Crash: Race, Police and Perspective

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Ferguson_Day_6,_Picture_53

 

 

Have you ever seen the movie Crash starring – among others –  Don Cheadle (my celebrity crush), Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Larenz Tate, Ryan Phillipe and Terrence Howard?  It was nominated for 6 Academy awards (2004) and won 3 including Best Picture, Best Film Editing and Best Original Screenplay.   Crash is a not so subtle crime drama about the intersection of racism, elitism and xenophobia in the lives of Los Angelenos.  While it is true that the way the various storylines are woven and the dialogue sometimes makes the movie seem contrived, the actual spirit of the movie is dead on; particularly as I sit here and watch the protests of the Eric Garner grand jury decision on CNN.

In the movie, Matt Dillon plays (convincingly I might add – he was excellent) a blatantly racist cop who’s outspoken and inappropriate behavior makes his new rookie partner (played by Ryan Phillipe) very uncomfortable.   Phillipe is young, fresh and idealistic and believes  – or at least he thinks he believes – that we all should be treated fairly without any preconceived notions based on race and/or ethnicity.  Along the way, Phillipe’s character encounters Larenz Tate whose character  is living the thug life while carjacking people with his buddy, played by rapper turned actor Ludacris.   At some point Phillipe becomes acquainted with Tate and a superficial relationship forms.  All along Phillipe wants to push away the racial stereotypes being espoused by his partner and society, but you can see him bending under the pressure.  Ultimately this culminates in one of the saddest and most powerful scenes in this movie when Phillipe sees Tate hitch-hiking on the side of the road and stops to give him a ride.  After grilling him about his whereabouts and not believing his answer, Phillipe and Tate are riding along when Tate notices a statue of St. Christopher in Phillipe’s car and comments about how they are indeed not that different.  Phillipe scoffs at the notion.  Of course the two of them are different; he’s a cop and Tate’s a criminal.  In order to prove his point, Tate reaches inside his jacket to pull out his statue of St. Christopher to show Phillipe, who immediately becomes nervous because he doesn’t believe Tate is reaching for a statue, but rather a gun.  Tate assures him that he is just reaching for his statue and Phillipe panics and shoots him. Phillipe looks in Tate’s lifeless hand and sees the statue.  He then dumps Tate’s body and sets his own car on fire to destroy the evidence.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but you get the picture.  You should watch the movie.

Let’s get this out-of-the-way first:  I have had no personal problems with the police.  In no way am I saying that all police are corrupt or racist.  What I am saying is that all police are human. They are not superheroes, although often they are heroic.  Police, just like doctors, lawyers, teachers, zoo keepers, bakers, computer technicians, phlebotomists and absolutely EVERYONE  are influenced by their environment and life experiences.  It is unreasonable and irresponsible to believe that police officers do not bring personal bias into their job because we all do.  That’s normal.  To take it a step further, if you look at the origins of police departments and their role in policing Blacks and other minorities, all of this unrest over Ferguson and New York makes a lot more sense.  Obviously Mike Brown and Eric Garner are not the first Black men to die at the hand of a police officer and they won’t be the last.  This is nothing new to the Black community, however social media has made it new outside of the Black community.   The world has now taken notice.

When it comes to African-Americans, most of whom lived in the south during the 1800’s, the establishment of police groups was never intended to serve or protect us.  They were established with the express intent to control us.  Originally serving as slave patrols to capture runaway slaves, they also served to intimidate slaves to dissuade them from trying to escape.  As time went on and the end of slavery came. the job of the police didn’t evolve much.  They still served to intimidate Blacks, enforce new segregation laws ( Jim Crow), and control any civil unrest that later came with the Civil Rights movement.   There is this really interesting article entitled The History of Policing in the United States written by Dr. Gary Potter, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University School of Justice Studies.  It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the prelude to modern-day policing in America however, it is very informative.  Keep in mind that we are talking about hundreds of years of an intentionally adversarial and brutally oppressive relationship between police and Black people. Now, just being logical, how do you think that would turn out?

I know that this isn’t going to be a fun or sexy read where I’m all ragey with indignation. Believe me, I’ve done that – in my home, on social media comment threads, while watching television coverage of protests and listening to commentary.   However, I think that we must look to history to gain the proper perspective because we are not talking about something that is new to this country, just new to this generation.  I do know that there are those of you that will not go with me because you think it’s all BS.  That’s fine.  In fact shut it off now.  However, for those of you who are really trying to get it, to understand how to move forward, looking to our past is necessary. This didn’t happen in a bubble.  It has taken hundreds of years.

