When You Can’t Call The Police Because They Might Kill Somebody

Here is a link to a resource for: What to Do Instead of Calling The Police, compiled by Aaron Jones

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The police exist to protect white people and respond to white fear. That is their core function. That is what white supremacy means in practical terms. So until white people say “We don’t need you, we don’t want you killing for us anymore, we are going to stop paying you to kill for us, you’re fired.” Then the killing will likely continue and escalate.

–Taj James

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I sat by my window and I watched. Across the street, a party had turned ugly. The windows had no blinds. It was nighttime and all of the lights were on. I could see into the kitchen. There were too many people in that too small space and each one seemed belligerent and trying to hurt somebody or trying to keep somebody belligerent from hurting somebody. Everyone was shouting. Loud enough to raise the dead.

Their kids had been playing in the street. Before the shouting started. Little black kids running around, racing on their scooters like I used to be.

The fighting was getting intensely physical. People were clearly real, real intoxicated. They knocked the refrigerator down and kept on going.

My heart raced. What should I do?

I knew I wasn’t going to call the police; that’s for damn sure. I knew that these people had a better chance of surviving their own drunk or drugged violent impulses than they did of surviving the police’s sober violent impulses.

I didn’t notice any kids in the rooms with the violent adults. Some were crying outside. Some were in cars waiting for their parents to take them home.

Everyone in the block could hear the shouting. The fighting was loud and public and chaotic.

I was so afraid for them. I was mostly afraid that some neighbor would call the cops. It’s the kind of situation that would inspire that kind of response. I wanted to go over there and try to deescalate it, but I didn’t know how and I was afraid. And if all of those people who were already trying to get the fighting parties to calm down weren’t helping at all, what on earth could I do, but add stress to the situation? I could go over there and warn them that someone might call the police on them and that I didn’t want them to be subject to that, because I wanted them to survive this night, but I knew that no one would hear me. No one could hear anybody over there. The cacophony of angry human voices was incredible. It seemed to go on forever.

I thought to myself, I wish I knew who to call. I wish there were someone safe to call. Someone who could help support them in this moment, make sure the kids were okay, help deescalate the situation and make sure nobody got hurt – or, well, more hurt than they already were, treating everyone with respect the whole time. Mobile mediators for angry intoxicated people. I imagine that even now, most people in the United States think of the police that way. Most white people, that is, of a certain class level.

But there have been too many people who were killed by the police for calling for help. Too many people who were victims of crime being killed because the police thought they were suspects of crime. Too many people who called for the police’s help with a mentally ill, disabled, or distressed family member – someone they loved – only to have the police kill them.

That’ll solve the problem, won’t it? When in doubt, just kill the black person.

Too many, too many, too many. Their stories ran in front of my eyes. Their images. Their names.

I seemed to recall that there had been a workshop that went by too fast for me to catch on that very topic: “What to do instead of calling the police.” I wanted that knowledge so badly just then, transfixed as I was by the human drama playing out in the street below my windowpane.

The only thing I knew clearly was that if anybody called the police, everybody would be in more danger. Everybody on the street and spilling out of the house was black. I thought to myself: “Any of them could be killed by the police tonight.”

I do not pray, but I hoped desperately that they would find a way to calm themselves down before someone called the cops.

After a very, very, very long time, they did.

I was proud of my little neighborhood for having enough care for their lives to let them hurt each other rather than calling the police and putting them in greater danger of death.

For the love of black people, please don’t call the police on black people. Please do anything you can to avoid it. The police cannot be trusted to serve or protect us. They put us in greater danger.

If you are white, please help other white people understand this.

This link contains a list of resources regarding how to understand the function of the police and what to do instead of calling the police. It is provisional and incomplete and growing. If you have additional resources, please post them in the comments and send them to Aaron Jones, the curator of this resource, at the address he provides. If there’s a better resource for this, let me know and I will update this post accordingly.

Many thanks.

