How Systemic is Our Awareness? (Beyond 19)

What would it mean for reports about Dante Servin, armed off-duty Chicago police officer, and Rekia Boyd, the unarmed 22-year-old citizen he shot to death in March 2012, “to be systemically aware” (see yesterday’s post)?

  • Should we be focusing on a judicial system that let Servin off on a technicality this past Monday (4/20/15)?
  • Should we be focusing on the invisibility of women in the discussion of police killings?
  • Should we be talking about racism in state violence more generally?
  • Or should be we consider the even more fundamental issue of fear?

Rekia Boyd’s story is not a straightforward example of the “unarmed suspect shot” scenario: Servin was not attempting to arrest Rekia Boyd. He appears to have been reacting to belief that her boyfriend was armed (he wasn’t), complicating any discussion of police response to Black women. Servin defends his actions by invoking police protocol, claiming: “Any police officer especially would have reacted in the exact same manner” (see video in ABC7Chicago story linked above). But he was off-duty, and he shot Rekia Boyd following a complaint about noise because he “feared for his life.” So, really, it comes down to fear….

The badges and guns belong to us

John Domen, 12/8/14,  CBS Local story

John Domen, 12/8/14,
CBS Local story

I symbolically embodied Rekia Boyd during a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol followed by a 4-1/2 hour die-in at the Department of Justice on Human Rights Day, December 8, 2014. I chose her name because she was female (like me) and from Chicago (like me). And while I had already left the city by the time I was 22, I feel some connection with a young woman out with friends on her own streets, maybe forgetting that it was late and time to keep the noise down or maybe just forgetting — as my friends and I did often enough — that there were other people around.

During those long, cold hours on the ground outside the Department of Justice, the following passage — one that has stuck in my brain since I first read it — returned to me again and again:

“…Them shootin’ me wasn’t no accident. You don’t take no scared white boys can’t tell the difference between one black man and another, give ’em guns, and let ’em run around the streets of Harlem and then say it was an accident when they one day shoot down an innocent man….”
— Tempest Landry, speaking post-death in Walter Mosley’s Tempest Tales. (NY: Washington Square Press, 2008.)
see also “Declarations of Independence…”

And, while some sectors, particularly Black media, have certainly addressed the topic many times for decades upon decades, mainstream media is still not asking the most fundamental question:


Why do we allow armed police to roam in areas where they fear the residents?

As Collette Flannigan, mother of Clinton Allen (age 25; killed by Dallas TX police), told “Voices of Grief and Struggle” last December:

 

“Those badges and guns belong to us.

Every time they kill they kill in our name.”

That’s a level of systemic awareness I rarely see and believe we must develop, soon.

We counted 19 on the evening of April 22. Tonight, we count….
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Race and Gender and Strength and Boundaries (Beyond 12)

As we come to the close of the omer journey week focusing on strength and boundaries, we should at least begin our reflections on the complex intersection of race and gender. My own time at the computer does not permit a long note today (a blessing, perhaps?), so I offer just a few suggestions:

One place to begin is with Zoe Spencer’s short independent film, Epiphany, an insightful and watchable exploration of related issues:

The answer will not be found
in the crooked hook of some misogynistic rap song
…there are far too many mothers crying
for far too many brothers dying
Far too many buying
trying to undue the stain of inferiority
by placing that new platinum noose around our necks
…I have allowed the history of racism
to separate me from my history
— from the introduction to “Epiphany”

Also consider watching or rewatching the powerful documentary on Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing. There is a lot there to explore, and the anniversary material is quite powerful in its own right.

He had a race.
I had a gender.
Anita Hill Film

Finally, from Nina Simone again:

…You lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears.
And talk real fine just like a lady.
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies….
Mississippi Goddam (1964)

Just scratching the surface on our journey from oppression.

We counted 12 on the evening of April 15. Tonight, we count….
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