How a highway patrolman becomes a gang banger

Via Twitter via The Washington Post

Via Twitter via The Washington Post

The stupid. It burns. From The Washington Post:

Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson is not a gang member. He’s just a Kappa. – The Washington Post.

That some white people would see a law enforcement officer with his fingers in a position they don’t recognize and immediately go to the bigoted place: He must be a gang member – WHAT?

Are people really that unfamiliar with black fraternities? Never caught  Stomp the Yard on repeat one Saturday on TBS? Didn’t pass by a step show at college? Unconscious when Spike Lee’s School Daze was in theaters? How do you go through life completely oblivious to historically black fraternities and sororities and our rituals and traditions? Are your circles so homogeneous that you really have no idea? You couldn’t ask somebody?

People of color don’t get that luxury of being ignorant and unaware of the dominant culture. In fact, often our very survival depends on being literate in two worlds.

I’m reminded of what anti-racism educator Tim Wise said: When you’re white, what’s important to black isn’t on the test. When you’re black, what’s important to whites IS the test.

Or (not sure who said this first): The slave always knows more about the master than the master knows about the slave.

Butler University graduation, 1993, repping that 08 Pink and Green set out of Howard U.

Butler University graduation, 1993, repping that 08 Pink and Green set out of Howard U.

This is a serious matter (some of y’all will get that), but for fun, here’s a picture of me, throwing up a sign from the gang sorority I pledged – Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Chapter.

LAPD cop: Only you (and your complete docility) can stop police brutality

If this doesn’t terrify you, it should.

From WaPo today, this diatribe from a Los Angeles police officer who is understandably upset by all the generalizing on his comrades following the Aug. 9 shooting death by Ferguson, Missouri police of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.

Sunil Dutta appears to be a brown man, but clearly, all skin folks ain’t kin folks. He writes in the article headlined: I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. – The Washington Post.

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

Let me count the ways that this is all kinds of wrong. I can’t, because I don’t have the time.

Among my immediate reactions:

1. You chose this job and all the BS that comes with it so… No.

2. First Amendment.

3. If all that was required of black and brown people to be free from the police state in too many of our neighborhoods, disproportionate rates of stop and frisk, discriminatory sentencing patterns, a society with a narrative that equates people of color with criminal intent, was to bow down during the rare field stop, then maybe I’d be inclined to listen to you, Massa Officer Dutta.  But Dutta is too flip toward citizens’ rights and too assured of his argument. So… No.

4-10. See #2.

To be fair, of all the things I worry about, one of them is not whether I’ll be the victim of unfair treatment by the Memphis Police. In part, that’s because the police force looks like the community it serves. The chief is black, plenty of higher ups are black, an appropriate percentage (based on what I see) of the officers are black. Not that black officers can’t be guilty of acting on the same systemic racism embedded in our culture, but research indicates that the racial makeup of the police force matters.

Now when I go to Mississippi, even though I’m light-skinneded, I make it a point to take my free papers with me, plus the names and phone numbers of two or three good white people who can vouch for my character. Of course, I’m mostly joking.

I’m not sure how Dutta’s essay elevates the overdue public discourse on police brutality beyond his cathartic moment.

Me, Ferguson and stifling anger with a curfew

Ferguson, Missouri and I have something in common: We both have a curfew.

The St. Louis suburb got its curfew (and accompanying state of emergency following the police slaying of Michael Brown, who was unarmed) from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who, best I can tell, is a disappointment in governance. My curfew was self-imposed. Both curfews are designed to reduce the odds of violence. Mine has a better chance of succeeding.

After reading about the Ferguson protests all week, attending the #Memphis #NMOS14 vigil Thursday and absorbing the usual  microaggressions at work (especially the psychological trauma of repeated exposure to racists in online comments), I couldn’t bring myself to go out Friday night. I needed to recharge.

But by mid afternoon Saturday, after cleaning the house and doing laundry and listening to Car Talk on NPR, I was ready to get out and get some vitamin D. I went to a much-hyped new local restaurant, expecting the food to be great and it was just mediocre. Endured an auditory assault from a bad a** little kid who was screaming at his parents at the table next to me. Even dessert was meh. (How can you eff up dulce le leche cheesecake?)

I walked around Overton Square, a redeveloped section of town that is really quite lovely, but it only reminded me that I’d meant to find out how many of these new businesses were owned by black people. So then that was a downer because while I want to know, I’m not sure I REALLY want to know. Because I’m guessing that YET AGAIN, the majority of Memphians are not profiting (as in building intergenerational wealth) from this progress.

Got in my car, drove a few blocks to the grocery store that opened this week in this new hip area and there was no parking spot. So I waited patiently for two sisters to get into their silver sedan and pull out. I had nowhere to be, so I waited. And waited. And waited. The women pull out, I take my foot off the brake and WHOOOSH!!!! an old white man in a Lexus SUV with Mississippi tags and an Ole Miss license plate swings past me and into the spot. Almost hit me AND the car moving out.

I was like WTF. I know this did not just happen. So I tap my horn politely like: Hey, dude? Um, I was here first. Then I was like: UM, EXCUSE ME, YOU JUST GANKED MY SPOT, BRO! NOT COOL AT ALL!

But he had the spot (and the white privilege) and I did not so I waited for some other folks to move. And a few minutes later, a spot opened up a car over from Southern Entitlement Elderly Jerk. At this point, I’m thinking: I should just go home. I should just take it to the crib because WTF. But I’m like – well, maybe it’s possible that he DIDN’T see you, that when you point out that he swerved in front of you, he’ll say something that sounds remotely apologetic and that will be that.