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#AlfredOlango  #TawonBoyd #Terence Crutcher #Gregory Frazier

 

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I Paused To Watch Terence Crutcher Die

I was going to do work when I got home tonight. I was going to eat dinner and do some work. I was going to reduce my stress by dealing with my neglected to-do list and tidy up my bedroom. After salmon and salad greens and maybe some quinoa. But, I paused to watch Terence Crutcher die.

I paused to watch him walking with his hands up in the air. I paused to watch him be tazered and fall to the ground. I paused to witness him be shot on the ground, after being tazered, after having his hands up, after being no threat to anyone at all, after his vehicle stalled in the road.

After he needed help because his vehicle had stalled in the road.

A crowd of cops standing around with their guns out like their pants down. A crowd of cops, guns drawn, backing away from what they did. Their murderous fear.

The dash-cam video. Then the helicopter view.

The amused commentary of the helicopter pilots. The grave commentary of the lawyers representing the family. The measured commentary of the family, mastering their grief to call for peace.

I have no commentary. I have not had dinner. I have not done work. I have stalled on the road.

My eyes are fixed. My heart rate is high. My breathing is shallow. My belly is tight. I have been stuck to my seat. I have been arrested in my movement.

Another snuff film, courtesy of the Tulsa Police Department.

This is what lynching looks like in 2016.

This is the sort of thing that gives me pause.

Before This Week, I Have Never Felt Afraid for My Life as a Queer Person the Way I Have Routinely as a Woman and as a Black Person

I highly recommend Staceyann Chin’s powerful, poetic response to the Orlando Massacre.

Staceyann speaks from her perspective as a black, lesbian immigrant, about the experience of coming to this country to evade persecution as a lesbian twenty years ago and being lulled into the false sense of security that so many of us have that things are getting better for queer people – and about what happened when we wake up and see how unsafe we are – and what to do about it – to wave our rainbow flags – to love and celebrate and take action to make change, because, as she says:

“After 20 years of safety, my lesbian body is awake to the terror of what black body, my woman body, my immigrant body, has always known. These barbaric ideologies are only getting bolder and bolder by the proverbial hour, as a whole.

As a whole person I have never been more aware of how race and class and religion and sexuality and hate can converge into some bizarre concoction of violence and rage and prejudice and the vulnerable target of an unsuspecting crowd.

These young men in a dance club, in a dance club in Orlando, were simply looking for a space to love and live and be safe and be celebrated inside the borders of a country whose history whispers the tradition: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” ”

In that first sentence I quoted, she essentializes the truth that has so upended me for the past week. For 22 years, I have been aware of myself as a queer person and for 22 years, I have had the great good fortune and the extraordinary privilege to feel safe in my body as a queer person.

I spent most of those 22 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, so surrounded by queer community that I have had the privilege to feel safe walking down any street holding hands with my lovers, making out at intersections or across the table at restaurants or in airports or in front of kids or cops. As a queer woman, I have not felt afraid that to do so would garner anything more violent than a surprised or rude look or comment.

I have known discrimination as a queer person and I have feared discrimination as a queer person. I have experienced overt and covert homophobia. But, before this week, I have never felt afraid for my life as a queer person the way I have routinely as a woman and as a black person.

I am conscious of my blackness and of my femaleness as sites of past, future, and potential life-threatening violence almost daily.

What must it be like to go through life unlikely to be raped, shot by the cops, or massacred by racists or homophobes? What must it be like to walk down the street, entirely unconscious of your embodiment & what you are wearing & whose hand you are holding, because it is entirely unlikely to be a factor in your assault or your untimely death?

No wonder I and so many of the strong, brilliant, beautiful queer people I know and love have been losing our minds with grief and fear and anger over what has happened in Orlando. It didn’t just kill those 49 people and harm 53 others and those who knew and loved them. I hazard to say that it impacted almost every queer person in this country in a fundamental way. It obliterated our illusion of safety.

