It’s hard to look to our neighbors in the south now, and not see the simmering pot of tension and socioeconomic repression and not feel something. Three tragic incidents happening, in such a small frame of time; all pertaining to a visible minority being killed by the police. I watched the Eric Garner video for the first time this weekend and I was physically sickened by what I saw. I have a strong stomach for violence, so that’s not easy to do. But I am not alone in my reaction of rage, confusion and disgust. Watching a man, who is obviously not engaged in any criminal activity, being wrongfully harassed and then killed by a swarm of police officers, should only evoke these kinds of feelings. If it doesn’t, you’re either living in a fantasy world, or you’ve lost your humanity.I’ve seen counter-arguments to the ‘perceived injustice’ of Eric’s murder. “He was a criminal. The man who filmed the incident was a criminal.” These are actual counter-arguments put forth, defending the police officers and judgments involved. As far as I was able to discover with my internet sleuthing, the only ‘criminal’ charges ever suggested with Eric’s fingerprints on them, were for pot and cigarette selling. On the scale of dangerous crimes, those are pretty low. Certainly lower than aggravated assault leading to manslaughter/ murder. And if Eric was to be charged for these crimes, then it is the police department’s primary job to bring this unarmed “villain” in to face justice. Unarmed is really the peroxide on the wound here. If I recall, in two of these three recent incidents, the victims have been unarmed. The third was a child brandishing a play-gun, without its colorful-safety tip, we’re told. Yet still, unless we’re in Uganda, a child with a gun should not trigger any reasonable calls for termination, but instead calls of: “What have you got there, son? Is that a gun? Please disarm slowly.” Reports indicate that Rice was shot within seconds of the police arriving on the scene—I don’t know how much of a conversation could have taken place.
“It’s not a racial issue.” Well, this is partially true. In a very broad sense, the shooting of three visible minorities occurred because of social, financial, educational and political stymieing. It occurred because of a prevalence of gun, drug and gang culture (which, ironically, flourishes due to the aforementioned), and a hyperactive police officer, or officers, who were not adequately trained or interested in exercising empathy. A disassociation happened somewhere, between the protectors and the people who are to be protected. A hive-mindedness of prejudice where the ones with power began to look up elements of the society that they are meant to serve with spite. I saw this in the hospital, with mom. Among the many incredible angels in the field of hospital care, I saw just as many nurses who’d lost their compassion, who were crude, rough and unsanitary with their patients. I watched a nurse in ICU drop an uncapped IV-needle on the ground and then pick it up and attempt to stick it into my mother—who was then in a coma due to bacterial pneumonia. If I had not been there to say: what the fuck do you think you are doing? I can only imagine what complications would have occurred. So part of the problem, and only part of it, is that we have people in these positions of service to the public, people who are supposed to be our guardians and caregivers, who have become embittered by what they’ve seen. This is natural, I suppose. It happens to soldiers, doctors, police officers, anyone who experiences humanity’s highs and lows on a regular basis. When you live in violence and death, breathing it in and out every day, then that is what suffuses your body and soul. That is all you know.
The irritating thing, is that looking at the problem objectively, you can see where all these different issues converge on axes to form incidents. Any solution to shootings like this will need to be multi-pronged, and I can understand why politicians and pundits focus on the most tangible, visceral aspects—such as race, or how it’s ‘not about race’—because to do any different would reveal a massive societal infection. It would reveal a stage four lymphatic cancer of apathy, ghettos, flawed public education and schooling, a gap in emotional and psychiatric support for law-enforcement, and heinously misallocated government spending. Stopping future Eric Garners (and horrifically, there will be more), requires addressing every one of these issues, and at least a dozen more I haven’t mentioned. I’m quite convinced that politics is more about containment than treatment of society’s cancer.
As a bi-racial child, I know, firsthand what prejudice feels like. One of the moments that stands out the most from my childhood was a homeless person addressing me as I sat on a bench in downtown Barrie while waiting for my friends. The conversation went like this (and I’m not paraphrasing):
“Hey pak*, move over,” says Shoeless Joe.
Christian looks around, perplexed. “Are you talking to me? I’m not Pakistani.”
“Well you’re a ch*nc, n*gger, or something. Move over.”
“Go fuck yourself, you homeless piece of shit.”
From this exchange, and as an older, more empathetic adult, I can see a number of wrongs and things that I would have done differently. First, I should not have insulted the man in return, nor attacked him for his impoverishment. If I was less raw, less sensitive, less teenage, I could have responded to hate with kindness. There’s no guarantee that will get you anywhere, although it’s generally a good idea to put out positive energy into the world, since the output of negative energy is so much higher. I’ve talked about the kindness “ripple effect” before, and while I still stand by that dogma—being polite and sincerely courteous to your fellow man, which in turn encourages similar reactions and chain-reactions in others. I do, however, think it’s naïve to believe that kindness alone will cure the sort of cancer that I’m talking about today.
We need a bit of rage to break out of the complacency, to give us the bravery to look at the ugly issues. We can’t keep silent, keep calm, because this is not the sort of issue that can be safely contained. It only adds to the simmering, soon boiling over pot of classism, racism, crime, immorality, and frustration. I would hope that the US isn’t headed in the direction of a civil war—that sort of uprising seems inconceivable in the modern age, in a first world nation—but all of the ingredients are there.
I’m sorry that I don’t have a happy note to end this blog on, but it just hasn’t been a very happy week. Just do what you can folks. Be kind. Be involved. And I guess, more to the point of this particular piece, please remember: there is only one race. The human race. Racism is a social construct. If we made it, we can unmake it. Humans are damn good at destroying things, so let’s channel that energy in the right direction.
All my love,
P.S. When I speak of anger as a powerful, positive impetus, I mean when the emotion produces an impassioned outcome such as this, and not violence: