Those of you who know me likely know that Saint Louis never has been and probably never will be “my city” or “my home”. I still vote in Washington state, half my wardrobe is adorned with graphics of the Seattle skyline, and my favorite time of year is whatever time I happen to be in the Pacific Northwest.
However, my loyalties and personal preferences don’t preclude me from caring about what happens in the city–and the country–in which I live. And just because social and institutional violence are more pronounced in some ways here compared to, say, on the coasts, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen there or affect people there too. Think, for example, of Trayvon Martin (Florida), Eric Garner (New York), Freddie Gray (Maryland), and Alfred Olango (California), and closer to my home, John T. Williams, Charleena Lyles, and Tommy Le.
I’m a 5’2″ (5’3″ if I wear a good pair of shoes) Asian female; although I weigh a surprising amount for my height, this is still pretty much the definition of nonthreatening. And even from this place of privilege–I have financial resources, social capital, the benefit of being part of a “model” minority (#notyourmodelminority)–none of my interactions with the police in St. Louis have been positive. Some have been downright frightening. I occasionally get mistaken as being southeast Asian (probably my larger than average eyes and wider than average shoulders?) or even Native American (pretty sure these people simply have not been exposed to enough actual Native American people); unfortunately, I sometimes wonder how that would affect a police officer’s judgment of me were they to make that mistake.
I don’t lay claim to knowledge of absolute truth or justice. What I do know is that when people are actively told that their lives DON’T matter, that’s a problem. Although I happen to have opinions about the verdict in today’s case, that’s not ~really~ the point. This death was avoidable whether or not it was technically “murder”; denying that life was needlessly taken is to deny the value of the life in the first place. And by extension–as one case rolls into the next and another face flashes on our TVs and through our newsfeeds–that just because certain peoples’ seem dissimilar to ours, they have less value than ours.
CS Lewis’ lesser-known works include a set of sonnets, one of which contains the lines:
You have what sorrow always longs to find,
Someone to blame, some enemy in chief;
Anger’s the anesthetic of the mind,
It does men good, it fumes away their grief.
And now a few random other thoughts:
One thing that I hear come up pretty often is, “Not all police officers are bad; don’t make blanket statements. It’s just a few bad apples.” This is not untrue. But the bad ones make it a lot harder to trust the good ones. Also, one rotten apple has the potential to ruin the entire bushel. Perhaps most wisely, a friend who worked with police officers for their occupation once described the situation as follows: “Ten percent of officers always do the right thing, no matter what. And ten percent of officers always do the wrong thing. The other eighty percent, their behavior is determined by who they’re with.” Here’s to human nature, folks.
On a vaguely related note, to the people posting with the hashtag “#ACAB” or otherwise that “all cops are bastards”: firstly, this is bad logic/doesn’t really help the dialogue, and secondly, this is/was originally a racist skinhead/white supremacist slogan (google it). Although I recognize that reclaiming symbols of hate is a valid goal, I have a feeling that most people are using this out of ignorance rather than defiance. So, be aware.