It seems like every day there is a new trending hashtag for the death of a black man, woman, or child under the auspices of law enforcement. With each hashtag I feel a little less human. With each hashtag, another individual is immortalized – another victim of modern-day lynching. I try my best to not bear witness to the butchery as overt miscarriages of justice are committed before my eyes, photographed and video recorded from conflict to deadly end.
Tomorrow during Citizens to be Heard at the San Antonio City Hall, concerned citizens will voice their opinions as individuals about the need for inclusion of accountability and disciplinary action into the recently ratified collective bargaining agreement from the San Antonio Police Officers Association (SAPOA) that is scheduled to be voted on September 1 by City Council ahead of the City’s budget.
San Antonians who have been personally impacted by police misconduct have been invited to share their reasons for why accountability and transparency should be at the forefront of the proposed SAPOA contract prior to its passage. These citizens will each speak to how a lack of accountability impacts all of our communities when police misconduct goes unchecked and victims are forced to suffer in silence and frustration, complaints are disqualified, and disciplinary action and consequences are lessened or non-existent. Moreover, the San Antonio Police Department’s touted reputation for being the example of community policing throughout the nation is baseless if the proposed contract gains the majority that it needs to be in effect.
How can an unaccountable and concealed police force live up to the grandiose reputation of being the leading example of community policing in the nation? Citizens need to be heard on this particular matter to restore the balance of community policing under the stewardship of responsive, transparent, and just law enforcement officials with an ear for dissension and beat for tolerance and continuous improvement.
We Are Perverted
I believe that those of us who are able and willing to watch these modern day lynchings, behind the comfort of our lapped windows into the world, are afflicted by a sort of perversion that seems insatiable. Once you’ve witnessed one murder from the comfort of your television or smartphone device, what’s to keep you from watching another?
Think back to the many picnics that begot the latest Civil Rights Movement: Do you remember the gathering of whole families of spectators to watch the lynching of a black man, woman, or child after a long hunt of pursuit, capture, and torture? The picnics were documented by photograph and sent as souvenirs to loved ones and pen pals throughout the world. Imagine these postcards of hundreds, even thousands of smiling faces enjoying whiskey, sandwiches, and other pleasantries whilst a dead human being swings above their heads like a strange fruit.
These mobs carved out severed body parts as keepsakes in many souvenir packages that gained international attention. Praised as “heroes,” mobs of white supremacists and Ku Klux Klansmen were lauded for protecting their likeness from threats of miscegenation, desegregation, and other perceived breaches of law and order in their disparate communities. These mobs were made up of affluential members of society. They were law enforcement officials, pastors and other clergymen, politicians and business owners. After the collection of chunks of flesh, genitalia, limbs and more, lynching victims were burned, never to rejoin their loved ones or be exonerated from the circumstances leading up to their murder. These mobs suffered no legal recourse and the consequences of their terrorism have been generational blows to the sanctity of life and coexistence.
Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) Further Desensitize
The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2014 assessment of the efficacy – or lack thereof – of body cams worn by law enforcement officials includes perceived benefits such as enhanced transparency and legitimacy of law enforcement by citizens. With the prospect of unbiased evidence to introduce into courts of law for more objective adjudication and the Hawthorne Effect, the general assumption of citizens surveyed regarding the implementation of body cams for law enforcement personnel throughout the U.S. has been empirically favorable.
However, recent public outcry of misuse and/or abuse of force as evidenced in the release of particular body cam recordings indicates that there has been increased mistrust of law enforcement officials, especially in disproportionately criminalized communities that are “over-policed” as discussed by 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT).
A good example of this is in the unfortunate conclusion of Freddie Gray’s case, where a 25-year-old black male accused of carrying an illegal switchblade suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in the custody of police in Baltimore. Though his death was ruled a homicide, the judge found none of the officers involved guilty of reckless endangerment, misconduct, assault, or manslaughter.
The mistrust of law enforcement officials has fueled the preponderance of video evidence, made available by body cams and smartphone devices, resulting in the almost involuntary buy-in on the part of the public to be accomplices to modern-day lynchings in order to be advocates for change and justice. Equipped with raw photographic and video evidence, emotive reporting on part of the media and the public’s blogging and hashtagging on social sites call out unjust practices and treatment while demanding justice and accountability for wrongdoings.
