Thaddeus Howze shouldn’t have to share these 10 tips on how to stay alive as a man of color.
We are told that America is color-blind and there isn’t any reason a Black man can’t achieve anything any other man in America can do; look at Barack Obama, so the refrain goes.
But if you’ve been looking at the news and you’re a Black man between the ages of 12 and 55, you have to be wincing every time you see the news and another policeman kills another Black person and then gets two weeks of paid vacation…er… leave while an internal agency sorts out the issue like this:
I feel an awkward spasm in my gut as I imagine myself as one of those men gunned down, beaten down, choked out or tazed to death. I can literally walk out my door be killed by police and have no one held accountable for my death. What would happen to my family? Would there be any form of justice?
Would the story be spun in such a fashion that I would be considered the aggressor and the police officer was in fear of his life?
White Fragility and its Supported Violence
In an interview at Vice News, Dan Cox relays a bit of information most people will not admit to knowing:
Dan Cox, director of research at the Public Religion Research Institute, which has also polled public opinion on race and recent events, told VICE News. “Three-fourths of white Americans have only white people in their social networks. They don’t have friends with different experiences for them to learn and draw information that may challenge their preexisting notions.
“It can be easy to see someone as being flawed but it’s a lot more difficult to see the system as being flawed, and as treating people differently,” Cox said. “And it can be very discomforting to believe that police, judges, and prosecutors are treating people differently based on some attribute that people have no control over.
“There is a desire to believe that we are a post-racial society,” he added, citing President Barack Obama’s election as the culmination of that narrative. “But what’s been very apparent in the last six years is that these issues are very much still with us, and they divide how we see the world.”
So what he is saying is what we see depends on whose doing the looking. If you’re White, your belief in the system, such as it is, says the police are doing their job, protecting good White Americans from rapacious Black and dangerous thugs. And if a few of them get shot in the pursuit of such duties, even non-violent ones, the safer it is for everyone.
Except, there were laws meant to protect citizens from unlawful search and seizure, police harassment (The Fourth Amendment) and even whether you should shoot a possible felon whose fleeing a scene. (Tennessee v. Garner471 U.S. 1 (1985) )
A seminal 1985 Supreme Court case, Tennessee vs. Garner, held that the police may not shoot at a fleeing person unless the officer reasonably believes that the individual poses a significant physical danger to the officer or others in the community. That means officers are expected to take other, less-deadly action during a foot or car pursuit unless the person being chased is seen as an immediate safety risk.
While there are laws governing when a police officer can use force, the police are given broad latitude in their application.
The Supreme Court held in a 1989 case, Graham v. Connor, that the appropriateness of use of force by officers “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene,” rather than evaluated through 20/20 hindsight.
That standard is designed to take into account that police officers are frequently asked to make split-second decisions during fast-evolving confrontations, and should not be subject to overly harsh second guessing. The Justice Department cited that legal threshold last month when it declined to prosecute former Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death last summer of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
Which makes this shooting of Tamir Rice so problematic. Police arrive, drive up up to the 12 year old and two seconds after opening their car door, the child is dead.
I watched the entire seven minute and forty second version of this film. For more than six minutes the boy is just walking around, minding his own business, doing nothing in particular.
Know that while he is doing nothing, someone is reporting him as threatening people in the park with a gun.
When the child sits down on the bench in the park he is probably just resting but little did he know he would be dead in two minutes.
The police do not arrive on the scene and park a discrete distance away to ASSESS the situation. They do not arrive at a distance to DETERMINE THE NATURE OF THE THREAT.
They instead drive up within three feet of their subject. They do not ANNOUNCE their presence. And they surely couldn’t have because they are leaving their vehicle within three seconds of their arrival.
Two seconds after the door to the police car is open, the officer is shooting and the child is dead. Only then do they call in shots fired.
Not Safe (nor politically correct)
Now with that contradictory message screwing with your mind and your perspective, you get to hear what I would tell anyone who is Black and male anywhere in the United States if they are confronted by a police officer under any circumstances. Yes, I am sure you can find lots of videos of police losing their minds, harming and even killing people of all colors across the rainbow, that’s not the point.
