Yesterday was another banner day for American law enforcement—two black men were murdered on video by police: Philando Castile, a Montessori school cafeteria supervisor who gave extra graham crackers to kids, was shot to death in the suburbs of Minneapolis during a traffic stop for having a tail light out, and Alton Sterling, a father of five who made money by selling CDs outside a convenience store, was repeatedly shot by police in Baton Rouge, LA while on the ground and being restrained by two officers.
The names of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling join the names of Sandra Bland and Freddie Grey and Eric Garner and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old boy shot to death by police in a Cleveland park for playing with a toy gun) and Laquan McDonald (17-year-old shot to death by Chicago police) and John Crawford III (shot to death in an Ohio Walmart for holding a toy BB gun) and Amadou Diallo (unarmed; he was shot 41 times by New York City police while standing outside his apartment) and Sean Bell (shot 50 times on the morning before his wedding) and many other black people whose names I can’t recall off the top of my head whose lives have been unjustly ended by police.
Most of the time, the killers get acquitted at trial, if they are even charged with a crime at all. If you’re a police officer, killing black people is a good career move; you get a paid vacation (“administrative leave”) and then the police union organizes a fundraiser for your legal fees, and then the District Attorney does a half-assed job of making the case to the grand jury for why you should be prosecuted, and then no charges are filed and you go free and get to go back to your job, protecting and serving the public.
This is pretty goddamn personal for me. I’m a white man, but I have a black wife and biracial sons and lots of black friends, and the repeated murders of black people by police like these just reinforce the fact that in 2016 America, every black person is just one run-in with the wrong cop away from being treated like a runaway slave. The American criminal justice system and the media always treat black people with the most suspicion and the harshest brutality, from traffic stop to death row, from the cradle to the grave.
Our laws largely protect bad cops against even the worst abuses—the legal standard to indict and convict a police officer for murder or even manslaughter is incredibly high, because society has determined that we’d rather lose the lives of lots of innocent black people than hold a few bad cops accountable for their crimes. Police unions rally around their own, even the absolute worst incompetent fuckups with the longest track records of civilian complaints; according to an analysis of civilian complaint data from the Chicago Police Department, 10% of the police force was responsible for 30% of the civilian complaints of misconduct. Apparently police will fight hard to stop criminals, unless the criminals are wearing a badge. It’s true that there are a few “bad apples” in law enforcement—but instead of throwing out the bad apples, police departments keep protecting and nurturing the bad apples and giving them cushy desk jobs.
None of this is going to get better anytime soon. Black Lives Matter activists are doing valiant work to draw attention to these crimes against innocent people being committed in the name of the state, but without significant structural reform and changes to the laws that protect bad cops, the American “justice” system is going to keep mowing down lots of innocent people, most of whom are black. And yes, law enforcement can take white and Latino and Asian lives with impunity, too, but it’s disproportionately happening to black people. Black people always get the worst of everything in this racist charnel house of a country; they’re the ones who get to live in fear. They’re the ones who, even if they don’t get gunned down by a lunatic cop, still get years taken off of their lives by the constant burden of quiet vigilance and helpless rage and low-key despair, in a way that white people will never understand.
Having a black president for the past 8 years has been pretty cool, but how about next, we actually give black people full equal rights under the law. No? America’s not quite ready for that? OK then.
In that case, here is some helpful advice:
How Black People Can Avoid Being Killed By Police
1. Don’t be too big. If you’re really tall or heavy, you might be seen as “intimidating” or “like a demon.” If you’re over 6 feet tall, consider getting your legs amputated below the knees.
2. Don’t reach into your pocket or reach for your waistband. Especially if you’re wearing baggy clothes—that means you’re a “thug.” It’s best to avoid wearing clothes that have any pockets; just wear yoga pants or Jeggings. In fact, don’t wear pants or coats or clothes at all. Walk around nude. You will be arrested for indecent exposure, but at least you’re more likely to be taken alive.
3. Stay off the streets, off the sidewalks and away from public parks. You know what? Just stay home. Quit your job if necessary.
4. Don’t carry a toy gun around in Walmart or at the park; people might think it’s a real gun and call 911 on you. In fact, just don’t carry any children’s toys or anything that could be construed to look like a gun, such as a wallet or phone.
5. Don’t make any sudden movements. Try not to move your hands or arms at all. Walk around perfectly ramrod still—but not in a way that makes you look unusually “big” or intimidating, as stated in rule 1; try to hunch your shoulders a little. But not so much that you’re slouching like a “thug,” as in rule 2.
