, however, need money to survive in the world.

One morning, while in Boston, I woke up and wondered whether or not I should be pursuing this PhD thing. In 2007, when I was faced with the decision on which college to attend, I had a few options. Baylor, Morehouse, [Harvard], and Emory.  I got into “all” of them, but Emory did not offer me any money. However, I always knew that I would somehow get there, someday. Now, here I am, with a Master’s degree under my belt, on the verge of the final chapter of my formal education at the place at which I’ve, for many years, wanted to study for a PhD.  The story is poetic to say the least.

I am doing exactly what I prayed about, what I set out to do, what people have expected of me, what I expected of myself. Yet, recently, I’ve wondered if this is all right. Like, I would sit in my graduate seminars last semester and wonder if this is what I want to commit myself to for the rest of my life (or the next few years). Then I went back to Boston and encountered the same people who almost convinced me to stay and work in education reform, to teach and work in a high stakes/high results charter high school for a few more years. They knew I had an itch that I was too afraid to scratch. They knew as well as I did that with just a little more nudging, I would’ve thrown it all away to stay with those kids a bit longer.

So, I found myself on the cold wooden floor of my friend’s apartment (on a mattress), marveling at the morning sun beaming down on me from the bay windows above. One of the most stressful things about my time working at the school as dealing with special needs kids. If I had known how to talk to them, how to help them learn and support them as necessary, treat them “normally”, devise new methods on how to be a better supporter, I would have had a more enjoyable experience with them – maybe. At least, I would’ve been prepared. So, I laid there thinking that maybe had I stayed on a bit longer and learned the SPED ropes, I could’ve gone to grad school still, but for something that meant a lot more to me than what I’m doing now. What I do now is important, but not as direct. I study literature, so maybe you catch my drift.

What I imagined in my head that morning was spending another year at the high school, working closely with the SPED (that’s special education, fyi) staff, learning best practices, shadowing people, engaging with kids in constructive ways. Now, this is not saying that I failed my job when I was there. I think I did fine overall with the resources I had, but I definitely could have improved my performance. In this hypothetical year, I would also spend time finding graduate programs that would help me learn more about supporting students with special needs and apply and get in. Those who work with the school have gone on to top graduate ed schools across the country. I’ve always been interested in psychology, but never really had practical training in it. I started college as a psychology pre-med major, but dropped it in my second year because I had lost interest and had a tingle for literature. I still use psychology in my literary analyses.

Perhaps, this hypothetical trajectory would have given me the tools necessary to pursue the PhD that I’ve always wanted, but in a field that is more directly impactful to the people whom I care the most about – students. Who knows. I can spend all day going on and on about “what ifs” and “should haves” but I don’t have time. I figure I should find new ways, necessary ways of using the training and experiences that I do have to research and open avenues that will provide support and enrichment for the groups in need. I think I’ll be ok. I’ll just pray and hope that God is ordering my steps toward something that is beneficial to His kingdom. I trust him. I’ll be just fine.