Much remains the same since I wrote this post back in 2014, and some are actually worse. One thing that is better (and worse) is a new Tamir Rice Safety Handbook created by the ACLU of Ohio in collaboration with Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice.

The better is that Samaria Rice can help publicize a tool that may keep other children from being killed. The worse is that we need a guide for black and brown children to navigate interactions with law enforcement.

My version of the old “two steps forward, one step back” is to think of social progress like a spiral. I can’t always see how the twists and turns move us forward but I believe in the value of the outcome and so I keep on keepin’ on.

And I hope you do too.

ORIGINAL POST: Now What?, November 25, 2014

I knew the Ferguson grand jury would not indict officer Wilson. I’m not cynical, just familiar with history.

I knew I would feel like shit hearing the outcome, but I wouldn’t have predicted the sadness. I naturally lean toward anger & outrage in the face of our ongoing social & political injustice.

Closer to home, Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy from my old neighborhood who was killed by a police officer on November 22 for having a toy gun, deepens my sadness and amplifies the questions.

  • How will we change the value we place on black lives in this country?
  • How will we change the perception that black skin is to be feared – the assumption that drives and justifies a violent response from police?
  • How will we grant black teenagers the benefit of youthful stupidity – a privilege widely enjoyed by white teenagers?

The biggest question, the one that is currently making me sad is – what do we do now?

I just taught a workshop the other day about dealing with difficult situations by recognizing your habitual responses and learning about different potential choices. Deciding how to respond rather than just reacting.

So how will we respond to our deeply flawed and biased society? What do we address first? The legal system? Gun culture? Institutional racism? The fact that citizens are brainwashed into thinking that they have no power to change the system?

If I had my druthers I’d start with eliminating folks feelings of collective helplessness so we can get to collective action.

We need to do more.

I need to do more.

The comment was “Anyone who doesn’t think we are living in a police state is deluding themselves.” It was made in response to the video of the public defender who was “arrested for resisting arrest” while trying to protect her clients rights.

I don’t think the person making the comment really meant a police state like the Stasi or Gestapo, it’s just insanely difficult to name the disbelief and outrage at police behavior that seems increasingly arbitrary.

What was especially useful about this incident was that the trumped charge was applied to a small, white female attorney. In a suit. With glasses.

Aside from the fact that the “perpetrator” was instructing her client about their rights and didn’t do anything to warrant arrest, it’s a powerful visual to watch a calm, professional woman trying to talk to police, inside a courthouse, and get immediately handcuffed and shuffled to jail.

What we are seeing, through the grace of smart phone cameras everywhere, is police autonomy taken to extreme. Police officers, good, bad or indifferent, appear to be increasingly operating from the assumption that they have the right to be right.

This means cops expect 100% compliance to requests (orders, commands) of citizens in all situations regardless of the level of danger or provocation. This is a new frontier for a majority of US citizens.

100% Compliance is the idea behind “The Talk” that African-American parents have with their children. The Talk, how to conduct yourself with the police, is a slightly more main stream topic since Trayvon Martin segued into Eric Garner, into John Crawford, into Michael Brown, and then Tamir Rice. And even more recently when Bill DiBlasio’s comments about talking to his bi-racial son about being careful around cops, was taken by NYC police as an insult requiring apology.

The drop of lemonade we can squeeze out of these lemons is that more people can now see what it looks like to have an encounter with cops who have 100% control and authority. And use it. It’s shocking because it’s NOT racial profiling, its police autonomy pushed to the extreme and used to ensure 100% compliance.

And the bright, beautiful lemons keep piling up as we see the privileges that once made people feel secure they were an “Us”, and not a “Them”, no longer protect anyone from the expectation of 100% compliance with police orders.

An attorney at a nightclub was arrested for obstructing official business. The “probable cause” was cause she was giving her friends the legal advice that they didn’t have to answer police questions without knowing if they were suspects. She got in the way so they got her out of the way.

It’s so easy for people to find a reason why that black guy deserved/caused/triggered a fearful cop’s over-reach. (No kidding – trolls and cop apologists were blaming Tamir Rice for not putting his hands up in the 1.5 seconds before he was shot.)

