The pain, the spectacle, the national shame of Black people being murdered by police officers seems to know no end. It’s become all-too-routine to see the horrific slaying of a Black person by a state-sanctioned officer of the law at the top of breaking news, a ritualistic reminder of why Americans aren’t singing anthems and why this campaign season has been affirmation of all that is toxic and seething in this country.
Video footage shows 40-year old Terence Crutcher being killed during an encounter with police in Tulsa, Oklahoma. From police helicopter footage, Crutcher can be seen walking along the road with his hands in the air. Officers follow behind him from several feet, Crutcher does not stop or turn in their direction until he places his hands on top of his white SUV. As the approaching officers form a line and move towards Crutcher, a voice can be heard on the helicopter video saying “time for a Taser.”
“That looks like a bad dude too. Probably on something,” says another voice.
Crutcher’s body falls to the ground after what has been confirmed as a shooting by Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby. A woman’s voice can be heard on the recording yelling “Shots fired!”
“The Cycle” is exhausting. It can be overwhelming to see the viral video of yet another Black person losing their life, watching the justifiable outrage simmer online, knowing the dismissals will soon follow, and understanding that those who still need someone to “convince” them of a problem aren’t at all invested in finding a real solution. And it should be clear to anyone paying attention that this aggression from officers of the law is behavior that white America routinely endorses via its dismissals of Black outrage.
Black people are fighting for their right to live. It’s not on us to convince you of a truth that you willfully won’t see.
When I was in college, I was pulled over on a dark highway one night in rural Georgia by a state trooper. He approached my car already tense and excitable, demanding that I exit the vehicle. He demanded that I put my hands up and then asked “What are you on?” with his hand on his weapon. I told him nothing and he cautiously inched closer to me, shining a flashlight in my face, then up my nose.
“You’re sure you’re not on something?”
I assured him that I wasn’t–I’d just dropped a friend off at his night job and was on my way back home. The officer then demanded I present my license and registration–and when I reached for my wallet, he cocked his gun. I froze.
“I’m getting my wallet!”
He calmed down as I reached for it and gave it to him. He finally told me that my backlight was out and that I should get it fixed. He never even wrote the ticket. I could have died that night over absolutely nothing other than I’m a 6’2 Black male and this was a racist cop who was clearly terrified of big Black guys.
That scenario plays out regularly for millions of Black people in America. We’re tired of talking about it. We’re tired of pretending that a light bulb is going to one day go off and the “All Lives Matter” choir will finally understand what’s been said all along. But it’s not that they don’t understand. They don’t care–or if they do, they don’t care enough to change. But most just do not care.
They see it as business-as-usual and it is. They see Black as a threat and that belief is at the core of what’s made American identity. Every time some “outside threat” supposedly “brought America together,” the country defaulted back to the same racist culturally ideology. Every other “enemy” has been temporary–but America stays killing Black people.
From economic sanctions to covert assassinations to bio-attack to outright militaristic assault, America has been waging war on Black people far longer than it fought the British, the Confederacy, the Nazis, the Soviets, the Viet Cong or Al-Quada. Enough blood has spilled for a dozen wars; the Thibodaux massacre of 1887, the Atlanta race riot of 1906, the East St. Louis riot of 1917 — pogroms in all but name; aimed at elimination and intimidation of a rising Black population that threatened to gain a foothole in an America that only sought to exploit and discard Black people.
The shooting of Terence Crutcher happened in Tulsa, where white rage famously burned Black prosperity to a cinder when Greenwood aka “Black Wall Street” was devastated by the terrorism of white racists in 1921.
The 1955 lynching of a teenager no older than an eighth grader and the 1964 bombing of a church in Birmingham that left four little girls dead eerily mirror and echo the killings of Trayvon Martin and the 2015 Charleston church massacre. Racism–and hateful violence to which it has always been inextricably linked–is a weed that America has consistently mowed over, lacking the desire or the courage to forcefully uproot it.
“Good” Americans’ pity for the Black bodies they now see regularly on their smartphone screens has yet to superseded the empathy they feel for that white person behind the trigger. That fear and hate that has been culturally cultivated for centuries–that racism that inherently sees a Black man with a stalled vehicle as “a bad dude”–is something they relate to. It’s why they will never side against the police–no matter how many Black people are gunned down by officers; they would shoot a “bad dude” like me, too. And then ask God for forgiveness later. Probably while on paid leave.
So, no–let’s not have this conversation.
Let’s not have the conversation where we pretend that you still don’t “understand” the problem, as if this hasn’t dominated the national conversation for the better part of three years. Let’s not have the conversation where you toss out empty rhetoric about “black-on-black” crime and let’s not have the conversation where you pretend to offer condescending behavioral “advice” to people who experience the brutal reality of racism wielded with violent authority on a daily basis. Let’s not have the conversation where you search for false equivalence in the plights of non-Black LGBTQ, women or non-WASP Euro-Americans.
It’s better to discuss how those ethnic white immigrants bought their way into white America’s fraternal order with Black blood; how Black Americans were routinely excluded from programs like the G.I. Bill and the Homestead Act that enabled the making of white America’s suburban fantasy and how Black upward mobility has consistently been stifled via financing or force, by white racism. It would be interesting to examine how suffragettes such as Carrie Chapman Catt embraced white supremacy to further their movement for white women.
Maybe even acknowledge the poisoning of an entire population in Flint and the slap-on-the-wrist that followed; or one could recognize how these instances of police killing Black people are happening all over the country–not just in big, crime-filled major cities–and look at what that says about the collective psyche of white America as it pertains to race.
You could even look at the current Republican nominee for President of the United States and his platform and constituency.
There are so many ways to examine why so many of our fellow citizens are ambivalent about what it means when police officers routinely use lethal force against Black citizens. But it’s not a conversation I’m interested in having. Not anymore. I’ve been having it since I was old enough to have conversations about anything other than cartoons and comic books. It’s a conversation Black people have been initiating for centuries, and was delivered succinctly by Ida B. Wells in 1900.
“Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an “unwritten law” that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.”
So yeah–we’ve been having this conversation. It’s been ignored. We can’t keep talking. This country needs to figure itself out before it destroys itself. It’s not Black folks’ job to save America’s soul.
Talk amongst yourselves.