Policing in America, Politics, Race in America

“Holy shit! I just shot him!”

“Holy shit! I just shot him!” came the cry from a police officer’s body cam — a bitter epitaph for yet another dead Black man.

Do you get it now? All of you who badmouth and mock the people who believe Black lives matter, do you understand why Black people are no longer staying silent and taking it on the chin? No, probably not. I don’t expect even the events of this week could move you to take a stand for Black lives.

Because I know many of you like to add an “only,” thereby completely and selfishly changing the message to one of twisted superiority, allow me to point out the statement “Black lives matter” is simply a reminder to those who need to hear it. Sadly, there are there a lot of you. So if you must add a word, please make it “too.” As in “Black lives matter, too.”

I’m not talking about an organization. When I say “Black lives matter,” I refer to what should be a universal element of human relationship — we’re all human beings so why should our worth be tied to the color of our skin? It shouldn’t, but I am ashamed so many of you retreat into that defensive white preservation posture the moment you hear someone proclaim that Black lives matter. You know what? Black lives do matter.

This week painted what may be the most vivid picture yet of exactly why some of us must take a specific stand for Black lives. When a young Black man can be “accidentally” killed by “very senior” training officer Kimberly A. Potter who is unable to tell the difference between her service weapon and her Taser, people like me get angry. The video demonstrating the panicked incompetence of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota law enforcement personnel as they fumbled about trying to arrest 20-year-old Daunte Wright was almost unbelievable, considering it took place just minutes from the courthouse holding the trial for the infamous murder of another unarmed Black man. When the world’s attention is focused on your area as it conducts the trial for the murder of George Floyd, you’d think police would be on their most professionally restrained behavior.

Nope.

Was it worth it, Brooklyn Center police? Reportedly, you stopped Wright for an expired tag or the air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror but then you discovered he had a misdemeanor warrant so you decided to try to arrest him. Unfortunately, three fully-kitted Brooklyn Center police officers were unable to subdue an evidently sober, unarmed man who looked like he weighed about a hundred pounds. And when he panicked and tried to flee, you panicked and killed him.

Over a misdemeanor and an expired tag or a stupid air freshener.

I guess “law enforcement” is taken with a particularly deadly gravity in Brooklyn Center. Jaywalkers get five-to-ten, right? I know, I know, it was just an accident. Anybody could’ve done it. Sorry, but it’s not just an accident when you are given the power of life and death and you misuse that power. When I screw something up, no one dies.

If the bumbling incompetence of Minnesota’s finest hadn’t resulted in the death of yet another young Black man, it would’ve been eclipsed by the dull-witted screaming of the rubes who play police officer in Windsor, Virginia. This time, the unarmed Black man they assaulted and humiliated was as innocent as innocent gets.

Actually, innocent doesn’t do U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario justice. Nazario, who is Black and Latin, was returning from drill duties with the medical corps when Windsor police officer Joe Gutierrez and an unidentified officer had trouble seeing the temporary license paper legally and appropriately taped in the rear window of his new Chevrolet Tahoe. As a Black man who has abundant reason to be leery of law enforcement, Nazario turned on his four-way flashers and slowly drove to the closest well-lighted area, which happened to be beneath the canopy of a nearby gas station.

This caution apparently infuriated Gutierrez, who escalated a simple traffic stop — a stop initiated over no violation — into a guns-drawn felony-level stop, exactly the sort of situation Nazario was trying to avoid. Screaming at Nazario, the police officers seemed utterly out of control, a state contrasted by the very careful calm of Nazario. When a Black man who happens to be a commissioned officer in the U.S. military is treated like an animal by enraged redneck cops, it is almost physically painful to watch. That these bumpkins with guns and badges are allowed the authority of life and death over honorable men like Nazario is sickening.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario said, his hands held up in supplication.

“Yeah,” Gutierrez shot back. “You should be.” What a professional.

“I’m serving this country and this is how I’m treated?” asked Nazario calmly. “What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son,” Gutierrez screamed back.

It got worse when the out-of-control Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario. I was disgusted to see these two cops acting like, well, pigs. Yes, they behaved like pigs. The calm man in the car being detained should never be the one carefully asking the police to calm down. Gutierrez and his partner unnecessarily escalated this situation to one that could easily have ended like the ones in Minnesota.

Maybe the worst part came at the end when things had calmed down and Gutierrez seemed to be having second thoughts about his awful conduct. Then, Gutierrez the pot-bellied hick had the chutzpah to lecture Nazario the dignified soldier. In a sane world, the erudite army lieutenant would’ve been lecturing the doofus cop.

The Windsor incident occurred in December 2020 but didn’t receive widespread media attention until Nazario filed suit against both officers on April 2 in U.S. District Court. Of course, Virginia’s attorney general jumped aboard the bandwagon on Monday when he announced an investigation into patterns or practices of unlawful conduct at Windsor P.D.

Like clockwork, the resignations and firings in both incidents began.

Brooklyn Center’s Potter and Chief of Police Tim Gannon have resigned. Windsor’s Gutierrez was fired but the unidentified officer with him and Chief of Police Rodney Daniel Riddle remain — many are calling for their termination. But aside from these appropriate firings and resignations, why are we hiring these people in the first place? Why aren’t we considering measures that would minimize the risk of hiring morons and, failing that, making sure they didn’t get re-hired by another jurisdiction after a previous for-cause firing?

People close to me wear badges — I am no stranger to the difficulties facing law enforcement today. It is probably the most difficult, thankless job on the planet at the moment. But I’d be naive to believe that much of law enforcement’s difficulties weren’t self-inflicted when police agencies emphasized arming over training, control over de-escalation, a sense of power over a sense of community. More broadly, waiting for the powder keg to explode before listening to the concerns of the Black community might have been the worst blunder of all.

No young Black male can be criticized for being afraid of a simple traffic stop. Not when kids can be shot for an expired tag, when a dad can be asphyxiated for a crappy misdemeanor, or a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army can be treated worse than a dog. I could list dozens of other examples.

So I ask again: do you get it now? Do you understand why Black people are angry? Do you understand why Black mothers are worried sick about their sons? No, I didn’t think so.

Photo collage © Andrea Ferrario via Unsplash and jannoon028 via Freepik