Saturday, June 24, 2017

Police Stop; Stop Police

Another black man shot by a racist cop who got away with it. 

I'm afraid. Every time I'm pulled over by a cop, I'm afraid. I'm not doing anything wrong. I sit in my white-middle-class-mom-mobile, sweating and hoping I don't piss this guy off. That I appear polite and non-threatening enough to avoid any further action on his part than a traffic ticket. That there's no reason for him to use his power to make my life difficult.

The police have power over us. They carry guns. They can force us to comply with their requests with a certain degree of permitted violence. They can take us temporarily out of society without a word to anyone - effectively state-sanctioned kidnapping - if they find a reason to "bring you in." They can mess up our day, our week, our life, if they decide they don't like our attitude. They can manufacture a reason and they will be believed. And ultimately, if they choose to, they can shoot us.

When I'm stopped, police are generally polite and firm, not friendly, taking a stance meant to solidify their position of authority over me. That is what they are trained to do. They expect me to move slowly, be polite, do what I'm told immediately (but not too quickly), and defer to them in every way from body language to tone of voice. If I do these things correctly, I can generally assume that the stop will go smoothly, and I will be on my way. Yet, just that level of interaction shakes me to my core, leaves me afraid and feeling vulnerable. Because these people assume authority over me with a gun at their side, and the threat they will use that power against me remains a constant undercurrent through any interaction between an on-duty officer and me.

That black people are disproportionately stopped by police is clear. But if I'm shaking in my white-lady boots in Canada, with a cop who will probably give me a stern warning and a ticket, what would it feel like if that was not the likely outcome? If I were black, if I were somewhere less tolerant, more racist, and I knew the likely outcome was that I would be removed from my vehicle and subjected to harassment, or worse, that I would be hurt or shot, even when complying with the officer. It's terrifying. In fact, it's state-sanctioned terror.

Policing, done right, is about helping everyone feel safer, not about controlling the behaviour of individuals to make the cop feel safe. Policing, done right, should feel like a helpful and friendly service, not like a threat, not like control in the name of authority. Policing, done right, should not make a routine traffic stop terrifying for anyone, let alone fatal.

Police have a huge power over us, and the means to enforce it. With that comes a responsibility to be better than us at handling interactions, to be more compassionate and more supportive, to be more in control and calm, to recognize and actively work against their own biases. Anyone who's not up to that inner work is not up to the job. When I see cops, I feel fear, because I've seen how power gets abused, and I don't know the person standing in front of me with a badge and a gun. He could be a good one. He could be a bad one.

When I see another black man shot, I don't think that it's not my problem. I don't feel any relief that it's less likely to happen to me because I'm white. It could still happen to me, but more than that, if it can happen to anyone, that means there are cops on our forces who don't have the control, compassion or capability to handle a simple traffic encounter without becoming violent. How many incompetent police are there? How many assholes to be offset by the ones who are truly called to serve? These people have power over us, but as a group they can't be trusted, and they protect each other. So how can any of us trust any of them, while this is the state they train each other into?

I know that if I keep my head down, smile and stay polite, it's unlikely that I will be targeted for violence. A black man does not know that. He has every reason to think the opposite.  As a white person I can hope things go smoothly and expect that my behaviour can help that along. As a black person, no matter how nice and polite and well-behaved, they still can't expect the stop to go smoothly. Nothing they can do in their behaviour can protect them from someone who perceives them as threatening the moment they lay eyes on the colour of their skin. It's an impossible position. It's an intolerable state.

When any officer acts this way, it reflects on the state of policing, and how the ways they use power and authority breed behaviours of power-over and violence. When that's combined with a weak character and racist, sexist or other biased world views, it's a recipe for...well, exactly what we see. I am distressed and disturbed, and I'm afraid for what will happen next.