The headline for this post is an old one. For many people, it won’t be familiar. But, if you study enough history, you know where it became famous. But before we do the reveal, let’s start with a simple story.
Recently a young friend of mine had an interaction with the local constabulary (police). While engaging with a little football toss on friends he flashed a police officer the single finger salute. When asked why he did it, he responded that it was perfectly legal to do so. He is correct that it is perfectly legal to flip off a cop. What surprised him was the response from the officer. He was told it was illegal to throw a football in that area and he was arrested for being drunk in public, though by all accounts from those on the scene he was not. This friend told me about how he tried to speak to the officer about his rights (and each right he mentioned he stated correctly or not too far from it). He stated he was cool, calm and collected and how other officers told him they hated to do it but the senior officer wanted him arrested. He stated the other officers were hanging their heads in shame at the matter. Of course, he remained under arrest. And he walked away safely. If you did not figure out that this friend is white then you really have not been paying attention.
My friend stated that he refused to just sit down and take police officers abusing their authority. He wanted to stand up for his rights. And he was a fool. Not because he was wrong on the law. But because no matter how much those other officers may have felt for him, they were never going to stand up for him. And he showed his ignorance as well. He could not understand when I told him, ” I would advise any person of color to do absolutely nothing that you did”. He got an arrest and was unscathed. For people of color there is the very real possibility that ticking off a cop will result in an arrest and sometimes something worse.
This brings me to Sandra Bland. By now you may have heard about the young black woman in Walter County, TX. She was pulled over by a Deputy for failure to signal. The Deputy approached the vehicle, presumably to issue a ticket or warning. Ms. Bland was less than thrilled, but not abusive or threatening. When the Deputy in question ordered her to put out the cigarette she was smoking in the car, she asked why. His response was to tell her again to put it out then ordered her out of the car. When she asked why she had to get out of the car, he threatened to yank her out or taser her (“I’ll light you up”). With that she exited the vehicle and they walked to the curb.. What happened next is unclear because some it is off camera. According to the deputy, Ms. Bland kicked him. However, When the pair are in view again, Ms. Bland is on the ground with the Deputy on top of her and she is complaining about having her head slammed into the ground. The Deputy’s response can be described as indifference at best. Ms. Bland was arrested and three days later she was found dead in her jail cell. Initial reports are that it was a suicide, unseen by anyone. Ms. Bland’s family, however pointed out her high spirits and her excitement about her new job at her alma mater, which is why she was in the area.
There are no accusations that the Deputy murdered Ms. Bland. This may very well be a suicide. But, it is very troubling because her death can be directly linked to a cop who was upset that someone showed him indignation. There is no Texas law forbidding smoking in a car when children are absent. So why in the world would the officer want her out of the car? Some might scream it is about “officer safety”. Those people are either idiots or police apologists. This was never about safety. This was about “contempt of cop”, the idea that police are entitled to absolute deference. And they are not. But the Ms. Bland situation, like an overwhelming number of cases, shows us that being in the right means nothing, especially for people of color. And until you have been there, it is impossible to understand the complete frustration of knowing that you do not even have the ability to express your own indignation without risking arrest or serious harm.
Certainly there will be people who say people should just comply with the police. That usually is the safer course, but what does it mean when officers are making unlawful commands? And what happens when other officers go along with it? Floating around the internet now is the video of a police officer berating what is either another officer or a security guard for essentially racial profiling and illegally stopping an individual for driving in the neighborhood and “looking suspicious”. The driver actually lived in the neighborhood and the officer chastised the offending officers. It was an encouraging sign until you remember that it was popular and newsworthy because it is a unique circumstance. Not only is that a scary idea, it is an exhausting one.
Research shows that blacks face a greater chance of interacting with police for “very minor traffic violations” than whites, primarily because they are under greater suspicion for certain offenses. In addition, blacks are twice as likely to be searched as whites (even though they possess the same likelihood of owning contraband). These kind of numbers do not inspire hope. Naturally, most officers will say that race has nothing to do with how they do their jobs. Some of those cops are lying to you and others are lying to themselves. Because those kinds of disparities go beyond coincidence.
In Ms. Bland’s case, she can be heard in the dash-cam video explaining that she thought the officer was trying to pass her (and decided to simply move over and allow the officer to drive ahead). You know, like they teach you to do in driving school. She complained to the officer that she was being ticketed merely for not signaling a lane change. (As the research has indicated, blacks face a higher chance of being pulled over for such minor infractions.) And this ended with her being beaten, shouting that she has epilepsy, while the officer responds, “Good.”. And that physical confrontation all comes from the fact she had the nerve to not kiss the officer’s ass.
“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” comes from Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer was a Civil Rights Activist who spoke before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention in 1964. As she spoke, she spoke of the denial of voting rights, lack of justice and the violence used in Mississippi to oppress its Black residents. And she famously said, “And you can always hear this long sob story: “You know it takes time.” For three hundred years, we’ve given them time. And I’ve been tired so long, now I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we want a change.”
I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. Sick and tired of this idea that rights suddenly stop to ease the ego of a government agent. Sick and tired of the idea that one segment of society can mouth off and another has to STFU. Sick and tired of the indifference by those who deny that these things happen and the complaints and concerns are legitimate.
Here is where another friend of mine likes to say, “So what are the solutions” to which I can only say, that we know exactly what the solutions are. The question is “are we as a society ready to implement them or do we just keep on not caring because we belong to the safe group?” Well, some of you do.
The law is a strange thing. It can be sword or shield depending upon how it is used. It can serve all or serve only a few depending upon how it is exercised. And for many people they will never ask for a change because it is working just fine for them. How they live with that is on them.