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When I heard the verdict of the police officers who were charged for killing Sean Bell I wept. He died in a barrage of 50 bullets after leaving a strip club. He was unarmed. The officers opted for a Judgment ruling instead of a trial by jury.
On Mother’s day, Michael Byoune was killed in his car after police suspected that he was shooting at them. No gun or weapon was found.
You’d be surprised how little heat it takes to make the palm of your hands feel as if they are burning. I guess it was the contact with the car hood. You would think that the ole’ hand above the candle would hurt more but, naw….through some kinda science, my hands felt like they were on a grill being flat baked. While the officer took his time with our ID’s.
This wasn’t my first contact with cops in, “Alpha Dog” mode. It wasn’t even the worst. Just the worst hood burning because his patrol car had been fighting the steep hills of Altadena, California.
This wasn’t my first “stop”. Or even the first “you fit the description”. Over the years I have fit the description a lot. Especially if I was with a young lady. Especially if she wasn’t Black. I’m not a gangsta by any means. Nor do I profess it or “play” at it. I don’t dress gangsta-ish nor wear rags, colors or signs. I’m not particularly drug dealing flashy nor do I beat women. Don’t smoke weed. I wasn’t raised like that.
Eye staring. Slow tailing. Plate checking. Name calling. General rousting.
These were all patterns I dealt with since 13.
I was the two year All San Gabriel Valley Football Captain whose team won its league. A 13 foot pole vaulter. 6’ 4” high jumper. I was a High School ASB President, Debate Team leader and C+-B- student. And on some weekends, I was a student of intimidation.
I graduated in the middle of my class and went on to attend USC. Walked on and played football, worked, studied and graduated.
And on some weekends, I was a student of intimidation.
I went on to work for KJLH radio, where I helped to win a Peabody award for coverage during a moment in time…but I’ll get to that later.
The worst time I was rousted by the cops I was hit with a billy-club across my knee. Luckily I had graduated and no longer played but, the cop was nervous and I “knew my rights”. Being in LA he told me that he was going to search my 1964 Thunderbird. I told him different.
It’s funny, the side of the knee is far more sensitive than the front. It swells a lot more too. By the time I got home I had a hard time getting my pants off.
The scariest time was when I had to kneel down on the side of the freeway. You never really feel the speed of a freeway until you’re tire high. Staring at hubcaps that could fly off at any second. The sound and even the wind is a lot different at those levels.
These are just some of the moments that were suppose to indoctrinate me into the Law and Order USA. That cops, despite the uniform, were always in charge and had the upper hand. That we were no threat and impotent.
Except that young men and women are smarter than that. They know that rousting some non-drinking, dull ass seniors is chicken shit. The deeper thing is because of a quirk in Black society. No, I’m not a gangster but, Black worlds are so small that we come across one another at some junctures along the social framework. I wasn’t a thug but I played sports with thugs or their brothers.
I knew who some of the big ballas were and I knew that most of those pencil necked coppers stopping us backinda day wouldn’t last 3 mins with those cats. Their “show of strength” had a decidedly opposite effect. We always viewed them as weak punk asses. Barney Fifes who, without a badge, would simply get their asses kicked. The class wimp was always a cop.
We weren’t born with this attitude. We were taught it. Drip by drip. Moment by moment. Roust by roust. Indeed it is an extreme one. One that I had to unlearn…partly. Because as I began to see more of the world, I began to understand that a Black man’s journey, although unique, has general similarities. One of which is that there is a high statistical reality of being harmed or killed at the hands of some kind of authority.
I knew my rights but never really understood them….
LAW and ORDER
Ratified December 6, 1865
Neither Slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
THAT, my people, is the line. The out. The backdoor. The loophole
Slavery is illegal in the USA;
“except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”
From this one line stems much of the animosity and tactics of Black Man/Police relations.
From the informal abeyance of slavery to this amendment, the duty of the police, as applied to us, has always seemed to protect and serve a specific set of social codes…mostly harbored around racism. Yes, uphold the law, but while you’re at it, keep those Blacks in their place. (or Mexicans…or Asians…etc). In fact, we needed a whole new set of laws to force the authorities to live up to this amendment. The Civil Rights legislation had a great deal to do with removing the vestiges of Jim Crow and practical application of terrorist tactics to intimidate and control a population of people who had never been a threat.
Thus, it is easy to see how the USA has the most humans in a prison system in the world,
-1 in 100 Americans
-1 in 9 Black men (20-34)
-$50 billion cost
Here in Cali, you can buy stock in prisons. CRN and the like. Since 1980 prison stock has tripled.
This attitude also isolated Whites in power and, although making them feel superior, dulled them down. In looking at us through the color of authority they often misjudged our anger and willingness to act. So they were shocked at the words of Malcolm X when, in 1962, he spoke after an attack upon the Watts Mosque
“In the shooting that took place, seven men were shot. Seven Muslims were shot. None of them were armed. None of them were struggling. None of them were fighting. None of them were trying to defend themselves at all. And after being taken to the police station, they were held for 48 hours and weren’t even given hospitalization. We have one now who is completely paralyzed. We just got all of them free last night. . . . And this happened in Los Angeles last Friday night, in the United States of America, not South Africa or France or Portugal or any place else or in Russia behind the iron curtain, but right her in the United States of America. . . .”
