This is the newest name that we hold, with confusion, with anger, with hope-tinged despair, in our mouths. This an old story. I am bored of this story. I am bored of the predictability. It is a boring story that we cannot stop telling until it is confined to history books and even then, we will still tell it so that it is not forgotten. Here is the story. Unarmed black man. Police officer. Gunshot. Black man dead. Most of the time, the characters don’t share the same skin colour, at least not the stories I’ve heard. But sometimes they do.
The video of Walter Scott’s murder, (because to call it by another name would be a form of literary violence to his memory) shows a white police officer shooting him in the back. The police officer shoots at his back 8 times as Scott jogs, his body jerking and falling to the ground with the last few shots. Cooly, callously, the police officer walks over to the body and shouts the words well known to too many black men, both in the USA and elsewhere, ‘Put your hands behind your back…’.A black cop stood next to him.
White police officers are the not the only ones to kill black men. There have been incidences when black police officers have shot black men. In fact, conveniently, in many of the cases of the killings of unarmed black men, the police spokesperson who has been selected to speak on behalf of the department has been a non-white officer. This has become such an obvious ‘move’ in the attempted cover ups and defences by police departments, that just like the killings themselves, it has become boring and predictable.
How then, do we claim racism, if black police officers also shoot unarmed black men, albeit less often than white officers?
Firstly, with an understanding of white supremacy and the fact that all of us, despite our respective racial backgrounds, are cultivated in this system with its inherent biases and silent narratives. White police officers aren’t the only ones who end up succumbing (I don’t use the word succumb to suggest innocence) to the stereotypes surrounding black masculinity. Black men are violent, hypersexual, aggressive, dangerous, superhuman in strength, criminal – you can be a black man and subconsciously believe these things.
I’ve often surprised myself with the internalised prejudice that I have to admit that despite all of my ‘conscious’ upbringing, reading, and attempts at decolonising my mind, I’ve managed to absorb.
We see it in the overwhelming stench of colourism that runs rampant in the black community. We see it in the unspoken assumptions that whiteness is normative and everything else is deviant. We see it in the self-hating remarks some black men (and some women) give as to why they chose interracial relationships (because to disparage black women as a black man is a form of self-hatred).
White supremacy, sadly, affects us all, and the black police officers are in many ways both victims and perpetrators.
Secondly, the increasing militarisation and unquestioned powers of the police – in fact, the powers of governing authorities in general, is problematic, regardless of the race of the authority figure. Police officers and the criminal justice system don’t operate ‘above the law’, as some people claim. In actual fact, the law operates in a way that gives them far too much power with little fear of retribution if said power is abused. The justice system is corrupt. The government is corrupt. (I’m talking about here in the UK as well as in the states), and both are institutionally racist. Combine institutionalised racism with increasing militarisation, minus accountability, and you have a recipe for the murder of black men and women. #blacklivesmatter.