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Excusing the inexcusable: the perpetual violence of law enforcement officers

It just keeps happening. It’s like watching reruns of that same awful ass episode on TV, except while the storyline stays the same, the central characters change. Same story, different day, different family and community destroyed. Each time it happens it’s like another piece of your heart gets ripped out, another part of your soul gets crushed. You either have to numb yourself, which isn’t an answer, or reopen that wound each time and feel dehumanized all over again. It’s physical and psychological warfare. It’s mental trauma. And it affects all of us, whether we knew the person or not.

It’s exhausting waking up to another hashtagged name. Before you can process what happened to one person, you’ve found it’s happened to yet another. Yesterday it was Alton Sterling (say his name). Today Philando Castile (say his name). Each incident more vicious than the last. And the one today, particularly heinous, in that a woman had to live stream her boyfriend’s execution while their four-year old child watched.

The worst part of it is the excuses. The mental gymnastics that individuals and society go through to try and excuse away what happened. To make it not about race. To make it not about an inherently fucked up system. To mitigate or lessen the hurt. They use the same playbook every single time.

  • Post the victim’s mugshot
  • Dig up every additional negative image you can find of the victim
  • Dig up their criminal history
  • Dig up their family’s criminal history
  • If you can’t find a criminal history, find some negative testimonial about his or her character
  • Talk about what a great character the officer had
  • Let us know that you’ll withhold judgment until you “have all the facts”
  • Always talk about what we didn’t see before the video started rolling
  • Offer hypothetical scenarios of what would have happened if they hadn’t shot to kill to justify the killing
  • Discuss at length what actions the victim should or shouldn’t have taken in order to prevent his/her own victimization
  • Discuss at length what the officer must be feeling/thinking
  • Never bring up the officer’s past history with internal affairs, or even any civilian complaints
  • Offer hollow sympathy to the family of the victim
  • Make sure to mention how the officer’s family is victims as well

And the list just goes on.

And even though I know the playbook forward and backwards, I can’t help but find myself complicit in trying to find something, ANYTHING, to warrant what happened. It’s like if I can just find some kind of justification for that officer snatching someone’s life in cold blood, then maybe I won’t have to add another reason to fear law enforcement. Maybe I won’t have to be enraged when the law enforcement officer faces no consequences and all the internet comments agree with that outcome. Maybe I won’t have to spend the day fighting back as many tears, because even though a life will still have been lost, I could at least understand where the situation was construed as dangerous and the officer had to make a quick decision.

But then I catch myself. There aren’t any excuses. There aren’t any justifications. Not when we see countless actively dangerous white criminals taken down and taken into custody ALIVE. Not when white serial shooters and serial killers make it to their day in court while brown and black folks gunned down in the street and left exposed were at worst doing something petty, but typically were doing nothing at all except minding their business or trying to be cooperative.

Time and again it’s made clear that the only weapon we must possess to warrant our execution is our blackness. That’s it. Our blackness is what causes law enforcement officers to “fear for their life,” to see us reach for weapons or “something” that isn’t there or is as innocuous as the wallet holding the ID they asked us to produce, to be incapable of physically restraining us despite our being outnumbered, to view us as unworthy of medical aid even after they’ve brutalized us, to view as wild animals only able to be tamed by a bullet.

The worst thing you can do right now is participate in excusing what happened, or trying to mitigate the pain by “wishing it didn’t happen the way it did” or introducing any type of “but…” statement in order to shift any portion of the responsibility back on to the victim. Your doing that is being complicit in this sick system that sends condolences and prayers and rhetoric while blocking any and all meaningful actions to produce an actual change.

We live in a white supremacist (cis-hetero-patriarchal) system. This violence and the lack of repercussions won’t stop until we dismantle the system. And that takes the active and meaningful and difficult participation of every single person in this country. Don’t profess your Christianity (or whatever religion or morality you abide by), live it. Don’t send condolences, send your votes to people with receipts for the continuous work they’ve been doing and not folks who come out of nowhere in an election cycle to stand on a platform today, that yesterday they were trying to kick other people off of. Don’t run your mouth about gun rights and the second amendment and then be silent when black people with the same rights are denied those rights.

And most of all, don’t call me your friend or your sister or your ally, if you’re not willing to make yourself uncomfortable–to confront your participation in a racist system and do the work to dismantle it. Every. Single. Day.

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