6. Don’t sell cigarettes or CDs. Eric Garner would still be alive today if he had been selling something that was beneficial to society, like subprime mortgages or guns. And Alton Sterling was probably selling CDs that were full of that angry gangster rap hip-hopping music—definitely a “thug.”
7. Don’t have a gun—even if you have a license for your gun and you are allowed to carry a gun according to the laws of your state. Gun rights are only for white people. The NRA exists to help fearful white people feel safe from angry gun-toting black people like you.
8. FACT: Amish people rarely get shot by the police. So grow a beard, learn a few key phrases of Pennsylvania Dutch, and dress like the Amish.
9. Don’t do anything that could be construed as “resisting arrest.” Don’t defend yourself, don’t advocate for your rights, and don’t stand up for yourself against abusive treatment during a routine traffic stop. Try to say or do as little possible. Just quietly lie down on the ground and curl up in a ball (but not in a way that is sudden or intimidating, as stated in rules 1 and 5). If the police are rude, abusive or violent to you, file a formal complaint with the justice system, which has consistently and systematically failed people like you for hundreds of years.
Just what black people need right now: More advice from a white man! No, but in all seriousness, I’m sick to my stomach about this. It seems like no matter how egregious the killings are, no matter how angry we get and no matter how many horrible videos get shared on Facebook, nothing will change. I just have to hope that bad cops don’t hurt anyone I love.
And let me pre-emptively address a few stupid counterarguments that are sure to show up in the Comments section from the “Blue Lives Matter” crowd—the most willfully ignorant, bloodthirsty people on the Internet:
MYTH: “Black Lives Matter hates police.”
REALITY: No, we don’t hate police. We don’t want violence against police. Black Lives Matter is not about violence; it’s about STOPPING violence and reminding the public that black people need some extra help and protection against these systemic issues of racism in the justice system.
MYTH: “Black Lives Matter is making police officers’ lives more dangerous!”
REALITY: Really? Show me the evidence. If the Black Lives Matter movement and recent heightened media attention to police misconduct was really inspiring a bunch of anti-police violence, we’d be seeing a huge uptick in killings of law enforcement officers – but we’re not! According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, in 2013 there were 107 officers killed in the line of duty, and in 2014 there were 117. But these are the lowest numbers since 1914!
Of course, every police officer death is a tragedy and represents an attack on civil society, and that’s why killings of police officers are rightfully condemned and prosecuted by our justice system. You can be fully horrified and saddened by police misconduct and abuses of power while also being horrified and saddened by murders of police. Violence is not the answer.
MYTH: “No one’s talking about the positive things police do multiple times every single day; they just focus on the negative and blame all cops for the actions of a few.”
REALITY: This isn’t true either—even the staunchest critics of police misconduct respect the work that good police officers do every day to respond to emergencies, help people who are victims of crime, and otherwise help keep the streets safe and keep traffic moving and all the other little under-appreciated things that police do every day in the community. Being a police officer is often a tough and thankless job, and they have to see some really horrible stuff. Whenever someone dies in a car crash or commits suicide, whenever a battered wife calls 911 on her abusive husband, whenever there’s an act of violent mayhem in the city, the first people on the scene who have to witness the trauma and pain and blood are often police. I respect those functions that police are called to serve, and I want them to have good training and support for the emotionally draining and sometimes mentally scarring aspects of that job.
But here’s the thing: the “negative” of police misconduct and murders-on-video is a PRETTY BIG FUCKING NEGATIVE. Police are supposed to stop crime, not COMMIT crime. Police are supposed to protect citizens from criminals, not abuse their power and act like criminals. We shouldn’t applaud police for doing the things that they’re SUPPOSED to do while turning a blind eye to the worst abuses (beatings! TORTURE!! MURDER!!!) committed by the worst cops. To do so is to do a disservice to all the good cops who are just trying to serve the community and do their jobs and get home safely at the end of their shift.
I don’t hate police. I want them to operate with transparency and accountability to the public, just like all other public servants. I’m tired of reading horrible stories about police who literally get away with murder and help their buddies cover up for horrible abuses of power and beatings and bullying horseshit—often inflicted upon black and brown young men like the ones my sons are growing up to be. THIS IS PRETTY FUCKING PERSONAL FOR ME. So don’t say incredibly stupid shit about police and be dismissive of concerns about police violence! If your first instinct in the aftermath of multiple killings of innocent people—caught on camera—is to criticize the critics of bad law enforcement, you are an accessory to murder.
I respect law enforcement, but I respect the lives of my sons and my friends even more.