Womanist Musings on Black Men and Police

Womanist Musings discusses the relationship black children have with the police.

I have written previously about why I disagree with schools teaching kids about officer friendly. To be clear, cops have a long history of targeting people of colour for arrests, violence and death.  What they may be willing to let go from a White man, woman, or child, they certainly do not give a pass to when it comes to people of colour.  If a person is negotiating a second site of oppression, like disability or sexuality, it can cause a marked increase in abusive behaviour.


Children of colour have to be actively taught how to appear in a non threatening manner with police because it might well save their lives. Yep, announcing what you are doing clearly and loudly.  Never ever touch your body unless directed to. Keep you hands on the wheel and visible at all times at a traffic stop.  Be exceedingly polite calling the cop, officer or sir. Never raise your voice or be anything but compliant. Never hesitate for even the briefest of moments to follow a direct order.  Etc and Etc.

The necessity of fearing the police is particularly strong for black men. As bell hooks’s We Real Cool argues, black men are viewed as “animals, brutes, natural-born rapists and murderers,” as “untamed, uncivilized, unthinking and unfeeling”; our racist and sexist society fears black men, admires them, even sexually fantasizes about them, but does not love them.

Men are all too often considered to be brutes: just think of the perennial argument that if women wander about in short skirts men will be compelled by their dicks to sexually harass or even rape them, or the belief of some people that if a woman doesn’t sexually satisfy her husband he’ll have to cheat on her, or patronizing statements about how “boys will be boys”. Similarly, black people are all too often considered to be subhuman: stereotypes of the Sapphire show that the whole “black people are animals” concept is not necessarily reserved for black men.

However, when you combine misandry, racism and the justice system, it creates a vile stew all its own.

If you’ve been hanging around the anti-racist community for long enough, you’ll be able to name off the top of your head dozens of cases of obvious justice-system racism directed against black men, from Rodney King to Troy Davis. But perhaps the worst kind of systematic violence against black men is the kind it’s hard to see.

More black men are in prison in America today than were enslaved in America in 1850. More African-American men are disenfranchised because of felony convictions today than because of all the laws against black people voting in 1870. A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery, primarily because of the chance of incarceration.

Admittedly, most of the rise is because there are more people of color in America now than there were during slavery; however, the problem not having improved is an indictment of our cultural racism and misandry.

One of the biggest causes of the incarceration of black men is the drug war, which disproportionately affects people of color, even though all races use drugs at approximately the same rate. Black men are more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white men or black women mostly because of the misandric, racist myths within the justice system that default to considering black men violent, drug-abusing criminals as opposed to people with the same chance of being a law-abiding citizen as anyone else.

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About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.

Comments

  1. Great post Ozy. Just a preference though – I prefer the term ‘ethnicity’ to ‘race.’ I know ‘race’ is always used, (and ‘racism’ is easier to say!) but it always makes me go ‘eww…’ when I hear/read it. It’s so inaccurate, I’m not sure why we use it anymore. We’re all one race; we differ in our ethnicities. Wikipedia says, “The concept of ethnicity differs from the closely related term race in that “race” refers to grouping based mostly upon biological criteria, while “ethnicity” also encompasses additional cultural factors,” but for me, I’d rather not perpetuate the idea that biological differences I have with other humans makes them a different race.I wonder what thoughts people had on that (sorry if I’m derailing!)

  2. “Admittedly, most of the rise is because there are more people of color now than there were during slavery;”

    I assume you mean “there are more people of color *in America* now than there were during slavery”, Other than that, good, clear expression of how racism affects men :)

  3. AnonymousDog says:

    But is this really about race?
    I’ve noticed that when federal agents roll up to the rural retreats of folks who have non-conforming religious or political beliefs, there is a tendency for those non-conforming people to end up dead, including women and children. And for the most part, there is no color difference involved. Members of modern day, “professionalized” police forces tend to develop “us v. them” attitudes as a consequence of their professional status.
    What is needed, besides a repeal of drug prohibition, are police forces drawn from the communities they are supposed to be serving, and responsible (at some level) to the voters in those communities.

  4. But is this really about race?

    Well, when said rural folks start getting pulled over for “driving while rural” then perhaps we can say that race has nothing to do with it.
    Meanwhile, I will continue to be extra polite when the nice officer pulls me over and expresses his genuine concern for where I’m going, who I’m going to see when I get there, and if the car I’m driving is mine.

  5. QuantumInc says:

    @ Glove If the term “Ethnicity” includes a cultural component, then perhaps “race” really is better, as many African Americans subscribe to the same culture as Euro-Americans (i.e. white people). While there is a African American culture, it isn’t entirely separated from the rest of US culture. Though admittedly, a black man “acting black” is going to be more threatening than a black man “acting white” Example: Barrack Obama

    @ AnonymousDog There theory goes that back in the days of cave-men human beings lived in small tribes. One depended on your tribesmen for survival, but members of a different tribe would kill you as soon as look at you. Thus mechanisms for deciding if someone was US or THEM at a glace developed in our brains. However this bit of evolutionary psychology isn’t always well adapted to modern society.