Taking away someone’s sense of safety impacts a person on a bodily level, as well as an emotional level. It impacts the physiology of the human being. It isn’t just a theoretical thing that happened; it isn’t just mental or emotional. How many of us are dealing with some kind of trauma based in the realization that our bodies are not safe and have never been safe and may never be safe again?

It is no wonder that queer people all over the country are losing our fucking shit over this. Something happened to each and every one of us, not just to the people who had the horrific misfortune to go dancing at Pulse on the night of the massacre.

I want to acknowledge that not all of us have felt safe. Many of us – maybe even the majority – have known very keenly that we might die for being queer or trans or gender nonconforming. Many of us have lived with that daily fear – the same daily consciousness that hatefulness might result in murder or assault – that I have known as a woman and as a black person. For the very many that have always known fear as queer or trans people, this event may have confirmed and validated the fear that has always been there.

But for many (especially those of us who are younger and cis – perhaps especially cis female – and living in liberal cities) it has been a horrible waking up out of an illusion of safety, a dream that things have been getting better and safer for queer people over the years. I want that to be true so badly that when the worst shooting on American soil in my lifetime targeted brown queer people, I almost lost my mind with the cognitive dissonance of it all.

I am in the center of a bullseye that too many different systemic forms of hatred are taking shots at.

A year ago, almost to the day, I was shaken and unsettled by a massacre that targeted black people. My embodied sense of vulnerability as a black person was renewed. Now it is my vulnerability as a queer person that is getting burned into my nervous system.

This is what intersectionality feels like in my black, queer, female body.

Today, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a white male stranger on the street hailed me and asked, “Do these pants make me look gay? She thinks these shorts make me look gay.” The “she” in question confirmed that she thinks he looks gay in those bicycle shorts and should get rid of them. I reeled. This is a question that a stranger might casually toss out to a person on the street? How socially sanctioned is casual, microaggressive homophobia in this town that you can enlist a stranger to participate in it, less than a week after a queer massacre? I felt sick to my stomach and my heart started pounding and my eyes lost their ability to focus as my fight flight reaction engaged. While I wished I had said, “Well, as a gay person…” and then launched into some succinct and powerful retort that helped wake them up to the impact of their casual homophobia, that is not what I did, because I am newly in fear for my life. Because I am more aware than I have ever been that homophobia is potentially life-threatening, my amygdala took over and I could barely think. I stammered something inarticulate and vaguely gay-friendly and I fled.

Tomorrow, I will figure out how to be brave. Today, I am still integrating the reality of just how unsafe I am.

An Open Letter to My Straight Friend N. In the Wake of the Orlando Massacre of Queer Brown People Like Me

An open letter to my straight friend N., who wrote: “You matter to me. Sending you love from across this country and am mourning with you.”

N., thank you. That means all the world to me. You’re the only straight person who has actually reached out to me directly to make contact with me around this. The grief is so enormous that I barely know how to hold myself together.

I was on a plane yesterday, flying from San Francisco to Pennsylvania, going from my community full of people I love who are as impacted by these events as I am to a place where I don’t have any queer community or anybody who routinely holds me when I cry. It was the loneliest feeling.

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I was so so sad. I cried in every airport and in every airplane. I was full of grief about the loss and the death and the hatred and the homophobia and xenophobia and racism and Islamophobia and I was also profoundly shaken and scared about what it means for queer people and brown people and brown queer people everywhere.

I feel afraid. This thing that has happened reminds me of how vulnerable my body is, how vulnerable my communities are, how impossible it is to stay safe as a brown queer person. My mother keeps telling me things like, if I go dancing make sure to know where the exits are. She’s so scared for me. I keep telling her it is impossible to be safe. Those beautiful innocent people who died didn’t die because they didn’t know where the exits are. They died because this country breeds hatefulness and intolerance and violence. There is no set of rules I can follow to ensure my safety from the violence that comes with hatred.

