In a long ago forgotten interview, Tupac Amaru Shakur quipped after a recent run-in with the Oakland Police Department that one of the “civil servants” aggressively proclaimed that there was no need for Black people to resist oppression at the hands of law enforcement officers, because the police were the largest gang in America. Considering the consistent stream of African-Americans, regardless of gender, age, or class, who were killed at the hands of local officers, it is difficult to argue against the assertion that they are the nation’s largest gang. Put simply, America’s legion of civil servants have long resembled a hostile occupying army within the Black community.
Quite possibly the single-greatest fear of African-Americans is for their loved one’s to have a run-in with a rogue officer from which they most likely will not survive. Hence, the footage showing the murder of Eric Garner is not particularly shocking to anyone with any understanding of police/citizen relations within urban America. The vast majorities of African-Americans has had at least one run-in with the police or are at best once removed from such an incident.
I, the possessor of several graduate degrees and the honor of being a tenured professor of African-American History, am not immune to run-ins with the police. As I pen this entry, I am vacationing in my hometown of Mansfield Ohio, and am less than a week removed from a recent encounter with two rookie officers that led to their threatening to arrest me for observing them from what I knew, yet they could not agree between themselves, was a “safe and legal distance”. The more unstable of the two officers’, who was furious that I understood the law much better than he could ever hope to, refused to give me his badge number and quipped, “You are a Doctor, correct. Well you should already know it.” A statement that was only exceeded by his telling my nephew, who he was forced to release from custody, “I don’t give a shit about you.” When a superior officer overheard the comment, he related that I could write a letter to the police review board if I so desired. I just laughed and asked, “Do you want me to send it directly to him (meaning the offending officer), that is as much impact as it is going to have.”
The death of Mr. Eric Garner is fairly representative of the historic interactions between officers and the vast majority of Black people. With the introduction of cell phones and video cameras to document officers actions, there is absolutely no one, regardless or race or occupation, who can deny that these incidents are regularly occurring. It is time for all Americans, including those who are law enforcement officers to speak out regarding the brutality that they see their fellow “brothers in blue” perpetrating on a daily basis. Failure to take decisive action against rogue officers puts us all in danger.
It is wholly reasonable for citizens to no longer consider officers, “civil servants” serving the community. Past actions have put them in the class of marauders seeking to maim, harm, and kill African-Americans wherever they are found. Within such a climate, it is reasonable to expect African-Americans to arm themselves, in a similar vein to the gun rights activist groups have done for years, in a desperate attempt to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, the reactionary nature of the African-American community and the desensitized nature of this nation in regards to violence toward African-Americans (men, women, and children) leads this issue to one logical conclusion, that being a repeat of this particular incident. I fear that once the furor regarding Eric Garners murder dies, things will return to the status quo; and the cycle will begin all over again; or at least that is what those who have historically exploited and abused us are hoping for.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III