    Either way, I don’t think it’s just the police who get a “Us vs. Them” attitude. In the USA state of California, the public gets to vote on many laws, and laws that are tough on “criminals”. Actually the Three Strikes Law is often brought up in discussions like this in California. There are a lot of people in jail because they were caught with pot (or some other thing) exactly three times.

    It seems to me that the concept of a “criminal” that needs punishment is a part of USA culture. Crimes are committed by criminals, and anyone who commits a crime is a criminal. Many of the ultra-progressive Nordic countries rely on rehabilitation which means giving criminals surprisingly nice accommodations, but Americans scoff at the idea. Of course in these Nordic countries they are more likely to think “a person who committed a crime for some reason” and not “A criminal who committed a crime because they’re a criminal”.

    To get back on topic. Yes non-conformists are more likely to be labeled criminals, but African American men are stereotyped as being criminals the moment they hit puberty. There is both that fear of a the non-conformist AND a more specific fear of black people.

  6. I don’t really have anything to add, except that this reminded me of an awesome masculinist blogger DuWayne and a post he wrote about his children’s reactions to the police:
    http://www.langcultcog.com/traumatized/?p=938

  7. @QuantumInc

    Yeah, but I prefer ‘ethnicity’ to mean that definition above of ‘race,’ then ‘socio-ethnic group’ for ‘ethnicity.’ (sorry, derail over!)

  8. AnonymousDog:
    But is this really about race?
    Its most certainly a part of it. It would be like trying to question if race is a part of the fetishizing of Asian women.

    Last night I was at a VNV Nation show and while standing outside in line for some face time with the band a cop came up (they had come out earlier in the night so I guess since they knew there was a show going on they decided to keep an eye out). One of my friends said, “Oh great Danny, here come the cops.” to which I respond. “Dammit, not again.” And from there random people I’d never met before joined in on the “joke”.

    So yes when people talk about how black people (but especially men) are regarded by the police you’re damn right race has something to do with it.

  9. I think the point AnonymousDog is trying to make is that it’s not ONLY about race. Any stigmatized group is likely to receive poor treatment from the police.

    If you’re black, of course. If you’re white but foreign, you’ll still get harrassed: http://blog.simplejustice.us/2011/12/08/a-bulgar-in-hoboken.aspx

  10. I do think there’s evidence of racism among police forces. I just don’t think that’s the only thing that’s going on.

    Frankly, I’d have issues with schools teaching ANYONE to be officer friendly. Although people of color and men do have it worse.

    God help you if you’re a black man with a disability:
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57330721/n.c-probes-death-of-bicyclist-tased-by-police/

    • Of course it’s not the only thing going on. That would be quite a bit reductionist, no? :)

      One of the things about racism is that black cops can be racist about blacks. Racism is a form of prejudice, specifically pre-judging aspects of a person based on race. In fact, we used to get it worse from the black cops. (probably NSFW)

  11. “Men are all too often considered to be brutes:”

    Schroedinger’s Rapist

    “One of the biggest causes of the incarceration of black men is the drug war, which disproportionately affects people of color, even though all races use drugs at approximately the same rate. ”

    You need a small adjustment here; people go to jail for *selling* drugs, not so much for using them. But black males get jailed for selling drugs disproportionately, and disproprotionately longer.

    This is the core of the problem with police-black antagonisms – police departments generally fuction as tribal police for white ethnics – Catholic – and for rural whites because traditionally those were the demographics they were recruited from and the senior leadership still overwhelmingly comes out of those demographics. Urban police departments especially were Irish organizations – thus the stereotype – both because the Irish controlled the city governments that owned the police and because the Irish were the criminal class – all the criminality stereotypes that blacks labor under today used to be about the Irish – so it seemed obvious to set a thief to catch a thief.

    When you remember that for decades the Irish and blacks had conflicting interests, being in competition at the bottom of society, it becomes really obvious why there would be problems.

    • You need a small adjustment here; people go to jail for *selling* drugs, not so much for using them. But black males get jailed for selling drugs disproportionately, and disproprotionately longer.

      You’re joking, right?
      Blacks and latinos are more likely to be charged with “possession with intent to distribute” than whites are. Possession of crack cocaine has higher mandatory minimums than possession of the same amount of powder. When you look at the incarceration rates, you have to go all the way back to who is being stopped and why and what they’re being charged with. The system is shot through with racism, both overt and unintentional.

  12. “You’re joking, right?
    Blacks and latinos are more likely to be charged with “possession with intent to distribute” than whites are. ”

    Joking? Hat part of “selling” = “possession with intent to distribute” do you not understand? Or did I just not use the exact right words, is that your problem?

    • Perhaps I misunderstood what you were trying to say.

      In my experience (and I have far too much experience, unfortunately) cops and prosecutors are more likely to charge blacks and hispanics with an “intent to distribute” than they are whites possessing the same amounts, who typically just get a “possession” charge. So not only are they catching more time, they’re also catching heavier charges than whites for the same crime – a compounding effect if you will.

      Is that what you were saying as well?