I will be marching in the San Francisco Pride parade in two weeks. Who knows when and how my life will end? Maybe it will be then.

I have felt so isolated from community – it is scary to come home to the place I left literally because it was too homophobic for me to stay and to be here when I’m dealing with this kind of colossal tragedy. I want to be with all of my people and we are all scattered to the wind, in our separate places. As I talk to some of my queer friends, I notice that that is when we become most distressed, most grief-stricken, most afraid: when we are separated from the people we feel the safest with, when we can’t hold onto each other’s bodies for comfort or for confirmation of their continued existence.

Why isn’t everybody, everywhere in mourning? Crying with me in the streets, on the airplanes, in restaurants?

It feels relieving to hear from my queer friends and to know how they are coping with all of this, to share contact and comfort and to reflect back to them that they are not crazy and that all of their feelings make sense and whatever they need is the right thing to do – and it also feels relieving to hear from my straight friends who care, who get it.

The world is full of straight people. I need to know that you care and that you get it and that you feel it and that you are with us and that the most horrible thing in the universe to me isn’t trivial to you. That I’m not trivial to you. That our lives matter, not just to ourselves.

That helps me feel safer. Less invisible, less like the colossal impact of this horrific nightmare of a situation on queer brown people everywhere will go unnoticed. It helps me feel like there are people, maybe even here in Doylestown, Pennsylvania who might be feeling these things, too, and who might be safe haven or ally.

Feeling reckless, but needing to be in solidarity with my people even when isolated and far from home (especially when isolated and far from home), I put a big button that says “Queer” on the bag I carry everywhere. I couldn’t stand to be invisible as a queer person here, even though I feel more afraid, more aware that my outness as a black, queer woman could cost me my life.

I have been having trouble making words about this situation. I mostly make tears and snot and gasps and gulps of air and racking sobs. Thank you, N., for writing to me and helping me make some sentences, even though many tears were shed in the making of them.

I hope that straight people everywhere will reach out to queer friends and family and co-workers and neighbors to check in. (It is not too late for this. It will never be too late for this. It cannot be done enough.) Let them know that they are seen and cared about and valued, that their lives matter to you. Offer them support and safety and sanctuary. Affirm that whatever they need right now is okay, that their feelings are valid and make sense. Mourn with them and stand with them and activate your resources (of heart, of mind, of time, and/or money) to help make change in this situation. Love is needed and thoughtfulness and education and effort and activism and financial contribution to a wide variety of places. It’s going to take a lot of work to care for all of the people who have been impacted by this situation and it’s going to take even more work to make the changes necessary to transform the culture and change the laws so that things like this (homophobic/racist gun violence) don’t happen in the future.

Please let us know you’ve got our backs. We need you.

Politeness is a Strategy for People With Less Power to Remain Safe From Further Harm by People With More Power

Dear white boysI find myself wanting to repost this, because it represents something that has been really powerful, pervasive, and personally problematic in my life experience – the idea that the white male perspective is logical and rational, and, therefore, beyond reproach and, by implication, that that which involves emotion is inherently illogical, irrational, and/or dismissible. I encounter this phenomenon a lot and it is oppressive.

Yet, I was hesitant to repost this tweet, because the person who wrote it (Ava Vita Ciccarelli) doesn’t mince words and I fear offending some of the very beloved white men in my life, many of whom I have had this experience with, at one time or another.

I have found it very difficult in my life to name things that aren’t working across lines of power – race, class, and gender, especially. It is hard for me to name specific racial dynamics that are happening in the moment between myself and white people. It is hard for me to name specific gender dynamics that are happening in the moment between myself and cis men. It is hard for me to name specific class dynamics that are happening in the moment between myself and people who have substantially more access to resources than I do. In the places where two or three of those intersect, it becomes that much more difficult. I am practicing it more and more, but it is not easy and the fear that I may alienate someone with whom I deeply want to be in connection (friends, lovers, partners, colleagues, neighbors, clients, etc.) creates a powerful prohibition in me that sometimes has implications not only for my well-being and ease of relating but also for my safety.