Okay, here we go.

According to a study conducted at University College in London, it takes a person on average 66 days to develop  new habit (habit: a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously).   So often we think of a habit as being something innocuous like starting each day with a banana and cereal or going to the gym over our lunch hour or my complete obsession with q-tips.  Habits can also be ways in which we think about or treat others based on some subconscious or unintentional conditioning.  What does this have to do with policing and African Americans?  Well, here’s a brief history lesson.

1607:  The first settlers came to Jamestown.

1619:  The first documented African slaves were brought to Jamestown.

1704: The 1st Slave Patrol was established in the Carolina colonies.  Slave patrols were the predecessor to police departments in the South.

1787:  The Constitution was signed.  The Constitution granted no rights to African slaves.  The Constitution was not originally written for African slaves.

1838: City of Boston establishes the first police department. By the mid to late 1880’s all major cities had municipal police forces.

1863: The Emancipation Proclamation was signed.  This was NOT the end of slavery.

1865: The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the Unites States was ratified. THIS was the end of slavery.

1866: The Civil Rights Act of 1866 gave full citizenship to African – Americans.

That took 247 years, from the time the first slaves arrived  to being granted citizenship.  Plenty of time to form a habit.   If you look at this time line, you’ll see that policing was established right in the midst of slavery,  particularly in the south where most people of color lived.  We were not treated like human beings, but rather as property to be bought and sold, beaten and killed with no regard for our families and well being.  The bigger and stronger we were, the more money we brought at auction.  Yes, auction. You know, where we now bid on vacation weekends, and sporting event tickets?  The items up for auction were once people.  The reality of it is disgusting and tragic, but that is the reality in which these policing units were birthed.  Under the circumstances, there was no need for mutual respect.  Police (overseers and slave patrols) had power and slaves had fear.    In fact, if you take this timeline even further to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that put an end to Jim Crow and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,  you have 346 years of official inequality toward African-Americans.   346 years.  Think about that.

So where do these attitudes come from toward Blacks? That we are to be controlled and subdued?  That our lives are less valuable?  That if given too much freedom our neighborhoods would become “…like the wild west…” (sadly, I’m quoting Charles Barkley)?  Why do Black view the police with mistrust and animosity?  We only need to look to our own history.  This country and our policing agencies have a habit of treating Blacks and other people of color poorly.  Have we evolved as a country?  Yes,  with a lot of hard work and lives lost from all kinds of people who believe in justice.  Do we have further to go? Yes, with more hard work for all kinds of people.  I know that there are those who say all of this history stuff is done… in the past… let it go.  Here’s what I say to you:  Everything and everyone has a history.  It may be 10 minutes or 10,000 years long, but history is the foundation on which we stand.  I see history as a valuable tool to learn from and I firmly believe that you can not make any significant progress until you fully understand how you got to where you are, no matter how ugly it is.

I’m all for respectful dialogue that leads to real plans of action, but we have to be honest with ourselves and each other.  If  you’re a bigot and you’re comfortable with that, then say so.  Really, it’s okay and I have a lot of respect for honesty.  However, move over because you’re in the way of people who feel otherwise.  It’s possible that we all have developed racially biased habits that are the result of years of conditioning that we have to work to reverse.   It is a conscious effort to change from within, not just our policing, but ourselves.

Remember that scene from the movie Crash that I told you about earlier?  Remember how I said that at times the movie seemed contrived?  Late last month, a young man by the name of Akai Gurley was walking down the stairs of a New York City housing project with his girlfriend when he was shot by a police officer.  There was no confrontation, Mr. Gurley (28) wasn’t in any trouble, he was unarmed and in fact he and Officer Peter Liang (27) never actually came face to face.   No one really knows what happened , but the New York City Police Department and Officer Liang admit that it was a horrible accident.  You can read the New York Times article here, but I can not think of any form of an apology that can make up for that.  Officer Liang is reportedly devastated and stated that “It was so dark, I was so scared” when he entered that stairwell.  I’m sure he was.  My heart goes out to him as well. That movie doesn’t seem so contrived anymore, does it?