The legitimacy of law enforcement is then shaped by the media and majority public perception therein. Then, rather than trust that justice will be handed down in the court of law, the public partakes in viewing and corroborating modern-day lynchings caught on film or by photograph, unknowingly growing more and more desensitized, in order to take matters into their own hands because they don’t trust that justice can come from a status quo system that so rarely hands down just rulings. The status quo has long plagued our criminal justice system since days of Jim Crow. Then, mob rule kept law enforcement immune to the rule of law; now, the same seems to be true.
Do you know your neighbors? Less than 50% of Americans know their neighbors by name, according to the latest survey released by the Pew Research Center. This is especially true for Americans who are renters. Today, we live rather atomistically and seem to find greater comfort in living among one another invisibly. This undoubtedly contributes to our inability to properly protect and correct harmful behavior in our neighborhoods. Investing in ourselves requires investment in our neighborhoods. And community policing is most effective when paired with structural investment in our disjointed communities.
To make #BlackLivesMatter truly, change must be institutionalized. Positional power and legitimate authority have to be conferred so that advocacy and activism are elevated to stakeholders with policy and decision-making authority. Change must be measurable. For the enterprise, change will be embodied in data-driven objectives. Hired change agents will be residents of the community that they are employed to advocate on behalf of and serve. No longer can we assume or expect that change will come on the backs of volunteers and others with their basic physiological needs unmet. With the enterprise, we will invest in ourselves so that we can invest in our futures.
The enterprise’s sole mission will be to improve the health and well-being of residents of high-crime areas. Through data and a concerted focus on crime prevention, the enterprise will emerge as an integral community organization resonate with local political leadership seeking to ensure constituent services are reaching their intended audiences and civil servants are accountable to the communities that they serve. The enterprise’s employees will effectively serve as subject matter experts of their respective districts. Through their advocacy, the community will have a familiar neighbor to help guide and direct their brighter futures. The enterprise will be an effective and salient coalition of affluence and conviction.
Sustaining Change Institutionally
The enterprise that I propose is by far an original idea. In order to institutionalize the sort of change that is bottom-up, rather than top-down, and resonant with the community it targets, grassroots organizing ought to be employed and supported. By employing the community to police, advocate for, and sustain itself, grassroots enterprises have the capacity to bring about the sort of change that is the most powerful and resolute as it is endorsed by the residents of the community it will govern and ultimately be held accountable to. The relationship that exists between the enterprise and the community should be a synergistic one with great benefits and reciprocal commitments.
According to The Counted, a database on police violence compiled by The Guardian, there were at least 306 black people killed by police in 2015, 258 of which were shot dead. Fifteen percent of them were black males between the ages of 15 and 24, who are nine times more likely to be killed by police officers than any other demographic. In 2016, Mapping Police Violence reported that some 37% of unarmed people killed by police officers last year were black. Thus far in 2016, more than 167 black people have been killed by police officers throughout the U.S. No longer can we afford to not act on the many travesties that we have endured. There are far too many mothers losing their sons, fathers losing their daughters, and children losing their innocence.
Black women are uniquely impacted by the many travesties that have been spotlighted by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Black women should not only be able to rear children when they choose to, they should also be able to not have the fear or duty of burying their children at consequence to overtly reckless and careless behavior on part of entrusted street-level bureaucrats with a responsibility to protect and serve. The latter is a form of patriarchal and militaristic state violence that black women have long been victims to. For as long as our history as a nation has been told, black women have had to cope with and suffer from state sanctioned separation and castration from their families.
Black women have had to bear witness to the murder of their children and the raping, also referred to as “bucking,” of their husbands. Black women have had to surrender their right to personhood and forfeit their bodies at the will and privilege of the state. They have also had to endure forced sterilization by state orders to satisfy policy goals, research efforts, and institutional racism.
Our inaction is violence. For black women to regain themselves and to, therefore, be able to regain control of their bodies, assault and metaphysical death committed against their children must cease.
A Course of Action
My action is to abstain from watching modern-day lynchings. No, I do not wish to get used to watching the deaths of individuals like Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, or Korryn Gaines, who were all shot and killed at age 12, 22, and 23, respectively. I also do not wish to get used to watching other overt miscarriages of justice like that of 37-year-old Natasha McKenna, 37-year-old Ralkina Jones, or 28-year-old Sandra Bland, who all died while in police custody. I will pour time and effort into a grassroots course of action to bring about the change that is needed for black lives to matter.
My action is to endeavor to build grassroots enterprise(s). With investment into a community solution, we can truly make #BlackLivesMatter.
Your faithful servant and #BlackLivesMatter believer,
La Juana Chambers, MPA
Top image: Local activist and organizer Johnathan-David Jones walks down Navarro Street with other activists. Photo by Scott Ball.