My point is in the case of the aforementioned Walter Scott, the officer shot him in the back, handcuffed his dying body, walked back to a dropped taser, picked it up, walked it back to the body, dropped the taser and then called in:
“Shots fired, subject is down,” Slager says. “He grabbed my Taser. Everyone’s 10–4, except for the suspect,” Slager says in the audio. “Gunshot wound to the chest, to the right side. Unresponsive.”
This would have been accepted as gospel had there not been an intrepid and bold young man, Feidin Santana, who caught the entire encounter on film. The question begs to be asked and answered: How many times has an event like this, where a police officer uses his power to summarily execute a Person of Color and able to write in a report, “the subject resisted and I was forced to shoot and kill him?”
Far too many times I would imagine.
And since police departments nor federal agencies are required to keep track of such incidents, no one can determine with a clear statistical certainty how often this happens. It would seem any interaction with the police, no matter where you live, if you are a Black man between the ages of 12 and 55 is fraught with a life and death peril.
And while some will promote the idea that the police are not the enemy and if we obey the law, there is no reason to be afraid, let’s also check that idea with the confirmed shootings, beatings, and summary executions of:
Michael Brown (18) accused of robbing a convenience store and summarily executed, shot four times at close range after a convoluted and unsubstantiated struggle;
Rumain Brisbon (34) shot to death after reaching for a medicine bottle in Arizona;
Tamir Rice (12), shot to death two seconds after police arrived on the scene to find the child playing with a toy gun;
Walter Scott (55) shot down like a dog, in the back and then framed by the police officer, Michael Slager who claimed Scott tried to take his taser.
There are two hundred+ other examples I can list for the years between 1999 and 2014 and the list is still growing.
And there will be people who will want to turn this into an argument about how this could be anyone, no matter what color you are. This isn’t that kind of thread. The disparity between the number of Black men who get killed by police and everyone else is quite high. So create your own thread about whatever it is you think is relevant. This one isn’t it.
If you are a Black man between the ages of 12 and 55 here’s what you need to do to stay alive in “post-racial” America (besides run faster).
Understand these steps don’t guarantee survival. They’re just a good place to start.
- Walk, don’t run anywhere. Even riding a bike can get you cited if you live in the wrong state. Running is an admission of guilt and can get you summarily executed or beaten to death, even if you haven’t done anything. If you are grabbed by the police, do not resist. I know it is difficult to say, but any form of resistance may be met with illegal chokeholds, joint-locks, night-sticks, tasers or “accidental shootings” when firearms are “mistaken” for tasers. See: Eric Gardner
- Never talk back to a police officer, for any reason. Invoke your right to remain silent. Nothing you say will be useful, nor will it help you in any way. Never let them antagonize you. If they are corrupt or dangerous, they may try to get you to mouth off so they can use greater force than is necessary to subdue you. DO NOT HELP THEM KICK YOUR ASS. STAY CALM AND QUIET.
- Submit to searches, stop and frisks, and any other violation of your personal space or rights. Yes, I know about the Fourth Amendment (see above). You have to survive in order to invoke it. Vocally initiate your refusal to illegal search, once. After that, shut the hell up. Only in this way do you have a chance of making it to the precinct alive. No, they do not have the right to illegally search your vehicle, or your person, but if they kill you on the side of the road, no one is going to know, either.
- Dress respectably and use the Queen’s English. It may afford you a little latitude in their initial impression of you. Truthfully, It doesn’t matter, because if they want to beat you down, they will, but if you survive the experience and aren’t crippled or brain damaged, you might score some points with the media if you can remember anything (and assuming you survive.) Respectability politics is BULLSHIT. It doesn’t change a thing, it’s just one more way society harms People of Color.
