By KEVIN CAMPBELL
If we have learned anything from Amy Cooper in the last few days, is that police brutality against black people has been historically executed at the behest of a society that is keenly aware of how the system works against the black community. White people are not the only group that invokes, threatens, exploits, and benefits from systematic anti-blackness. Every other race understands the relationship between the black community and the criminal (in)justice system and, as a result, there is a tacit understanding that one can generally activate the system with a few choice words, namely “African American” or “Black”, and that that would yield a particularly urgent and unquestioned response and effect.
It was reported that a Minnesota store owner, Mahmoud Abumayaleh, was the one who instructed his employee to call the police on George Floyd over an allegation of an attempted transaction using a counterfeit $20 bill. As a result of the call to 911, George Floyd was murdered by four police officers…three of whom pinned his beaten, handcuffed body to the street, and one who knelt on his neck until he suffocated. This grotesque imagery of police brutality and murder is strikingly similar to that of Eric Garner, who was also brutally murdered by a swarm of police officers in 2014 for selling loose cigarettes at the side of the road.
In light of the comparable peaceful arrests of Dylan Roof, Peter Manfredonia, and countless other white domestic terrorists responsible for the premeditated murder of countless US citizens, the validity of the forgery allegations against George Floyd, as well as the supposed “criminal” activity of Eric Garner is entirely inconsequential. That said, according to television interviews with the Minnesota store owner, it is very likely that George Floyd was unaware of the counterfeit bill used in his transaction. The owner also shared that established store protocols did not prompt any conversation between the store clerk and Mr. Floyd that may have alerted him to the fact that the $20 bill was fake. In this case and in countless others involving black people, the typical first course of action is to deploy 911, an emergency service with historically confirmed anti-black foundations, to reconcile conspicuously unverifiable issues (lies), or contextually minor incidents. And so, the environment in which we currently live has normalized calling 911 on black men bird watching in public parks, on black women napping in the shared spaces of their Ivy League college dorms, and on black children selling water for extra cash during the summer. When one considers the reasons behind many of the calls to 911 that involve black perpetrators or victims, it becomes extremely difficult to rationalize the resulting brutality and /or death as being born of anything other than blatant racism.
Here’s what I do know: As a societal construct, privilege – specifically white privilege – affords its members a benefit of the doubt that ushers in a measure of consideration and preference when it comes to interactions with law enforcement. Years ago, after yet another murder of an unarmed black man, Twitter EXPLODED with the #crimingwhilewhite movement, which highlighted the law enforcement experiences of the white community across America. Tweet after tweet chronicled non-violent interactions with police officers who, in many cases, overlooked and excused brazenly criminal activity. It goes without saying that black men, women, and children are typically not afforded the benefit of the doubt that comes with white privilege. If anything, our experiences have historically reflected the exact opposite scenario.
Because the black experience is intersectional, one of the ways that anti-black oppression has been upheld and reinforced is by the nuanced privilege of non-black people of colour that exist adjacent to the dominant ideal. This nuanced brand of privilege is perpetuated via specific narratives that emphasize economic wealth, education, and community networks, as a way to secure the position of non-black people of colour within the societal structure as it exists…the irony being that they themselves exist as oppressed members of the system with their own specific grievances. Irony notwithstanding, the unspoken sentiment is typically…at least we’re not black.
The cost of securing their position within the existing societal structure necessitates that non-black people of colour readily reinforce and subscribe to the ideals and biases that remain unchallenged, particularly as they relate to anti-black oppression. So, while the hurt runs deep when black people are the recipient of the unchecked white privilege that is dished out by people like Amy Cooper, the hurt is devastating when black people suffer the effects of systemic, unchecked racist privilege that is yielded by fellow people of colour, who are also very aware of the positioning of the black community within the structure but, at the same time, remain indifferent (or unaware) of the ways in which they actively participate, and in some ways reinforce, anti-black oppression.
To affect any measure of lasting change, it is CRITICAL that white and other non-black people of colour undertake the difficult task of clearly defining their societal privileges, while articulating the ways in which they participate in upholding systematic anti-black oppression, while VISIBLY and VOCALLY utilizing such privileges to dismantle anti-black biases within their respective networks. This work is NOT the responsibility of the oppressed black communities, even though substantial reconciliation needs to be to be done within the black community.
Amidst the backdrop of the current global pandemic and political climate, the deaths of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd, lie at the very intersection of what we’ve always been protesting: unchecked racist privilege, systematic anti-black oppression, unjustified police brutality, and a complete indifference to judicial accountability. If the unfolding protests are any indication, it appears that we have finally arrived at a critical mass that will tip the scales towards a path that finally acknowledges and dismantles anti-black oppression.
Until then…No justice, no peace!!!