The War is Now – Generation Justice

I’ve been trying for weeks to find the right words to explain how I feel about this complex story of American police brutality. Our system is so corrupt that it isn’t even a matter of crime and punishment – it’s a matter of life and death. The fear is growing, but so is the resistance. People who have never protested before are marching in the streets. The militarization of the police is undeniable – rows of police officers armed in riot gear, throwing tear gas. The military is funneling weapons into our neighborhoods, promoting this culture of violence.

It’s important to look at police brutality on a personal level because our dominant media sources provide a large, sprawling, general summarization of these trends. This does no justice to the inexplicable, heartbreaking loss that our communities are facing. This landscape of panic and sorrow is unhealthy for us as a whole, but each one of us internalizes this brutality in our own way.

Community members in Albuquerque, N.M., gather to protest the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. (Generation Justice)
When Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown there was a new wave of outrage and grief across the world. Social media was on edge, with hundreds of thousands of posts surrounding Ferguson, justice for Michael Brown, and #BlackLivesMatter.

I think what frustrates me the most is hearing others defend Darren Wilson on the basis that this was simply an incident of crime and punishment, which then happened to translate to violence, and unfortunately, resulted in death. I don’t think that is what justice looks like. This is our turning point. We must not only become more aware about injustices, but to make sure we know what justice looks like. We have to know what we want, and we have to be conscious that we are not connecting justice with violence. Why must our society believe that punishment is synonymous with torture, violence, or death?

I read this passage by bell hooks and it seemed eerily applicable to Darren Wilson, and the narrative of the story of Michael Brown. It reads:

“White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. The fact that this mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to “protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat.”

The war is everywhere, and it’s now. In case we weren’t already aware, the non-indictment of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer that killed Eric Garner, is yet another example of how our legal system is twisted. The story of Eric Garner had absolutely none of the ambiguities that the story of Michael Brown had, yet it had the exact same results. The entire police encounter was filmed. He didn’t need witnesses, because we could all witness it for ourselves. As if that wasn’t hopeless enough, the one person that was indicted was the man who filmed who did film it. What message does that send us?

New Mexico State Police in riot gear during recent protest. (Generation Justice)
This isn’t something thousands of miles away, it’s a systemic problem with our law enforcement. We know this here in Albuquerque. After years of police violence and months of investigation, the DOJ finally released a report earlier this year about the excessive use of force by the Albuquerque Police Department. Although APD may be held to a higher standard, they’re still accountable to report their own misconduct. I think it’s unrealistic to trust a police department that has already established “a pattern and practice of unconstitutional use of force and deadly force.”

The DOJ report also made it mandatory for APD to wear on-body cameras, which is the first mandate of it’s kind in our country. Only a year ago I would have believed that technology could fix our police force, and hold them accountable. After the death of James Boyd, my confidence in this lessened. Now, after the death of Eric Garner, I do not think we can continue to believe that cameras will fix these injustices. It is incredibly important to document these injustices, to record the police, and to capture this violence – but it is not the solution. It does not deter police from violence, instead, it simply acts as a political tool of “justice.”

It’s important to remember that these injustices are happening to humans. It’s easy to get lost in the “newspeak.” It seems like such a horrific problem to be so common. But that’s precisely why awareness is important. I hope for a culture that acts through respect, love, and trust. I think these protests will not quit until we shift in the way we approach law enforcement. I pray that a story of hope and justice will take place of one of violence. I think about how different the world can be if we started seeing more acts of love instead of acts of violence.