It’s harder to explain rights getting tramped on when the people look like nice, upstanding (white) citizens.

Remember Henry Louis Gates getting arrested on his front porch? The cop knew he lived there, he wasn’t arrested for breaking and entering, he was arrested for being “disorderly” and yelling at the officer. Professor Gates was mouthy. His age, his position at Harvard, his intellect and international celebrity did not give him the right to be angry at a police officer. So he went to jail.

Last summer a Cultural Studies professor in Arizona was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after arguing with a police officer who stopped her for jaywalking. Watching the video you can hear her astonishment at the officers disrespect. Her rational responses, her nice clothes, her position as a professor at the university didn’t give her the right to refuse his orders, or keep her from being thrown to the ground like a criminal.

The examples go on and on. If the police have the absolute right to be right – always defended later as ” appropriate actions, with bounds” – then citizens have no rights.

How do we reclaim our rights to due process, to probable cause, to police as protectors rather than aggressors, if dialogue and de-escalation are off the table?

Profiling and arrogant, unfair treatment of citizens by cops is not just about black and brown people anymore, its all kinda folks. Maybe that will be the wakeup call. The disconnect between the police and citizens will continue to deepen and fester unless we do something about it. Before we end up in that “Police State” folks like to talk about.

9 Tips for Talking to Police Officers:

  1. If you are in a car, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times.
  2. Do not reach for your wallet, in any bag, backpack or glove box.
  3. Keep your hands out of your pockets.
  4. Be polite (yes sir/no sir) and comply with orders. Do not argue.
  5. Do not struggle, resist or run.
  6. Do not lie.
  7. When possible, ask if you are free to leave.
  8. Be silent.
  9. Remember details, record what happened as soon as you can, and if your rights are violated, call the ACLU.

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There is a moment in every public discussion of race where the topic is no longer the justice or injustice of an action, the existence of structural discrimination, or lack thereof.

Comments explode beneath news stories, viscous and sticky, about what the personal appearance says about the people involved.

If the subject is a black woman they start with her hair, move on to her nails and end up with her clothes. If the subject is a black man the sequence is usually hoodie, sagging pants, and “gang related accessories”, meaning anything from his shoes to his tattoo’s to his jewelry.

Just how “white” does a black person have to look, dress or sound before their appearance isn’t a factor that caused what happened to them?

SamariaRice-638x504
Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice

Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy shot on Cleveland’s west side, was derided for her choice of hairstyle at the press conference where she talked about her son being killed by police. Followed by comments about her being a bad parent, her son being a “thug”, and how he deserved what he got because he didn’t follow police orders.

Maybe if Samaria Rice looked more like Condoleezza Rice (no relation), maybe the attacks on her character would lessen. Maybe not.

Now the brutal truth of Samaria’s description about her daughter’s treatment by the police when she ran to her little brother after he was shot is now on the video released by the city. As Samaria reported, her daughter was tackled by police, handcuffed, and placed in the patrol car. The police look so cold-blooded and heartless, and the girl looks so desperate to get to her brother, that it made me cry to watch it.

There is no sound with the video but her mother said when she arrived she could hear her daughter screaming for her from inside the patrol car. On the video its 15 minutes before any police officer even approaches the car to talk to the handcuffed sister. Its five minutes after that before they take the handcuffs off her. The video ends, her mother and brother are on the way to the hospital, and the girl is still sitting in the patrol car. In shock I would imagine.

Comments on the video say things like her treatment proves stupidity runs in the family as she did not comply with the cops either, and people need to teach their children better and so on.

I’m wondering what visual might get people to feel compassion for the little girl traumatized by seeing her brother shot and bleeding on the ground. Maybe if she were more light skinned? Wearing a school uniform instead of jeans and a hoodie (we’ll overlook the fact they were at a playground & rec center).

john-filo-photo-of-mary-ann-vechiojpg-4338af7e714952b6
Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard, Kent, Ohio, May 4, 1970. Photo: John Filo

How about this one?

