TPM Reader: My Cousin Was Shot Dead by Police in New Mexico

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I wanted to add a potentially unusual perspective on your questions about the movement sparked by the police murders: I’m a white millennial (28 years old) whose first cousin, a 16-year-old Hispanic male (adopted by my aunts in New Mexico shortly after birth) was shot dead by a policeman early this summer in then-mysterious circumstances. (Some Googling will get you to the story quickly enough; for your sake, here’s an article.) Let me tell you, the questions NEVER go away, even in this case, where we have a pretty clear sense of what happened and it’s intellectually easy to understand why it happened. I’m confident that everyone in my extended family is somewhere on a spectrum from “isn’t there some other way the officers could have handled it?” to “this is absolutely murder in cold blood.” And I think we all to a certain extent ask: isn’t there a reasonable case that a jury should decide the answers in public?

For a couple of recent years, I worked for an elected official in Chicago, and I spent a lot of time with community leaders in the most violent parts of the city, and I heard about a lot of what I then would have called “police-involved shootings.” And a lot of what I heard centered on the doubts about what happened and the doubts that any explanation would be fully believed. I’ll confess that I didn’t totally understand, either emotionally (duh: I grew up in white affluence) or frankly intellectually (they don’t just shoot kids, do they?).

But now I understand, even if in a much more limited sense than many others. My cousin’s killing happened not long after Albuquerque police were revealed to be brutal and murderous enough to warrant DOJ involvement, so of course the small-town New Mexico police that killed my cousin were suspect. For my white, relatively well-to-do family, the environment of general suspicion of the police was for the most part new to us, even if we knew that the police often did terrible things and killed people unnecessarily, especially black and brown people. It focused our attention on the pervasive mistreatment of minorities by the police, and on the power they have to hide/shade the truth.

And I imagine that the Michael Brown (because of the way the community mobilized) and Eric Garner (because of the video and the facts) killings are searing these facts of injustice into the minds of a broad swath of people for the first time, much like my cousin’s murder did for me. These issues have broken out of the ‘minority issues’ box. I think important pieces of it are the police surveillance and police militarization issues that came to light in the protests in Ferguson and elsewhere; they broaden the population of people pissed off about “police.”

Also, my generation came of age as critical cultural studies went mainstream. We nod along with writers like Jamelle Bouie and Ta-Nehisi Coates. We’ve been taught to recognize/question/check our privilege. This is just stuff that’s part of the world for many of us, white millennials included. And many of us live and work in diverse communities, so when it’s shoved in our face like this, it’s impossible not to react strongly. (It may also be important that it’s a uniting and mobilizing issue in a way that my generation hasn’t really had before.)

And now these police issues have become a litmus test for me, something I don’t shut up about. I don’t know what all the solutions are, but I know that being able to articulate the problem is now a critical factor in my evaluation of, among others, people running for office. We’re not going away.

Sorry this got long. Still working it all out in my head.

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