Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Privileged Perspective on Police Brutality

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2016 at 4:02 PM

click to enlarge KATHERINE COPLEN
  • Katherine Coplen

[Editor's note: This guest editorial was written before news broke of the shooting in Dallas, Texas that took the lives of five police officers and wounded seven others.]

I'm white. Most of my ancestors are from England and Germany. I sunburn easily, I can't rap, and "mild" is the spiciest salsa I can handle.

Because I am white, I don't stand out in my (predominantly white) hometown of Kokomo, Indiana. I don't have to worry about speaking for all white people when I discuss race. When I am pulled over by the police for speeding, my main concern is how I'm going to pay for the ticket, not if I'm going to make it out of my car alive.

Growing up, I was constantly told that if I'm ever in trouble and my parents weren't around, a police officer would be willing to help me. In the case of an emergency, I was always instructed to call 911 first, then my parents. Policemen were the "good guys" who were there to protect me.

This is not the case for Americans who are not white, especially Black Americans. However, I'm not addressing non-white Americans right now. You already know about the constant state of fear and oppression non-white Americans deal with, because you live that reality every day. You're not the issue.

White people, including myself, are the problem. We perpetuate racism, spewing microaggressions and hurtful stereotypes. We deflect from the root issue by arguing that the victim had a gun; he was resisting arrest; the police officer was acting in self-defense. We ignore the fact that white criminals also have guns and resist arrest, but somehow manage to stay alive during their encounters with the police. We cry #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter in response to the pleas of #BlackLivesMatter, a very basic statement that shouldn't ever be refuted. We dig up irrelevant facts about these Black victims and their families in order to label them "criminals" and "thugs," while we search for any available evidence in order to prove that our white criminals are just "lone wolves," "mentally unstable" or "quiet and reserved."

Our stout refusal to reflect on our inherent and rampant racism is literally killing people. Over 130 Black Americans (and counting) have been killed by police this year alone, and it's only July. Some were armed; some were not. Some had a criminal history; others did not. It doesn't really matter. A police officer should not act as the jury, judge and executioner, with the exception of extreme cases of self-defense. However, these are not extreme cases. People, Black people, are dying because they have a broken taillight, because they forgot to use their turn signal, because they were selling loose cigarettes.

Our police officers need to be educated on de-escalation tactics, crisis intervention, implicit bias and other topics that will help to stop the disturbing pattern of police violence in this country. Body cameras should be consistently implemented and regulated, and the recordings should be made readily available to the public. Officers need to be held accountable for their actions and data on police shootings should be collected and released.

As white people, we need to be better allies to Black people. We need to listen to their perspective, believe them when they vocalize injustices that have been railed against them and educate ourselves on relevant issues. We also need to elevate their activism  —  share their posts, use your networks to connect them to various resources and support them in their fight for justice. Additionally, it's important for white people to call out other white people on racism and prejudice. Work on changing the white spaces you currently operate in to make them more accepting and safe for Black people.

Recognize your privilege and leverage it to do good.

We can all do better. Talk to your state representatives about the issue of police brutality. Educate yourself about systematic racism. Look up if the police in your city are required to wear body cameras. Support and listen to your Black friends. Call out other white people's racism.

White people need to recognize our implicit responsibility for violence against Black people and fix this mess that we have created through centuries of racism and violence.


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Rachel Baker

Rachel Baker is an engineering student t Purdue University and a Kokomo, IN native.

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