And they were even more shocked when, in 1965, after 3 more years of brutality, brothas burned Watts.
BY THE NUMBERS
Which leads me back to KJLH. For three days, I covered the 1992 riots. A week before the King verdict, I predicted them. Not because I was a genius but because they weren’t just about Rodney King. That summer had built up tremendous pressure and something had to give.
In the late 80’s drugs blew up and with it the real animosity between criminals and cops. Innocent people would often get caught up in the cross fires. Either between gangs or under the batter ram.
Don’t ever believe the old rap songs that would have you think that Drug dealers in the hood were Robin Hoods. They were hustlers who often made the hood, at most, far more dangerous and at the least, more painful. They weren’t strangers though. They were the kids and parents and siblings of the hood and they were often protected.
But, as we now know, the blight of crack wasn’t a coincidence and neither was its proliferation. Some folk stood up and ended up targets. The ones left would cry out to the cops after just another innocent killing.
An understaffed force would end up looking bad when they didn’t come and worse when it was discovered the at least one whole unit, Rampart, was involved!
And then in the summer of 1991, a few police related incidents occurred. Two of which involved lethal shootings. One where Keith Hamilton was shot nine times in the back at close range after being tasered and bled to death. The police said that he was reaching for a knife…no knife was found. No one was prosecuted.
15 year old Latasha Harlins was killed on her way out of a Korean owned grocery store after her and the owner Ms. Soon Ja Du had a brief altercation. In October 1991, Ms. Soon Ja Du got a sentence of manslaughter.
By the time King’s verdict came down….folk were hot, broke and angry.
Add to that the findings of Federal District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. who found that L.A. Deputy Sheriff’s were “motivated by racial hostility” and that some Lynwood area deputies are members of a "neo-Nazi white supremacist gang", and you have the fuse that lit at Florence and Normandy.
The seeds of intimidation flowered and LA burned again.
Policing is a hard job. It is human intensive. Most of the time, in the city, they are only in situations of stress and pain. When things are escalating or boiling. They are blamed for false arrests and lack thereof. For not showing up when a Latino boy is stabbed by another one whose mother drove him to the crime…or for not arresting any of the persons responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Black males throughout South Central.
They are perceived as pawns of the system whose only job it is to “catch” you and protectors when life and limb is at stake.
The problem is that there are still generations out there who have planted the seeds of our distrust. And followed with action:
1999 (New York) Amadou Diallo was killed in a hail off bullets in his apartment door way holding nothing but a wallet.
2001(Cincinnati) After several other police-incidents, Officer Steve Roach kills unarmed Timothy Thomas while in pursuit. At Thomas’ funeral an impromptu peace march began and was met with a rain of rubber bullets. The city erupted. Officer Roach is later acquitted of all charges.
2002(LA) A lil’ over 10 years after the LA riots… Officer Jeremy Morse was filmed by a bystander punching an arrested and handcuffed Donovan Jackson, 16, in the face. The man who recorded it was extradited to Florida for past warrants. The officers were placed off duty but later sued the city for $2.3 million for race discrimination...and won.
2006(LA) Ivory John Webb Jr., 46, shot unarmed Elio Carrion, Iraq War Air Force veteran, point blank 4 times as Carrion lay on the ground and obeyed Webb’s command. Carrion lived and Webb was acquitted.
Unarmed Sean Bell, 23, was killed with 50 bullets as he exited a strip club the night before his wedding. The police were acquitted.
Inglewood Police shoot and kill Michael Byoune believing that Byoune and his passengers were firing on them. When the car was searched, no weapons were found. The officers have been suspended.
Inglewood was the same PD of Officer Jeremy Morse.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Whether or not these cases are representative of police contact is up for debate but they are all high profile cases in which large amounts of evidence seemingly proved PD fault and where the police walked. This gives a community a sense of helplessness. The kind that can quickly turn into hopelessness and then turned into anger.
And eventually into hate.
And not even personal but worse. That general blanket hate of a system that seems to have no mechanism for justice for the poor or Black or without uniforms. One where cops are REWARDED to beat and kill brown skinned men. And soon every police move is amplified. Every police call is monitored and built into a top heavy tower of perceived badged gangsterism. That “neo-nazi” gang…regardless of the cops color.
We have Preachers who carry our pain, Leaders who direct our energy and even intellectuals who put a voice to our hearts. Indeed, how many White men could die like this at the hands of Black cops before cities burned?
How many White men, if the numbers were reversed, could read this;
And put up with a system that used their bodies and minds to feed a privately enriched prison corporation.
How many could look past the headlines of yet another killing?
How many would hold back still more tears for innocents now dead?
How many could watch yet another mother bury her son through a fog of weakness?
And with each tear shed, how many could feel the pain in their palms that was burned into their memories from a police car’s boiling hood, in Altadena, so long ago...
…and not call it hate?
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