Today I am grateful for NYPDs unintended gift of non-action as I ponder the incredible excesses we’ve encountered with law enforcement in recent weeks.
On every step of the way leading up to the non-indictment announcements and (more so) afterwards, the ones with uniforms and the charge of “keeping the peace” have been the instigators of violent action. After the (police) violence, the mainstream media reports share stories that suggest the object of the violence is the perpetrator. To be sure the protests have been disruptive; there may be individual protestors who have misstepped, but the actions have been and continue to be militant, direct, and non-violent.
…On the night of the no-bill announcement in Ferguson, a mother’s wails were still in the air and McCulloch still droning on the speaker when the uniformed officers were replaced with fully weaponized riot gear teams. The physical declaration of war we witnessed still stops my breath.
…The absurdity was vivid as we 50 of us stood with candles in prayer at the basilica on Christmas Eve while 70 fully weaponized riot-gear-clad soldiers behind us to guard … what? ‘War toys for the Prince of Peace’ was no longer a peacenik taunt but a virtual reality in a city gone mad.
…On NYE, the “storm” at the SLMP was only a “storm” because some of the officers were trying to pull people in the doors while other officers where pushing people out (read: pushing and shoving by police, NOT protestors). As I reflect on the event (having both lived it and watched the videos), I am appalled not by the citizens trying to (lawfully) enter a public building but by the total disarray and subsequent aggression of the officers. Yes, it was a mess; but whose?
…As I stood in the street later that afternoon, linked with a group of unarmed women, we watched a swarm of now armored soldiers march towards us. Armed to the teeth (quite literally) because a group of civilians (12 women, 6 men) were standing in a line on an otherwise quiet city street. We sat down, making clear our non-threatening posture. They continued to advance, some beating their batons, others caressing their sticks. Macabre. We laid down. They walked over us, surrounded us, but their weapons were so ridiculously over powering that they could do nothing. Other officers, less militarized, moved in to arrest us.
…The offense with which we were charged on NYE was city infraction (‘impeding’ traffic), essentially a parking ticket. But in a breach of routine protocol we were not only handcuffed, arrested, and taken downtown, we were fully printed (mug shots and all) and kept on 24 hour holds (some of us had family who were able to get us out after 10 hours with@$150). Even the staff admitted that it was a confusing stray from standard procedure. Why?
Tragically, what I’ve experienced in these recent weeks may be new to me but is business as usual for millions of Americans. In other words, if you have skin privilege (I do), these excesses in law enforcement are new and perhaps unbelievable. Tragically what I, as a protester, have encountered is what millions of Black and Brown skinned Americans have been experiencing on a daily basis now for decades. For people with skin privilege, like me, this is the season to listen.
More than a decade ago, the writers of “The Wire” attempted to draw our attention to the atrocity of the “drug war” and the systemic criminalization of the poor (and people of color); in The New Jim Crow (newjimcrow.com), Michelle Alexander offers a painfully clear analysis. With public policy and tax dollars, we have instituted a “whole damn system, guilty as sin” that is, quite simply, codified white supremacy.
The atrocities in “law enforcement” that I’ve witnessed in these weeks trouble my sleep but steel my resolve. My protest is not about bad/good cops (I know many ‘good’ ones), but about a system that is fundamentally flawed, a system that is built on a faulty foundation that must be exposed before it can be safely rebuilt.
As we enter this new year, this is a time to follow the (albeit unintended) lead of the NYPD. This is the season to pause and listen, really listen, to the cries of the people.