By Contributor on August 14, 2014

 

By Fred McKissack

Do police officers have an existential fear of black men? I‘m quite clear that black men have an existential fear of the police.

I fear police officers, even though I’ve never been to jail or arrested, and even though I have family and friends who are either current or former police officers, federal investigators or corrections officers.

If a police officer is following me, I tense up, and a flood of thoughts flow through my overactive imagination.

“Why is he following me? Is he running my plates? Why? I’m an American! I’m driving a Kia! I’m an Episcopalian!”

As irrational and, admittedly comedic, as the above reads, the fear and anger black people have of police are quite rational and ought not be dismissed.

The recent deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of police — Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black student from Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six in New York —are but the most recent examples of why so many of us fear the police.

Other unarmed black males have met the same fate: Kimani Gray, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell. And Patrick Dorismond, and Amadou Diallo. Look them up; their savage deaths at the hands of those commissioned to protect us are shocking examples of police brutality.

Having grown up in St. Louis and visiting the city at the time of Brown’s death and the tense days and nights afterward, I was reminded of the area’s segregated past. Not much has changed.

For decades, certain parts of North St. Louis County were a no-go zone for black folks, with a myriad of restrictive covenants and intense police scrutiny.

The St. Louis metropolitan area is the ninth most segregated area in the United States, according to a Brown University project. Ferguson is a city of 21,000 people. Two-thirds are black; one quarter live at or below the poverty line. The mayor is white. Five of the six city council members are white. The city’s police department is almost exclusively white.

This racial composition of the power structure adds to the siege mentality on the minds of black citizens in Ferguson and other hyper-segregated towns and cities.

For back America, the feeling of exclusion and harassment goes back almost 400 years and persists today.

I can only hope that it will dissipate by the time my son reaches my middle age.

 

 

 

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Comments

My former white brother-in-law, a retired Newark (NJ) police officer, used to refer to blacks as "mulignans" (pronounced "moolyans"), which comes from the Italian word meaning "eggplant," and which is a slur against blacks. I actually heard him do this. A close black friend of mine told me her 14-year old nephew was standing outside her apartment once, doing absolutely nothing but talking to some white friends, when a white Clearwater (FL) police officer asked him what he was doing there (uh, visiting his aunt, moron, and talking to some friends). A black student of mine told me she was stopped by white police officers (again, Clearwater, FL) one evening after she got off work when she was going to a convenience store to buy some cigarettes and was asked what she was doing out at night. A white student of mine told me she was stopped by some white St. Petersburg (FL) police officers after dropping off a classmate at her house one evening in a predominantly black neighborhood and asked what she was doing there (presumably to buy drugs, of course). So do I think white cops are predisposed to single out blacks unfairly, treat blacks unfairly, think the worst of blacks when they wouldn't think the same thing of a white person? Are blacks treated more unfairly in our so-called criminal justice system than whites are? Are blacks given harsher sentences than whites for pretty much the same kind of crime? You bet your ass I do. And I am a white woman. I am also an attorney who has spent close to 15 years teaching the law and our criminal justice system to college students. And I know from experience of what I speak. Something needs to change.
As a white octogenarian female who's lived all over the country and seen every kind of discrimination and abuse by sick, ignorant, hate-filled whites, I have to apologize to Fred McKissack and other black men; you're right about the mistreatment of people who have given so much to this country -- although often involuntarily. Besides what your forbears contributed as slave labor, contemporary music is almost entirely the result of black creativity. When will we learn to appreciate the wonders that different cultures bring to the U.S.? Some white men are so insecure in their masculinity that they have to punish others -- and there are some, especially in the police force, that take a sadistic pleasure in hurting others, too often their own wives and children. We need an awful lot more mental health resources than we have. We can go to the moon, grow billionaires, and build sky scrapers, but we can't diagnose or adequately treat the psychos poisoning our society!
Racism in America is an old Cancer on our society. I have witnessed 60 years of it.
Waiting to see this headline on this site; "Black Murderer, Black Victims"
As a 73YO white guy, I get respectful treatment from most police, as I pose no perceived threat to them. I could be an axe murderer, serial killer, or bomber, like most of the American terrorists have been. The difference between my friends Tim or Tony and me, is the perception that I'm inherently harmless and they're not because they're black and foreign to most cops' life experiences. This is just tragic. I know no way it'll change. Advice to y'all: Watch several episodes of COPS to see how to behave while around John Law. Many still practice Big Me Little You, which the chief in Cincy says is not the way to interact with the public.

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This Halloween movie will scare anyone who cares about news.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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