- Expect that any confrontation with the police will get you profiled and likely framed by an officer to make excuses for their conduct. Members of various police departments have techniques for framing “perps” who give them lip, including planting of evidence, false accusations and “accidental tasings” which might be “accidental shootings” since trained police officers still have trouble telling the difference between tasers and pistols. See: Oscar Grant and Eric Harris
- Even if you don’t resist, many times as seen on police tapes, officers will shout, “Don’t resist.” If you hear those words, you can assume you are about to receive a major beatdown. Pray they don’t hit any vital organs or sever your spinal column. See: Freddie Gray
- Make NO SUDDEN MOVEMENT. Nothing gets you “accidentally shot” faster than moving too quickly. Once confronted by police, never reach for anything; not your wallet, comb, or firearm (if you actually have a license to carry). Any movement is an excuse for them to legally shoot you and get two weeks of paid vacation. See: Rumain Brisbon
- As a person of color, if you call the police, be sure this is what you want. If you call the police in any dispute, it is possible the police may mistake you for the perp and “accidentally discharge” a weapon in your direction, resulting in two weeks of vacation and desk duty before returning unscathed to work. It is also likely, the person you called the police on, especially if they are a minor, black or special-needs individual will find themselves shot and killed. See: Enzell Ford
- For you brothers who have a thing for White women. Remember this: As my son found out recently, his girlfriend decided she wanted to act out and called the police on him. When the police arrived, there was every possibility he could be shot for no reason than because he argued with her and their argument was seen by others who may have made their own calls to the police and deemed him violent. If you are going to date White women, understand history is not on your side. Many a Black man has met his maker due to aggression from White men who disapprove. THIS STATEMENT IS NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT, BUT IT IS UNFORTUNATELY STILL QUITE TRUE. Be mindful of interactions which may get you shot. See: Diya Lumumba (in this case he wasn’t dating the woman but was false accused, arrested and driven into bankruptcy before he was exonerated…)
- If we’re keeping it 100%, you can still find yourself on the wrong side of the law. It’s could just not be your lucky day; the police where you live have a history of corruption; you live in a dangerous neighborhood and the police have hair-trigger tempers and are eager to shoot everyone to solve their problems; any one of these could be true. And if you are just unlucky enough to end up on their bad side all I have left for you is to have faith in a Higher Power.
In the End
Be mindful of the police. Give them as little reason to interact with you as possible:
- Keep your car in working order, all lights are repaired, all registration and insurance is up to date.
- Make sure you have no outstanding warrants. Yes, this means you may have to do some legwork, but you should know if you are doing what you are supposed to do and whether you have any kind of paperwork which could give police any option to detain or harass you.
- Mind your manners. While being rude to the police is not an offense you should have to die for, know that Black men have died just the same. Stay polite, even when they are crazy rude and you might, just might, make it home in time for dinner.
I can make no promises in “post-racial” America. Justice is blind, deaf and she doesn’t make house-calls.
Staying Alive in “Post-Racial America” © Thaddeus Howze 2015, All Rights Reserved
- “Officer Michael Slager Tells Dispatch ‘He Grabbed My Taser’ After Killing Walter Scott (AUDIO).” Huffingtonpost.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/08/michael-slager-audio-dispatch_n_7028018.html>
- “Half of America Thinks We Live in a Post-Racial Society — The Other Half, Not So Much.” Vice.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <https://news.vice.com/article/half-of-america-thinks-we-live-in-a-post-racial-society-the-other-half-not-so-much>
- “Tamir Rice: Murdered Before Your Eyes.” WordPress.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <https://ebonstorm.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/tamir-rice-murdered-before-your-eyes/>
- Chan, Rich Juzwiak and Aleksander. “Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999–2014.” Gawker.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://gawker.com/unarmed-people-of-color-killed-by-police-1999-2014-1666672349>
- “How riding your bike can land you in trouble with the cops — if you’re black.” Tampabay.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/how-riding-your-bike-can-land-you-in-trouble-with-the-cops—if-youre-black/2225966>
- “Miranda” Rights and the Fifth Amendment.” Findlaw.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-rights/miranda-rights-and-the-fifth-amendment.html>
- “Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Man Who Died of Spinal Injury Sustained in Police Custody.” Theatlantic.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-mysterious-death-of-freddie-gray/391119/>
- “’I can’t breathe’: Eric Garner put in chokehold by NYPD officer — video.” Theguardian.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2014/dec/04/i-cant-breathe-eric-garner-chokehold-death-video>
- “LAPD accused of shooting man with special needs who was complying with orders.” Nydailynews.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/lapd-accused-shooting-man-special-complying-orders-article-1.1902035>
- “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism.” Goodmenproject.com. N.p. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/>
This article originally appeared on Medium.