I’m going to start this blog in a weird place. But, try and stay with me, y’all.
Okay, so I walk outside of my little apartment in BFE Kansas one Spring morning, and there are police in Kevlar armor with helmets driving an armored Hummer H3 up the sidewalk in an (apparent) drug raid on the apartments across the street.
What the hell, man?
Now, the apartments in question had recently been purchased. The new owners were trying to clean up the building and make improvements (read: increase the value of the building before possible sale, thereby increasing the potential property taxes). And, the police had been cracking down (quite possibly harassing) the tenants that congregated on the steps and stoops of the building, often talking, fighting and generally hanging out. While most areas of the town I live in are lily white, this particular area is inhabited by mostly black and brown residents. And, this pair of buildings in particular, was known to be a place where people who had drug felonies and were ineligible for public housing could go to find affordable housing to live in. I had been a case worker, and gotten several of my clients apartments there, when previous lifestyle choices had made it difficult to secure housing. It’s not the best place in the world to live, but you could do worse, too.
In all fairness to the police, if you’ve seen The Wire the scenes down in the projects, with the couch, would be the good mental image to get in your head. Quite possibly, the young men who created the set up had seen The Wire, too. If not, it was an uncanny coincidence. I didn’t ask, or read the paper to surmise that they were there for a drug raid, it was fairly obvious.
But, why did they need military force to execute a warrant? And, why wasn’t the potential for civilian casualties, like me strolling out of my apartment that morning, considered before they escalated the situation that much? If the risk from executing the arrest warrant was so high that they needed the officers standing behind my trash dumpster, across the street from the target in the building, to be wearing body armor and helmets, why would they execute it, in that setting, when there have to be about 20 children in my apartment complex, walking to school through their staging process? (Not to mention those walking through the neighborhood to school.) Then, there are folks like me, just trying to get to work on time.
It’s simple, the “war” on drugs was more important than the lives, or quality of life, for any one of us that morning. They had protected themselves, and we all had to be treated as the enemy, as potential informants, as potential threats, in order for them to accomplish their job. Maybe they would execute a search in Beverly Hills, or the Upper West Side of NYC where they have “poor entrances” the same way, but I’m inclined to think that they would not. Just like a white man in a business suit carrying a briefcase is less likely to be stopped and frisked than a young black man, wearing a hoodie and carrying a backpack.
What does that mentality, that these people marked by their cultural and racial difference, are the enemy do to a police officer, over time?
Fast forward to Mike Brown, in Saint Louis.
By all accounts, he had purchased items from a local convenience mart and when confronted by police, offered no resistance. By all accounts, he had his hands in the air, the universal signal for surrender.
Yet, he was executed in the middle of the street. And, when the black and brown community that loved him took to the streets in peaceful protest and mourning, how do the police respond? With a show of military force. Armoured vehicles, assault rifles, dogs.
Let’s be real. You don’t fight inanimate objects, or philosophies. They offer no resistance. You fight people. And, in this case, those people happen to be black and brown. Let that sink in. These aren’t combatants, behind battle lines, wearing distinctive uniforms. These are men, women and children. All of them have been portrayed as a potential threat.
I shouldn’t call this war. There are rules to war. And, there would be penalties for killing a solider attempting to surrender. There are no such rules governing this.