In response to the killing of Eric Garner some police officers were selling a T-Shirt that read, "Don't Break the Law - Breathe Easy" I offered up a SMALL sampling of refutations to this argument on Facebook: 16 yr old Kimani Gray 2013, killed leaving a birthday party - unarmed. Kendrec McDate, 19, False information from 911 call justifies his homicide. Ervin Jefferson 18 yrs old, unarmed and protecting his sister in a crowd. Aamadou Diallo - 1999, shot 19 times while sitting on his front porch doing nothing - unarmed. Timothey Standbrury Jr. 19 yrs old, no record, unarmed. Sean Bell, 23, Officers fired 50 shots into his car killing him, he was unarmed - it was his wedding day. NOT breaking the law is not enough to keep you safe if you are a Person of Color in this country. Period. I want to believe that not all police are bad - but to believe that I have to give the "good" police a pass for not standing up and screaming bloody hell every time something like this happens. Which leads me to something that white people need to learn EARLY on in their journey to breaking down the white wall of ignorance and privilege. Racism is like air to white Americans. We cannot avoid it, we cannot get away from it, we cannot say that we have not benefited from breathing it in, filling our lungs with it and exhaling it back into the world. Because we grew up surrounded by white supremacy. Yes, you did.
Recently I got into an argument on Facebook (this is a recurring theme with me - I have trouble "letting things go", on the internet) about the use of School Resource Officers (that's another post!) in schools across the country. Almost immediately I heard from white people who wanted to make the argument that , 1) they aren't all bad and that 2) I just didn't know any of the good SRO's personally. There are a few flaws in this line of reasoning, as far as anti-racism work goes. First of all, I don't need to know one single SRO, good or bad, personally to have an opinion on the use of openly armed police officers in our schools. Second of all, and to my point above - if your: husband, father, sister, brother, wife, friend etc... is such a great SRO then OF COURSE they would share my outrage when SRO's are shown, across the country, to act in ways that are, at best bullying, and at their worst, an abuse of power that ends in tragedy for, or the arrest of, a Black or Brown kid.
I'm still struggling to find the best way to connect with other white people and especially white women around this idea that it does not MATTER if there are good police officers or SRO's out there - that is besides the point. The point is that the system that police officers and SRO's come from, are trained in, licensed in, evaluated in, reprimanded and censured (or not) in, is a racist system. steeped in white supremacy, that acts in racist ways towards children of color. What particular line of reasoning would resonate strongly enough for someone see that their family member or friend is in a job that while operating under the guise of, "keeping us safe", is in reality, "keeping white America safe and in control", while oppressing the rest of society?
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Heather May is a wife and mother living in Waltham MA. She teaches Communication Studies at a small liberal arts college in Boston and reads Health Care policy for fun. She is passionately committed to Social Justice. She is not a good speller, and her grammar leaves plenty to be desired, but...She is undismayed.