Tuesday, April 10, 2012

To Serve and Protect Whom?

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I want to trust the police. Actually I need to trust the police. But right now I don't.

As a single woman of small stature I know there may likely come a time when I make an emergency call, and when the officers come I want to be sure of the fact that the men or women commissioned to protect me are going to do so. But my faith in law enforcement is at an all-time low.

These feelings have been stirring for quite some time-- since I witnessed a black male college student get roughed up on the streets of New Haven a few years ago--but Rekia Boyd and Trayvon Martin have pushed me over the edge.

Though neither of the murders involved on duty police officers. Law enforcement aided and abetted the obstruction of justice in both situations. The transparent lies and coverups affirm my suspicion that cops are not interested in upholding the law rather they are concerned in with preserving their jobs and pensions.

I'm now tuned into the many cases of police misconduct broadcast nationally (including the sickening New Orleans story), and I can't help but imagine the hundreds or thousands of daily incidents everyday that go unreported.

I can only assume (pray really) that the overwhelming majority of the country's nearly one million law enforcement personnel do not partake in malfeasance, but the cases we see are so egregious I can't shake the distrust. I wish I could.




My sheltered, suburban life taught me that police exist to protect me and my home from "bad guys" (i.e. the people who didn't "belong; poor people; black and brown people). I believed it that as long as I did nothing criminal I had no need to worry.

At times I envy my 17 year-old self's self-assured ignorance. College changed my consciousness and uncovered a looming pessimism. Injustices I'd long felt but could never name were revealed, and I began to see how often the "bad guys" looked like my sister, uncles and cousins.

The people who patrol our streets and neighborhoods still operate within a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal context that asserts that my black, female body is worthless. I cannot and do not expect officers to rise above their socialization; however, that means we can never rest.

People of Color are never meant to feel completely at ease. Those in positions of authority ensure it. But we rarely discuss the extraordinary stress that accompanies ones inability to let your guard down.

The solution remains unclear. Teaching little black boys and girls to stay alive by kowtowing to white authority humiliates and demoralizes.  I have heard it time and again from men who have had it drilled into their consciousness that the presence of a badge means absence of dignity. Furthermore, recruiting people who like us doesn't seem to work either. Black officers are often just as malicious as their non-black counterparts.

This is a widespread, deeply rooted institutional malady, but as usual Black Americans are expected to provide the cure. While blackness is despised and womanhood preyed upon, who can we trust to serve and protect?

Kimberly Foster is the Editor and Publisher of For Harriet. Email her at Kimberly@ForHarriet.com with comments or find her on Twitter.

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