So SEEJ has both his windows down so I walk up on the passenger side and say: You saw me waiting for that spot, right? And he’s like – you moved too slow, yadda, yadda. And I’m like: But I was waiting and you sped right past me!

I notice that hanging over the back of his seat is a white coat, like a doctor’s coat. So I say: So you’re a doctor? And SEEJ says yes, and there’s a little flash of something in his eyes that’s like: Uh oh. Maybe I shouldn’t have done what I just did.

But he’s still being an ass and then says: Go away. Get a life. And waves his hand like he’s shooing away The Help.


I’m seeing red, but I’m like, let me walk away because that’s ALL I NEED is to be out here sparring in the parking lot with some old white man repping Colonel Reb in the parking lot of these good white people’s new grocery store. No way does this end well for me. (Plus, I’m remembering what happened to Henri Brooks and the same folks who cheered to see her fall would be doing back flips if I got caught up in a similar way.)

After taking a picture of the man in his car AND of his license plate (yes, I did that), I walked into the store but I was FURIOUS. I’m already heartsick over Ferguson, I’m pissed at the shiny reminder of economic inequality via gentrification and now I’m getting disrespected by some old coot in his Lexus SUV?

Right inside the front door of the store, there’s a sign on the wall talking about all the Fresh Market does for the community, the jobs it brings in, etc. And there are lots of black folks working – but not any of the managers I see scurrying around. So again, people of color are getting a check, but building wealth? Highly unlikely.

I was in such a sh*tty mood that I left my cart in the produce department and bounced. I went to my decidedly not new Kroger in my part of town and then I put myself in a time-out for the rest of the night. To be outside of my house was to risk that someone would do or say something offensive and I might want to cuss somebody the hell out – in fact, someone might deserve a cussing out, but because POC generally have no margin of error, I’d be the one in trouble.

So I am at home. Call it house arrest, a curfew, time-out, whatever. It is a preventive measure, design to minimize  outbursts, even though the rage is righteous. I will swallow my emotions and think of those who are angry and have every right to be.



Musings on #Ferguson, Mike Brown, fear and rage

I needed to get this out of my spirit. Below are some thoughts about #Ferguson and Mike Brown.

1. When my sister was pregnant, part of me prayed that the baby was a girl because I know what my country does to black boys. I have a nephew now. He’s only 10 months old but he won’t be a baby forever and I worry for him. I don’t pray for his safety, because if my prayers aren’t enough protection I will be so angry at God. I am afraid of how that rage would destroy me.

2. It is a horrible feeling to know that people like you are hunted in their own country.

3. I wonder if this could happen in Memphis. I wonder if Mike Brown would be alive if the police force (52 strong, two black officers, according to an NPR story I heard this morning) looked anything like the community, which is 67 percent black, according to 2010 Census figures.

4. It is a horrible feeling to know how little value black life has.

5. This is 2014. What evidence is there to suggest that this won’t be happening in 2064? Don’t talk to me about hope and progress and ish. What in American history indicates that 2064 won’t be a high-tech version of 1964?

6. Don’t talk to me about how the rioters/looters are destroying their own communities by breaking in stores, tearing up the gas station, etc. They don’t own any of that ish.

7. Re #6 – I will not get exercised about the destruction of PROPERTY when Mike Brown laid in the street like a goddamn dog for hours. I will not.

8. Do not attempt to deflect the conversation from the shooting death of yet another unarmed young black man to the actions of the protesters, telling me some ish about how they should just go home, let the system work things out, etc. The system does not work for us.

9. If you think the protests in Ferguson are just about Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner or Ezell Ford or Amadou Diallo or Oscar Grant, you’re delusional. People of color are deprived of full participation in their country every day in a million soul-killing ways. I can think of at least four ways that happened to me just today and the only places I went today was Easy Way, work and a meeting. And nothing happened at Easy Way or at my meeting. So… Yeah.

10. I think generally speaking, a fair number of white people are really afraid of black people’s anger. At some level, maybe there’s a realization that people of color have really gotten f*cked in America.

11. #9 makes me think about one of the few poems I’ve memorized: What happens to a dream deferred? This is the explosion, y’all. Eventually, we explode.

12. Do all white people know how traumatic it can be to move through the world as a black person? I know they can’t KNOW KNOW, because they’re not black, but do they believe us when we say that our lives are grotesquely contorted because of the supremacist nation in which we exist? I don’t know if they do. I’m afraid to ask – because if they don’t know, it may be because they don’t care. And what do I do with what?

America apologize for slavery? As. IF.

NavioNegreiroIn an article titled “How to Apologize for Slavery,” The Atlantic’s  asks: So what would it take for the U.S. to see an interest in apologizing for slavery?

Let me answer that: A miracle. A national soul-transplant. A trip to the Land of Oz to get us some courage. A degree of humility and honesty that American does not possess and has no interest in acquiring.

Johnson offers examples of three African nations that struggled with whether/how to apologize for slavery. (Spoiler alert: Benin got it right.)

But as for the United States? GTFOH.

Slavery itself did not end because of U.S. moral obligation or Lincoln’s sense of guilt, but because a large swath of the country felt it was in the nation’s strategic, and eventually military, interest to emancipate black people.

Writes Johnson:

 A recent YouGov poll shows that 54 percent of Americans do not support a formal government apology for slavery, and another 18 percent are unsure. Further, 68 percent do not support reparations payments to descendants of slaves, and 57 percent don’t even support reparations in the form of education or job-training. For many Americans, like many Nigerians, the country is facing more pressing concerns than the ills of slavery or racism. Besides, as some thinking goes, voting in a black president twice must count for something.