Enough of Rosa Parks already.
I wrote the following on December 3, 2014, in the aftermath of the grand jury decision not to indict the officers who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO:
I just read that Michael Brown’s stepfather issued an apology for his public outburst after the grand jury decision. Something about this makes me sad. How is it that the only apology in this scenario comes from the man whose step-son was shot and killed? Is this the unintended legacy of Trayvon Martin's perfect, angelic, never-lost-their-cool parents?
Well, I'll tell you what, if the government kills a child belonging to me, and there are many that I claim under that umbrella, I don't care if that child was a knucklehead who shoplifted or defied authority, you will not find a perfect victim here. I'm going bananas.
It's true, if the NAACP LDF were cherry picking a perfect case, as it did in Montgomery, Alabama, Mike Brown would not be its Rosa Parks. This would go into the close-but-no-cigar card catalog with the pregnant teenager and the drunk man who were kicked of Montgomery buses before the squeaky clean Rosa Parks.
My thought is this: Why do we need Rosa Parks? Why do we need a perfect victim and perfect scenario to champion a remedy to injustice? The injustice exists just the same.
Telling us that we should put our outrage away because, as it turns out, Mike Brown wasn’t perfect, lets me know that you have no idea with this is really about, so I'll tell you. Just like the Civil Rights Movement wasn't about Ms. Parks' bus seat, the outrage you are witnessing now, isn't about whatever the facts of this case turn out to be.
It's about the prevalent mistrust and fear that exists between law enforcement and communities of color across the nation - It's so thick you could cut it with a knife. It is about real AND perceived oppression. It's about respect. It's about dignity. It's about and equality. It's about liberty. It’s about the freedom to be imperfect.
If we are imperfect does it mean that we are undeserving of justice? Does it mean the bill of rights no longer applies? I know plenty of unsuspected, unenforced, privileged teenage knuckleheads who went to Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, etc. and lead successful careers. Why is the misbehavior of some teenagers overlooked and the misbehavior of black kids scrutinized at every turn?
And in a short digression, isn’t it our imperfect knuckleheads, who are most vulnerable to getting their rights trampled because who would believe a shoplifter against the word of an officer? Aren’t they, in fact, more in need of our protection?
So, why do black people need to be perfect for people to feel sympathy for us? Why do we need to be perfect for the injustice to be true? I guess it is the same reason black people have to work harder to get half as far, why we are not permitted to do the simple things of life that you do every day, why, if we are not smiling, we are viewed as angry, why, if we cheat on our wives, can we not be president.
This is what we mean by equality. This is what we mean by free. The right to break the rules that you break and get the same result. The right for people to feel sympathy for us and not demand apologies when our children our killed. The right to be imperfect. A right you enjoy every day.
The injustice here is that black and brown men are, by-and-large, more heavily scrutinized by law enforcement and approached by law enforcement with hostility and fear. (This seems to be exacerbated by the transitioning of so many ex-military men and women and military armor into domestic community police forces without proper transitional training). As a result, things escalate quickly leading to unnecessary stops, citations, arrests and violence. How do we expel hostility and fear? How do we compel law enforcement to embrace the communities they serve as their own? How to we make it so black and brown people feel safe and protected by law enforcement rather than seeing them as one of their biggest threats. How do we build trust? These are hard questions, and they will have complex answers, but we have to try. And we don’t need a perfect victim to do it.
* I asked an LAPD officer, who I regard as one of the good ones, some of these questions. His response stuck with me. He replied that the people below the 10 Freeway (which tend to be where people of color live in Los Angeles) do nothing to better their own situations or police themselves. They don’t use 311 or 911 to report vandalism, etc. I found this interesting considering the people below the 10, like the people above the 10 do something very significant to police themselves – they employ one of the best and largest police forces in the world. It seems that he did not view the LAPD, or himself, for that matter as belonging to the people below the 10. They are separate. They are what is wrong with LA. They take up all of our time. This is the heart of the problem. And don't get me started on the "bad apples." More on that later.
* February 23, 2018: I am currently listening to and recommend a new podcast called REPEAT that deals with this issue.