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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Flashing lights on my block

Hearing gunshots is all too common in my neighborhood. "Hearing" is a relative term, however, because you are not really sure how close or in what direction the shots are coming from. Not unlike the controversy of the grassy knoll in Dallas when Pres. Kennedy was shot, it is difficult to discern the exact location of gunshots because sound bounces off of buildings, the caliber of the bullets changes the sound, etc.

Last night I heard shots on my block. I looked out and saw a couple of guys who started to run. Then I saw a police car cruising up. This never happens - the police were at the right place at the right time. The guys ran into my neighbor's house across the street, which sees its share of drama in the multi-generational family group that lives there. Police cars are like mushrooms - they spring up in the dark and multiply quickly. Before I knew it, there were 4 squad cars with lights and police milling about. The police in my neighborhood are not stupid and once they assessed the situation they turned down their lights to the baby flashers and most of the cars left their lights off. This keeps down the anxiety level of the neighbors who don't want spotlights and disco flashing lights invading their homes. I stepped out on my porch like any good nosey neighbor to see the show. Several people were sitting on the ground being questioned. The cops investigated my car, parked on the street, with a flashlight and proceeded to come ask me questions. Here is where it gets tricky.

Most white people of middle class standing have a belief in the police department that they are the good guys, we should support them, and that we should cooperate with them. This is brought on by the fact that we see ourselves as likely victims of crime and that the perpetrators probably won't look like us. Therefore, the police are on our side. This perception of police does not carry over to the minority community or people of color. Most cops in my city are white. I have never seen a cop of color in my neighborhood. If white cops think like white people, then what feelings, assumptions, and sentiments do they bring into my neighborhood? Are you seeing where this is going? Think of the movie Crash and the duplicitous part played so well by Matt Dillon the white police officer with a chip on his shoulder. "Don't snitch" is the byword on my street and sometimes that advise is well founded.

But you don't have to have a chip on your shoulder to still go into an interracial situation with preconceived notions. I know this because of my own reactions to this little drama on my block. One of the people in the group was a white girl. She ended up in handcuffs and questioned separately (probably because of her role in the situation, not because she was white). I had some immediate feelings when I saw her being questioned - what was she doing in this group? did she have a clue what this crowd was up to or was she just a hood wanna-be? I felt empathy for her because she was white. I couldn't help it, it just is. I don't know her, I don't know the other people who were questioned, but I felt differently about her than the others. What do the white police feel? Sure they have their protocol and their routine. They aren't going to be stupid, because this white girl could be armed and shoot them as easily as anyone else could. But once they assess the situation, does she get less lip? Do they give her just a touch more room? Do they use a softer touch? It's subtle; but remember the issue of power and consider that all white people feel a sense of privilege in an interracial situation. Black people know this and will see the situation in quite different terms than whites do. And this leads to confrontation.

The way to stem violence and create community is to recognize the imbalance of power inherent in a racial situation. Some police understand that, but many do not. People of color anticipate that a white cop will demonstrate the power of white privilege and write it off to the power of being a police officer. The differences between the two are vast and until white folks understand this, I don't expect much to change in my neighborhood.

I'm so tired of white people saying that statistics don't lie and it is black people who are doing all the crimes. Indeed, there are a disproportionate number of people of color who are arrested, convicted, and sent to jail. Don't always assume that this is evidence of the number of people that are guilty. Maybe white people get let go with a warning or cop a plea and serve no jail time. It happens.

1 comment:

Lance Weber said...

I like the honesty of your style.

Keep up the great work. There is no doubt (and there are studies to prove it) that blacks are prosecuted at disproportionate rates in each phase of the criminal justice system, from the cop on the street to the types of charges that are filed to the sentencing.

Thought you would be interested in this story about how the stories of rampant crime in New Orleans after Katrina were made up. Whatever racial tensions that there may be in America are inappropriately used to advance social agendas for personal gain. More candid and forthright talk like what is here on your blog is needed to heal the wounds of Black Slavery. Thanks for writing.