1,089 people have been killed by police since January: A Polemic

This was not the post I planned to write today, but here it is.

As of writing this, 1,080 1,086 1,089* people have been killed by police in the United States since January 1, 2015. (*In 20 24 hours and two three drafts, six nine more lives were stolen.)

I am going to very clear. That is 1,080 1,086 1,089 people too many. As a country, we should be ashamed and outraged. We should not be silent. It breaks my heart that more people seem to be trolling social and mainstream media in defense of white supremacist systems than taking to the streets to demand that this stops Now.

I do not care how many crimes any of these victims did or did not commit. Wanna know why? Because I was taught from a very young age that there is a system of law in this country. And in it, all people are considered innocent until proven guilty. If you have broken a law, you will be arrested and go to court, where a judge or jury decides if you should receive punishment or rehabilitation.

It has become painfully clear that is not true for all people. Innocent until proven guilty is not how it works if you are Black or Brown. As long as a person’s mere presence can be proven a perceivable threat to a cop, even a child’s life can be stolen as no more than an unfortunate circumstance of business as usual. Then beyond that, any misstep that person did (or did not) make is presented against them. As though speaking back to a teacher or stealing something from a store once makes it totally okay that you will not go home to your children, never share another meal with your family, never have another phone conversation with a friend.

On the flip-side, if you are a cop, you may break the law time and time again and still get paid! And with the announcement moments ago that there was a mistrial in the first Freddie Gray trial, how much more do we need to prove that something is terribly wrong here?

I do not think about my own death very often, but I do think about it. I might think about it more than others because I work closely twice a week with a woman whose body is shutting down around her due to ALS. I might also think about it more than others because I have made it my business to look into hundreds of murders by law enforcement to understand how any of this could be acceptable, and to help share the human stories of these victims’ lives, beyond their criminalization after death.  But I do not think about my own death very often.

I do not think about my own death very often because I grew up in Greenwich Village, a safe (and now extremely wealthy) neighborhood. I do not think about my death very often because I am 29 and healthy by almost every standard. I do not think about my own death very often because my jobs do not put me in direct danger. I do not think about my own death very often because, though I’ve been the minority in almost every place I’ve lived in the last six years, I smile and speak with my neighbors and feel safe. I do not think about my death very often because my family has more than enough to exist in comfort. I do not think about my death very often because I am white in Amerikkka. (Yep, I went there.)

However, I am quite sure that should I be killed at the hands of law enforcement, I would be given the benefit of the doubt. A headline might read, “Struggling Activist Actress Dies in Another Cop-Involved Shooting.” None of the weed I’ve smoked would be discussed. All of the attitude I’ve given my parents over the years would not be mentioned (and it was some serious ‘tude–sorry, mom and dad!). No college stories of public intoxication would come into play. The 5 cent bookmark I accidentally left a Scholastic Book Fair with when I was in the 2nd grade would not be brought up (I did sneakily return it after sweating bullets though an entire school assembly, worried that the police would break down the door and find me because I was a bad guy, right?).

I might be called vibrant. I might be described as someone who wanted and fought for a better world. I might be described as a good daughter and a great friend. I would be given the benefit of the doubt. I would be given the benefit of the doubt because I have resources. I would be given the benefit of the doubt because I am white in Amerikkka.

Rikers Protest 10/23/2015

I did not take this photo, (c) whoever did! (Thank you.)

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I did not take this photo, (c) whoever did! (Thank you.)

Rikers Protest 10/23/2015

I did not take this photo, (c) whoever did! (Thank you.)

Rikers Protest 10/23/2015

I did not take this photo, (c) whoever did! (Thank you.)

On October 23rd, I was arrested with 14 other people who participated in a non-violent direct action to Shut Down Rikers Island. Our action was in conjunction with Rise Up October, three days of protest to Demand that Police Murder and Terror End Now.

We sat down in the street outside the road entrance to Rikers Island to Demand that Justice is given to the people who have been murdered behind those bars, to the inmates at Rikers regularly beaten by officers, to the women in Rikers being raped and harassed by guards, to the 80% of the 14,000 people being held without charges because they cannot afford bail or to pay a fine.

We sat down in front of the police barricades, with the dogs behind us (quite literally) because we firmly believe that none of our individual safety means more than any person’s safety who is locked up in this New Jim Crow Era of Mass Incarceration, at Rikers or elsewhere.

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Thanks to fellow Rise Up October volunteer, Darrell, for these shots of my arrest.

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Most of us left the precinct with two summons’ noting acts of disorderly conduct. Two others are facing much more severe charges and have their first court appearance tomorrow.

Yesterday, those of us with lesser charges appeared for the first time in court in Queens. The charges against me and three others in the group had been dismissed, without explanation. The rest of the group ended up getting offered 1-day ACDs, which they took. (I mean…. a one day ACD?!) I am very relieved and also very confused by what happened in court. And someday soon I will write more directly about this arrest and my involvement in Rise Up October.

If any of this moved you because it resonated with you as true, there is room for you in this movement. If it didn’t, I hope that you will seek more information to educate yourself on how you might fit into all of this, beyond ways that are hatefully aimed at breaking down others.

This closing song goes out to Killer Mike, who despite his celebrity, “still spell[s] Amerikkka with a triple K.” Big ups to him and Run The Jewels for keeping the dissent and challenge that has always been a part of hip-hop alive and well.

Oh, and BLACK LIVES MATTER.

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