I am very frustrated reading and listening to arguments that suggest Black people are responsible for curbing police brutality. I am of the mindset that eradicating police brutality is not something that will, can or should happen by the hands of Black people. There is nothing Black people need to do or can do that would stop police brutality. Being a community advocate who works with young people is honorable work, but does not impact police brutality. Unless you are responsible for training police officers, funding police officers and giving orders to police officers, how are you empowered to change their behavior? It is the responsibility of police officials, operating within a white supremacist framework, to determine to behave differently and implement protocols to enforce consequence. Black people (and other people of color and those of low socio-economic status) are the victims of police brutality. Other than call for all police officers of color to quit being cops or turn in their police peers who are murdering people, there is little Black people can do. To require a response and solution to this epidemic to be led and solved by Black people is akin to abuse and an aberration of respectability politics. However, Black people can become more vigilant and strategic with choosing the representatives creating the political framework of their communities.
Respectability politics suggest that police brutality wouldn’t happen if somehow Black people stopped doing something. It was familiar to hear that Trayvon Martin was killed by wanna-be cop George Zimmerman because Trayvon wore a hoodie. But, that theory was debunked when we see every day that Black people who dress professionally are killed or badgered by police as easily as those in sagging jeans and white undershirts. You can look at my mother, Karen Holt-Williams, who was killed by a Maryland State Police cadet on August 1, 2014 while driving on I-95 to her last class for a course she was taking to prepare her for her work as a teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools. Dressed in a conservative clothing, my 59 year-old mother was killed in her car, side-swiped by a speeding police cadet and the cadet still has not been tried in court.
Black people can be pre-adolescent children playing with toys and get killed; look at 12 year-old Tamir Rice who was at a playground holding a toy gun, doing nothing, gunned down within seconds of the police driving up on him.
Black people who have respectable jobs can get killed; look at school employee Philando Castille who was gunned down in his car sitting beside his girlfriend during a routine traffic stop.
Your clothes, your job, your age and your income can’t control whether a police officer will inflict brutality. It is up to that officer and the policy governing and punishing his/her behavior. The next steps for African-American community as we exist within this context where police brutality is rampant and unpunished can begin with selecting community representatives who push for policies that serve us. In the case of Michael Brown, “Ferguson has been pegged as an outlier but, though the representation gap in Ferguson is particularly pronounced, its basic story of African American underrepresentation plays out in many communities across the country. Of the 438 municipalities in which a descriptively representative council would have at least one African American member, 175 have councils that underrepresent their African American populations . That leaves more than 1.2 million African Americans underrepresented by their local councils nationwide. “
In closing, what Michael Brown’s murder and the subsequent murders at the hands of police—from Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray to Philando Castille and Eric Garner—have shown us is that next steps for the African-American community response lie in us choosing personal accountability by choosing authentic legislative representatives who work on our behalf to push through policy to punish police officers and to, in general, honor our humanity by protecting our best interests and basic ability to exist without fear of police brutality and retribution. The power to change ultimately lies within the hearts of the murderers with badges who continue to exist unchallenged by their peers and the system to do and be better.
Wanted to thank the Morgan State University chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority for notifying me that I am the recipient of the their annual Book Scholarship award for this blog post which I submitted as an essay for a $350 book scholarship. I am currently a doctoral student in Morgan State University’s Higher Education/Community College Leadership program and this scholarship will go a long way!