I know I don’t have anything productive to contribute to the conversation at the moment. No solutions, no call to action, just observations and suppositions.

The world is complex outside the comfortable hegemonic box. Sometimes it can be made simpler for people with careful preparation, like Mrs Rosa Parks whose story helps school children understand what 15-year old, pushy Claudette Colvin started by shouting about her constitutional rights on that Montgomery Bus. Both were necessary for change to happen.

So who is the attractive, composed, light-skinned, well-educated, married African-American symbol of this civil rights revolution I wonder? Or maybe video and the internet will make that concept obsolete.

Watch the 30 minutes of the Tamir Rice video that was released and let me know what you think.

Video shows Tamir Rice shooting aftermath
Video shows Tamir Rice shooting aftermath

 

The neighborhood I grew up in appears desolate and broken. Ten miles from where I live, its at least ten years since I’ve driven down those streets.

I made the long trip back recently for a very specific reason. To participate in a protest for Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy shot by police outside of Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland’s westside.

The rec center next to my elementary school, two blocks from my childhood home. The rec center where my friends and I spent countless summers swimming, playing tennis and goofing around by the clock tower.

The protest was attended by people who had traveled by bus from Ferguson, Missouri to stand in solidarity with the Cleveland protestors. I thought if they could ride a bus all night I could at least drive 25 minutes across town.

It was a hard thing to witness in a place so familiar that now no longer belongs to me.

Afterward, on the way home, I drove past my mother’s house, and was struck by how very tiny it was. (Eight people in 900 sq. feet & one bathroom – no kidding.)  I was unprepared for the unrelenting poverty.

Used to be lots of homes like my moms with overly groomed miniscule yards, flower beds and American flags flying. Now there is very little evidence of that kind of effort.

Looking the past in the face makes me pay attention to what I’m doing in the present to make a better future. How am I acting in my daily life, what am I contributing in my community, what is in my head and coming out my mouth that reduces racial injustice? Some days probably not so much.

Tomorrow I am participating in a facilitator training for the YWCA “It’s Time To Talk: Forums on Race” series. If they choose to use me as a facilitator I can help myself and other people have safe, meaningful discussions about race. Even if they choose not to use me I call spending six hours in social justice training “checking my head” a good day.

How do you check your head?

Mavis will see you out.

100_0320
Cudell Rec Center has a beautiful glass wall on the front and a sliding glass wall on the pool patio. I loved to swim in the winter and watch it snow through the steamy windows.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE: November 25, 2019

Much remains the same since I wrote this post back in 2014, and some are actually worse. One thing that is better (and worse) is a new Tamir Rice Safety Handbook created by the ACLU of Ohio in collaboration with Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice.

The better is that Samaria Rice can help publicize a tool that may keep other children from being killed. The worse is that we need a guide for black and brown children to navigate interactions with law enforcement.

 

ORIGINAL POST: November 25, 2014

I knew the Ferguson grand jury would not indict officer Wilson. I’m not cynical, just familiar with history.

I knew I would feel like shit hearing the outcome, but I wouldn’t have predicted the sadness. I naturally lean toward anger & outrage in the face of our ongoing social & political injustice.

Closer to home, Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy from my old neighborhood who was killed by a police officer on November 22 for having a toy gun, deepens my sadness and amplifies the questions.

  • How will we change the value we place on black lives in this country?
  • How will we change the perception that black skin is to be feared – the assumption that drives and justifies a violent response from police?
  • How will we grant black teenagers the benefit of youthful stupidity – a privilege widely enjoyed by white teenagers?

The biggest question, the one that is currently making me sad is – what do we do now?

I just taught a workshop the other day about dealing with difficult situations by recognizing your habitual responses and learning about different potential choices. Deciding how to respond rather than just reacting.

So how will we respond to our deeply flawed and biased society? What do we address first? The legal system? Gun culture? Institutional racism? The fact that citizens are brainwashed into thinking that they have no power to change the system?

If I had my druthers I’d start with eliminating folks feelings of collective helplessness so we can get to collective action.

We need to do more.

I need to do more.

Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir Rice was killed