  13. QuantumInc says:

    Possession of controlled substances is often a crime by itself. Thus a user can get thrown in jail if their stash is found, just like a seller. It’s worse for a seller of course. Though I bet many users get “intent to sell” if they have a large stash and get the same treatment.

    The system is racist through and through because the people running the system are racist because everyone is racist. When USA culture teaches one thing, we can expect the USA legal system to act accordingly.

  14. “The system is racist through and through because the people running the system are racist because everyone is racist. ”

    This is the operative part of the system. If it wasn’t drugs, some other category of “crime” would be pressed into service.

  15. Also, what I meant by “you’re joking, right?” is that blacks and hispanics are going jail for using drugs. It just happens that they are more likely to be charged with selling whether or not that’s what they were actually doing. If you were making the same point, I misread it.

  16. @ Fnord:

    If you’re white but foreign, you’ll still get harrassed

    Depends what kind of foreign you are. I’m a newly-minted permanent resident of the US, and I tend to be welcomed and shown kindness; but I’m English, so it’s different again.

  17. I’ll piggyback on ramesses’ comment.

    In quite a few jurisdictions, the amount of drugs needed to qualify as “distributable”(IOW, large enough to make a profit in resale) is an *ounce*. Although I’ve never indulged in drug use, I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I can tell you that an ounce of (let’s say) weed is not much. I knew people who could smoke an entire ounce of weed in a night (with *maybe* enough left over to share with a lightweight friend), yet having that small amount was enough to have them placed in jail for *years*. Everyone tut-tuts and groans when they read the yearly news articles about people going to jail for possession of pounds-tons of a drug, but their sentences are the same as a guy who buys enough weed to get through a 3-day weekend (and there are plenty of New Yorkers who spend their weekends in a “purple haze” who wouldn’t know how to get into the drug game if it was mailed to their house with instructional pamphlets.)

    If you live in NYC, It’s simple: only outer borough skells get arrested. If you’re an executive or in entertainment (or, obviously enough, have connections to those people), you order online and it shows up at your door easy-peasy (and in amounts that would blow your mind. I had a drinking buddy who would go through an ounce of coke and weed *and* ecstasy per weekend.) If you’re not in the protected classes, even having as small of an amount as two little nickel bags is enough to be charged as a distributor (so, if you buy a bag from your regular connex tion, then a different connection gives you a bag to try, then the cops grab you before you can make it into you’re house, you’re getting the same sentence as your dealers and/or their suppliers.) Guess which person is going to have their faces in the papers and which person is going to be shaking their head in shame?

  18. “If you were making the same point, I misread it.”

    No I wasn’t, but I should have caught your point because on second thought I agree with it. Some one gets busted for selling when they have a personal use amount on them – check. Someone gets busted for selling when the police have a personal use amount on them – further check.

    “In my experience (and I have far too much experience, unfortunately) cops and prosecutors are more likely to charge blacks and hispanics with an “intent to distribute” than they are whites possessing the same amounts, ”

    That really, really depends on the kind of white. Your experience probably doesn’t reach that far – no one’s reaches everywhere – but I can tell you that meth changes everything. For one thing it has a lot to do with class and that is the great equalizer when it comes to this kind of unequal law enforcement. There for a while they were taking people’s kids whe they came across houses where there had been meth cooks.

  19. Pterygotus says:

    @ AnonymousDog There theory goes that back in the days of cave-men human beings lived in small tribes. One depended on your tribesmen for survival, but members of a different tribe would kill you as soon as look at you. Thus mechanisms for deciding if someone was US or THEM at a glace developed in our brains. However this bit of evolutionary psychology isn’t always well adapted to modern society.
    Farther back even than that, I think, as most of this is true of chimps as well.

  20. pocketjacks says:

    “If you live in NYC, It’s simple: only outer borough skells get arrested. If you’re an executive or in entertainment (or, obviously enough, have connections to those people), you order online and it shows up at your door easy-peasy (and in amounts that would blow your mind. I had a drinking buddy who would go through an ounce of coke and weed *and* ecstasy per weekend.) If you’re not in the protected classes, even having as small of an amount as two little nickel bags is enough to be charged as a distributor (so, if you buy a bag from your regular connex tion, then a different connection gives you a bag to try, then the cops grab you before you can make it into you’re house, you’re getting the same sentence as your dealers and/or their suppliers.) Guess which person is going to have their faces in the papers and which person is going to be shaking their head in shame?”

    You can buy weed online and have it shipped to you. I’ve done it, and plenty of people I know have done it. At the same time, a kid charged with possession of marijuana is ineligible for all future federal educational scholarships (though this may have changed with the Obama Administration). This is true of no other crime besides drugs, including murder.

    Drug policy in the US is an inconsistent mess that depends less on anything just and equitable written down, and more on how the fuzz are feeling that day, or on when the local district attorney is up for re-election and needs to look “tough on crime”.

  21. “At the same time, a kid charged with possession of marijuana is ineligible for all future federal educational scholarships (though this may have changed with the Obama Administration). This is true of no other crime besides drugs, including murder.”

    Actually that is not true. The same penalty applies to those who fail to register for the draft – though half the population is privileged to be exempt from that. You guess which one.

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