“To Protect You… From Me.”

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A sobering, intense email from TPM Reader AJ


As one 70 year old Black man who was born and raised in “segregated America” and raised my son in the new and improved “post-racial” America, please let me help you out.

You wrote…

“What interests me about these confrontation is this: I think people who are part of or sympathetic to the movement tied to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others sometimes miss just what deep wells of support and trust police have in the population. Police officers are consistently among the most trusted professions in the country, as attested in numerous public opinion surveys. That said, respect and trust and deference to police is heavily tied to public perceptions of the threats they protect us from. And as we’ve discussed, crime rates have been falling rapidly for two decades. “

We supporters don’t “miss” the “deep wells of support and trust” police have in the majority population. They have always had such support and trust. It just doesn’t matter here. What you seem to miss is that the reason that such support and trust exists is due to the fact that what they are protecting the majority population from, in the minds of far too many in that population, is us! From the Slave patrollers to the rural sheriffs, to the modern police forces, the threat perceived most vividly by the population they “protect and serve” is that of the (violent) black person. Even a cursory look at the history and culture of this nation will reveal that in popular culture for many decades the majority culture was told to be scared of people of color. The result of this villainization of Black, Brown, Red and Yellow skin is a populace that believes, at least subconsciously, that any stranger with a dark skin is a potential threat. Thus the differing rates of charging and conviction between white and minority populations. It is that perception that drives a lot of the injustice minorities complain about.

I worked for over 30 years in the legal system of this country as an “officer of the court”. I have seen the disparity in criminal charges and sentencing up close and personal. I have seen the biased perceptions of our police result in imprisonment, beatings, mistreatment and yes, even death. But it is not only the overt physical violence that minorities are subjected to, it is the presumption of guilt that we confront on a daily basis. It is the cop who pulls you over for a “routine” check because to him or her you look suspicious. It is the clerk who keeps a close eye on you when you step into the shop, because “you know those people steal”. It is the assumption that you will never be able to repay the loan you apply for, or afford the car you walk in to look at. It is the surprise you see in the eyes of someone who has just been told you are a judge, not a bailiff. It is the fear you see in the eyes of an elderly White person who you pass on the street in the twilight hours.

I could regale you with many stories, experiences and scenarios that I, my family and friends have experienced. Not episodes of racism or racist acts in the common understanding of the terms, but just folks reacting based on unfamiliarity, lack of knowledge and cultural stereotypes. But the bottom line is that this reaction is a widely shared one in the majority population. And it can be deadly. They want their police to protect them from the black person in the mugshot on the front page of the news paper. They don’t question his or her guilt. And they don’t question whatever actions the police take to apprehend them. And they don’t question whether I am any different.

But listen to the defenders of the police in these latest cases… do you really want to live in the world they are promoting? One where you must immediately acquiesce to any request/order give by anyone in a uniform, without question or complaint… under penalty of death if you don’t comply, or comply too slowly for them? Do you really mean to give people in uniform the power to kill, maim, imprison any person simply because they questioned why they were being confronted or resisted rough treatment? Is the uniformed officers word to be deemed absolute, without recourse… and his/her power to punish to be deemed limitless?

I can tell you from experience that police officers are just like everybody else – they are not all the benevolent guardians of small children, grannies and fluffy puppies. They do over use their authority, they do have bad days and they do lie, cheat and steal. But just as importantly, they do mostly try to do what they are asked to do. And what they are too often asked to do is… to protect you… from me.

Not from the educated, lawyer/judge me, or the granddad me, or the mentor teacher me… but from the Black menace me. The problem is that for too many of our citizens and our police they are one in the same!

So, we don’t miss the support and trust police have in the majority population… t’was always thus… we just don’t care to let that support and trust kill more of our sons and daughters. We are tired of letting their subjective “fears” be reason enough to make us bury another child.

The injustices being protested in this instance do not stand in isolation, apart from the larger fabric of this society. They are woven into the warp and weave of it’s fabric. From the movie houses to the churches to the neighborhoods, to the schools, to the Whitehouse and Congress. And to the courtrooms and prisons. Unfortunately Black people can’t change how White people perceive them. That is something they must do. But, we can fight to change how we are treated… and that is something we must do.

Stay well…


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