 

 

Be Careful, the Children Will Hear You

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Photo Credit: Creative Commons.org

Photo Credit: www.CreativeCommons.org

 

As parents we have such a huge responsibility to raise caring and  compassionate children and escort them into adulthood.  As adults our thoughts, actions and words are out there in the atmosphere for consumption and believe me, children will hear you.   So much of what they learn from us isn’t directly communicated to them.  Rather it’s through our exchanges with others, what types of movies and television we watch and even the books that we read. Our kids use all of this to interpret a lot of our attitudes and  feelings about their world.  That frightens me sometimes.  Often I think I’m not doing my job when it comes to what type of messages I’m sending to my kids, but I’m positive that I can not control everything they see and hear. We, all of us, have a responsibility to be thoughtful with our words and actions because their impact can be far-reaching.

My daughter, Thing 1 is currently tackling 3rd grade.  If you’re unfamiliar with 3rd grade girls, friendships are a very important part of school.  Sometimes more important than everything else (unfortunately).  At any rate, Thing 1 and a new friend were working on a research project together, via the internet, and as kids often do they became a bit distracted.  The girls decided that they wanted to do research on each of their specific religions.  We are Christians and her friend’s family is Muslim.  Keeping in mind that the school has internet security and filters in place, the first item that appeared from the search on the Nation of Islam is that “Islam is not a religion of peace.”  This young girl read on and began to cry.  Thing 1 decided that it was best to change the topic and comforted her friend the best way that she could – she turned off the iPad, gave a hug, told her that obviously the person who wrote that was stupid and offered a piece of candy at lunch.  I thought the candy was a good move.

The thing is, the person who made that statement didn’t think about the young, tender hearts who may read it.   This child knows her loving, peaceful biological family and the loving support of her religious family.  That’s it.  She does not identify with the extreme images and narratives in the media and neither do most Muslims.  That’s why they’re referred to as extremists Extremists exist in every religion.

I find it very frustrating to repeatedly see Christians portrayed in the media as religious fanatics.  There’s story after story about how we turn out to be child molesters, wife beaters, fear mongerers and irresponsible parents who let their children die instead of seeking medical assistance believing that it’s some test of faith. This is just the short list. Do these descriptions fit some of us? Yes, but not all. In fact the vast majority of us do not do any of this  – not even close.  We’re pretty normal people.  We do believe in modern medicine.  We have the same family issues as anyone else and if you care to invite us over, we just may sit down and have a beer with you while watching a football game.  I get that normal doesn’t make a very interesting news story and, of course who can resist pointing out blatant hypocrisy.  However, what we (Christians) don’t seem to understand is that the same distorted lenses that we are being viewed through is being used to view others.  It is my day-to-day interactions with those of the Muslim faith that let me know that they are not inherently violent people.

There’s nothing better than a child to put things into perspective for you.  My girl was very sad that her friend’s feelings were hurt by what they read on the internet.  They’re not old enough to be discerning, but they are old enough to know when something is plain wrong.   I said to her “You do know that is not true, right?”

“I know momma. She’s really a nice girl and not mean or violent at all.”

“As Christians, what did Jesus tell us we are supposed to do?”

“Love each other,” she said.

“Love only other Christians?”

“No. Love EVERYONE! Except sometimes that’s hard because people can do mean or annoying things. Like when….”

Right here, I’m skipping over a whole conversation about how hard it is to love even your sister when she chews with her mouth open and other stuff that’s irritating.  You get the picture?  Finally, I  interrupted by saying “…but does any of that matter to Jesus?”

“No.  We have to love them anyway.”

“I think that you handled it beautifully.  You keep loving on (your frined) baby girl.”

“I will momma because that’s how you show God’s love. Nobody wants to hear about God if you’re being mean.”

And there it is.  Once again, the 8-year-old gets it when so many adults do not.

