I spent today and yesterday working on an END POLICE BRUTALITY installation in my front yard with the help of my mom and dad. I believe that it forces onlookers to face reality. Since it’s been put up, neighbors have discussed it, brisk walkers have ignored it, and delivery men have cherished it. What’s important is that it starts a conversation in a neighborhood where the topic is usually avoided. A quote of Martin Luther King Jr's comes to mind:
"the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice"
--Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail
The sign says END POLICE BRUTALITY, and it is surrounded by an non-comprehensive list of black and brown victims since Eric Garner. In small text, it asks, "do you prefer the absence of tension or the presence of justice?" And on the right: "how much longer can we remain complicit?" It also has a sticker that says: "Don't be racist. Thank you!"
Since yesterday, we have disassembled and reinforced the installation. Now, instead of a piece of cardboard in the middle, there is a five foot wide sheet of plywood that loudly, bluntly proclaims: NO MORE. That's all I think it has to say. We have, unfortunately, had to add Tony McDade, a transgender black man, to the banner since it was first installed.
Our next door neighbor, as we were setting up mark 2 of the sign, laughed as he remarked that he would burn down some houses and smash some windows "like the bad parts of Black Lives Matter do". As if chaos within a group of angry citizens can even compare to chaos within an organized system of government. As if a smashed window of a multi-billion dollar corporation can even compare to a system that promotes fear and only condemns injustice when doing so becomes convenient.
Property is not more valuable than life. And the absence of tension is nothing compared to the presence of justice.
Though I get if it sounds like I'm whining, I'm not-- I'm actually very grateful for how much progress we've made. Still, I want us, the human race, to stand up for black and brown people across the country. We have cowered for too long. Changing the whole tide starts with a single stroke. We'll have to get a whole lot done, but I think this list is a good start:
- End solitary confinement. The solution lies in psychiatry, not isolation.
- Phase out juvenile detention. It is ineffective and causes lifelong criminal behavior.
- End the death penalty in all states. It is deeply ingrained in the racism of our past, and more importantly: the state has no right to kill civilians that pose no threat to society. Here's what the United Nation Human Rights council has to say about capital punishment.
- Make a national database of police brutality and use of excessive force. The Guardian's count of deaths at the hands of police is currently more accurate than the US government's (source). Data suppression makes it impossible for change to occur.
- Make the acquisition and implementation of new police technologies subject to civilian oversight. Read my letter to the sheriff in support of a CCOPS bill here.
- Keep a national record of all police misconduct. This way, if an officer is fired for misconduct, they can't get another job at a neighboring city or county.
- Lengthen police training, and include more extensive racial bias and mental health training sessions. Make these sessions regular.
- Establish some form of the "Marcus Alert" everywhere in the US (inspired by the killing of Marcus D. Peters). No one should be shot because police cannot handle a mental health situation properly.
- Create programs in low-income high schools to get more black and brown people on the force.
- End the "I feared for my life" clause (more commonly known as Stand Your Ground). Moreover, punish "bystander cops" in all instances of misconduct. Legalize victimless crimes like recreational drug use in order to keep harmless people out of the prison cycle. While we're at it, end private prisons and fix the cash bail system.
|"We don't see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?"|
But until we can get all of these done, and more, we have to stay vigilant. I want to remind everybody to vote in every election, including ones for positions that are seemingly insignificant. That's where a lot of the power is hidden, right under our noses. Take an effort to be actively against racism, and to know when it's right to speak out, and when to just listen. If the former seems right, create art. A million voices create static, a million brushes create beauty. (Shameless plug; click Tuckahoe) And, if you decide it's the latter, I highly recommend Chelsea Higgs Wise's Race Capital podcast.
Donate to good causes like Richmond for All, Rise for Youth, and the RVA Bail Fund. If you can't donate, watch videos like this one, where all of the ad revenue goes to relevant charities. Read books by black authors, and, for the love of God, stop listening to what I have to say. Other voices are much more important right now.