(ThyBlackMan.com) I once saw a meme on Facebook that said “no hoodies, no loud music, no swimming, no breathing, no praying.” The meme was posted in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting and referenced all the senseless ways in which Black lives have been taken. Trayvon Martin had a hoodie on which made him look like a thug. Jordan Davis was listening to loud music, argued with a white man, and was killed for being thuggish. 41 teenagers gathered for an after graduation pool party, the cops were called, and a 14 year old girl in a bikini ended up slammed to the ground, with a knee in her back, and handcuffs on her wrists.
Eric Garner was choked to death despite protestations that he could not breathe following his arrest for illegally selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island Street Corner. 9 people were killed during a bible study at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church after welcoming in their killer with open arms, and hearts filled with faith and prayer. Now add to this list of don’ts for black folk the line item of looking. Yes looking. As in with your eyes. In another word staring. It is no longer safe in these inner city or suburban streets to look.
“Why?” You Ask.
Well I’ll tell you.
Former Ohio resident John Felton was pulled over by a Dayton police officer for making direct eye contact with the officer and holding it. No bullshit. Felton says the officer tailed him and pulled him over for not signaling a turn 100 feet in advance. Sound familiar. Thankfully this exchange did not end in death. #RIPSandraBland. Instead Felton was able to take the officer to task for tailing him and for staring.
Take a look.
The stop is ridiculous. The officer’s excuse is ridiculous. And while the sensible side of me says this is ridiculous, my gut screams this is dangerous. Routine traffic stops are no longer routine. Simple disagreements are not as simple as they may seem. When race and context collide race is often judged before the context in which the situation is occuring leading to many deadly encounters.
In the aftermath of the Baltimore riots that followed outrage over Freddie Gray’s death, the Black radio station in my city began running a PSA from the Black male employees about the dos and don’ts of traffic stops and other general encounters with police. In the PSA these colleagues of mine urged men to not make sudden movements, to keep their hands visible, to be respectful and say “yes sir,” and “no sir,” and to look the officer in the eye as another sign of respect. The PSA while well-intentioned is demeaning to the self-acutalized agency of Black men, and women for that matter.
Let’s get one thing clear, while respect is suggested in interactions with anyone, not just police officers, it is not a mandate. We are all grown people here. Anything can be suggested by anyone but that doesn’t mean that suggestion has to be followed. However, when individuals take an oath to protect and serve their community they should do just that, and protecting and serving a community does not include following members of that said community for shits and giggles. That’s harrassment. Furthermore, if we the people followed police officers for cutting us off in traffic when they were trying to get someplace important we’d be at the very least cited or jailed and at most end up the victim of a police shooting our name hailed in hashtags. But let’s not be so extreme, if we the people asked police officers to give us the same courtesy and respect they demand, or asked them to explain their actions we’d end up cited like John Felton, arrested like Sandra Bland, or dead as another victim of a police shooting our name hailed in hashtags.
Apparently there’s no winning in this Black life. Especially when that life is taken for granted and a movement meant to bring attention to the importance of this life is coopted by privilege.
So Dear Black People, since there is no winning for losing in this world we live in, I’d like to leave you with the immortal words of Ice Cube. Fuck Tha Police. The words are as true today as they were in 1988.
Staff Writer; Nikesha Elise Williams