 

 

NaBloPoMo November 2014

Saying Something When You Have Nothing to Say

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This is the hard part about blogging every day.  I have nothing of importance or urgency or even mild interest to say.  Not writers block because believe me I tried.  I went around this whole day looking for inspiration, but nothing happened.  Granted, I spent most of my day in my daughters’ bedroom changing out the summer clothes to the almost summer clothes (in south Texas it really is just a summer cool down).  It was crazy! Clothes and stuffed animals were everywhere. At one point I wanted to burn it all and start from scratch. Or, at the very least throw away some stuff…just because. But I’m sure that as soon as I do that, one of them is bound to say “What did you do with my yellow (or red, or green) shirt?  You know the one with the gold sparkles and the red stitching down the side that I wore one time last year at the park by that fat tree near the lake where we saw that kid I know from VBS?”   I’d be expected to remember that.  I didn’t throw anything away.   Instead, I put the hot weather clothes in boxes for the cooler months and put the less hot weather clothes out for them to try on.  I worked diligently for hours, well when I wasn’t checking Facebook and cursing the fact that my girls have inherited my love of shoes and accessories.  I looked for something to blog about and even played around with some lead in sentences.  Nothing.

The remainder of my day was more normal.  Typical fight over homework with my 3rd grader whom I’m sure now thinks I’m a troll.  Ask me if I care – stay off my bridge, honey.  Dinner  was nothing Pinterest worthy and my youngest daughter wouldn’t even eat it (#sheisnotmyfavorite).  I left the older one with dad to finish studying for a test (because he, too, needs to feel what it’s like being a troll) while I took the younger one to gymnastics. Actually, I was hopeful that this would be my breakthrough.  I was pretty sure that watching these young, ambitious athletes would give me plenty of inspiration for my blog post.  Something about perseverance or hard work.  In reality, all I could think about was how much money all of us parents are shelling out in hopes of a college scholarship one day and how many of us are going to me really disappointed.  Spoken like a mother who has paid way too much college tuition.  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking that I’m a downer, a spoil sport, a negative person and this is why I’m suffering from a lack of inspiration.  No, that’s not true at all.  You know what I am?  In the words of that wise philosopher, Iggy Azalea “First things first, I’m a realist.”   Just keeping it real, friends.

By this time I was tired and, okay, maybe a little bit grouchy.  I wanted to go straight home, but  I needed to stop at the grocery store for a few things.  A couple of weeks ago I heated up a hot dog, put it in a bun, wrapped it up in aluminum foil to keep it somewhat warm and put it in the girls’ lunches.  Ohmygoodenss!  They think I’m a culinary genius! Had I know that this was all it took to receive rock star status, believe me I would have done it a long time ago.  The down side, albeit a small one, is that I can never be without hot dogs and buns because they want what they want and they want it now.  So it was kind of ironic that I would be dragging my daughter who wouldn’t eat my diner through the grocery store to get the special hot dogs and buns for my extra special lunch that she thinks is so delicious.   You know what they both think is the best part?  I put their favorite condiment (mustard for one, ketchup for the other) in these cute little squirt bottles with a pink or purple cap so they can squirt it on the hot dog at school.  That’s it!  That’s all it took to cement my title as Best Mom in the World  – that is when I’m not busy being a troll.

Anyway, here’s what was funny.  By now you have probably heard that the polar vortex is making its way back down from Canada as we speak.  By the way, I have lived in the Midwest for most of my life and had never heard of the polar vortex before last year.  I’ve experienced waist deep snow, -50 wind chills, temperatures so cold that one time the gas lines actually froze while I was pumping gasoline into the car.  Yet, no mention of a polar vortex.  Isn’t this just called Winter?  As I was saying, temperatures are supposed to tumble into the lower 50’s for daytime highs with the lows hovering around the freezing mark around here in south Texas over the next several days.  While I was in the store this evening I needed to stop and get some of this lactose free, fat-free, organic milk that I buy for me and the girls.  I went to the case and it was EMPTY.  EMPTY! After that I noticed that a lot of the shelves were kinda sparse.  Was there a run on the grocery store because of the dropping temperatures?  This is the result of impending 50 degree temperatures?  And lactose free, fat-free, organic milk was high on the list of must haves?  I am amused.   I chuckled a bit and finished my shopping and went home.

Once here, I helped the girls get cleaned up and ready for bed. We talked a bit about our day and I answered a couple of their questions of eternal importance: Do panda bears fart?  What does the tooth fairy do with all of those teeth?  After lights out I pondered my blog post for a while.  Nope, it still wasn’t working for me.  So, I guess this is my Seinfeld moment.  A blog post about nothing.

NaBloPoMo November 2014