Naming these things is profoundly taboo in our culture.

“Politeness,” which often involves keeping quiet when people are causing harm or offense, is a strategy for people with less power to remain safe from further harm by people with more power.

I am descended from many lines of people who were able to stay safe from harm by not giving offense to the offender by naming that offense or harm was done. Anything could happen if you told someone with more power than you that they were harming you. Alienation, loss of relationship, withholding of resources, insult, embarrassment, humiliation, censure, defamation, blacklisting, banishment, bullying, threat, rape, assault, arrest, murder. Anything can still happen. I think of Sandra Bland, dead in police custody under mysterious circumstances after she expressed her honest truth to a police officer about the fact that he was harming her without any right to do so.

The knowledge that anything can happen lives in my body daily. There is a man who hangs out on the street where I work. I practice friendliness toward the people I encounter on my way around town. I smile. I nod. I say hello when people greet me. That results in a great deal of men wanting to interact with me in ways that are over-familiar. Today, I was walked to my car by someone who often greets me and I was hugged three times, without regard for mutuality and at the end of the third embrace, I received a peck on the neck. After the uninvited kiss (and having reached the relative safety of my car), I managed to eke out some kind of statement that indicated that it was over-familiar, but it had been over-familiar and non-consensual from the first. I couldn’t find a way to safely deflect the attention, because anything could happen if I did so, so I did not.

I have strayed from the topic of logic, but when I have tried to delete the paragraph on why it is so hard to refute things across power differentials, I keep coming back to it. It feels essential to name the analysis of risk that is present under the surface of people in positions of less power relative to one another.

I don’t bring this up because the examples in my personal life in which I have clashed with a white man who in that moment believed in his superior logical position were as extreme as to make me fear for my physical safety. In most of them, I feared other things. Alienation, loss of connection or relationship, insult, embarrassment, humiliation. But, because the threat of worse consequences lives inside me, all the time, it can be very difficult to speak up and it can feel laden with risk, even when risk of violent reprisal in the specific circumstance is nil.

I posted my dilemma, because while I actually think it is important to talk about this thing (this assumption of logic that simply comes from being in a privileged and dominant social position), it feels risky to do so, and the risk feels important to be naming, also.

I really appreciate the author of this tweet finding a way to name something that is hard to name – and, in doing so, pushing back against the power structure that holds that in place. She did so in her way and I am glad she did so, inspiring me to open up an internal conversation that is useful for me to have with myself (and, by the miracle of the internet, with all of you). Still, I am not 100% comfortable with the language that the person who wrote the tweet uses. I am not sure if my lack of comfort is because I am so accustomed to accommodating people with greater power or because there may be some assumptions going on in the statement that I would not wish to make or because I think that if I present someone I love with that language, I will lose relationship. I would like to find my way of languaging about this oppressive assumption that the white male perspective is logical (and that other perspectives are not) in ways that are clear and honest and direct and have, at least, the potential to build relationship, rather than to alienate the listener. Most of the time, the listener is someone beloved to me, someone with whom I would wish to address with the utmost respect.

I want to find a way of saying something about this truth that I could say to someone beloved to me when it arises, something like, “I hear that you believe in the logic and the rightness of what you are saying, but your perspective is also informed by your social location (your maleness and your whiteness) and the privileges inherent in those positions and that may cause you to have some blind spots in your being able to see things and relate to truth emerging from other perspectives. My point of view has logic and reason, as well, whether you are able to see it from where you are standing, or not. It is not a given that messages with restricted expression of emotion have less bias or even less emotion guiding them than messages expressed with more affect.”

But I’d like to be able to say that in fewer words (and without the word “affect”). You may have noticed that being concise is not my strong suit.

Any suggestions of how to do it clearly and compassionately with fewer characters?