Alton Sterling

An Open Letter to White People Reacting to Police Brutality

 

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Image via Odyssey

Hang on a minute.

Pause.

Before you post that Facebook comment.

Before you wave your #AllLivesMatter flag.

Before you turn to a black person—a black person you may or may not know—and regulate their grief, their fear, their anger, their burning sense of injustice. Before you make a call to “just follow the rules and you’ll be fine.” Before you say “People are dying by the thousands in other countries.” Before you say “Let’s make sure we hear both sides of the story” when cameras have already captured every angle there is.

Before you do that, stop. Take a deep breath.

Think.

And when you do, I hope you’ll realize a few things.

It is not your place to tell someone how they are allowed to feel in the face of brutal and blatant injustice. Their pain does not need your approval. Their pain has never asked for it.

It is not your place to tell someone their suffering, their anguish, their lives do not matter to you. Because when you remain silent, when you change the channel, when you close your eyes, that is what you’re doing.

It is not your place to question someone’s lived experience based on your opinions, hearsay, and sound bytes picked up from cable news.

Because when another person of color is murdered by police.

When the punishment for selling CDs, or carrying a handgun with the proper permit, or breathing air on American soil while black.

When the punishment for these crimes is death without asking questions.

When all of these things are true—and more than true, they are common—no one needs you to play devil’s advocate. 

The devil has enough advocates as it is.

Before you bring up the victim’s previous run-ins with the law, remember that our constitution protects citizens’ right to trial by jury, not summary judgment at the barrel of a gun. Remember that a criminal record is not grounds for murder at any time and without warning.

Remember that white people committing mass murders have been arrested without incident, and taken to Burger King before heading to prison, and white people committing heinous crimes have been bewailed as “young men with potential, and their whole lives ahead of them.”

Remember that.

Remember that the same people who search for proof that victims of police brutality deserved what they got, that there was something about them that made their death justified, those are the same people who set up a Kickstarter campaign to support Darren Wilson and George Zimmerman.

Before you say anything about the five officers killed at protests in Dallas last night, before you join the crowd condemning the entire Black Lives Matter movement for the violence—despite, at press time, it being “...too early in the investigation to say whether there was any connection between the shooters and the demonstration—ask yourself this.

Yesterday, did you speak the words “a few bad cops”? Yesterday, did you remark that “isolated incidents of violence” can’t be used to criminalize a whole group who, by and large, just wants to protect the lives of Americans?

(Which, by the way, I also believe. Which is why opposing police violence, racial profiling, and the inequitable and corrupt system we now have, that is not the same as “hating cops.”)

You can’t use that rhetoric for officers, then turn on a dime when black people are involved. That’s not how logic works.

Oh, and before you say “isolated incidents of violence” again, remember that 566 people have been killed by police since January 1, 2016, and that young black men are nine times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans. I don’t know when something stops being “isolated,” but it’s certainly well before the 500-a-year mark.

500 a year. That’s approaching twice a day.

Before you share the videos.

Before you drop them on a black friend’s timeline and say “oh isn’t this horrible?” Before you spring them on people who aren’t expecting it, who do not need to see black lives broken again, who already understand what that looks like and do not need reminding.

Before you do that.

Why?

You don’t get any bonus ally points for treating the loss of black life as entertainment. You don’t get to fling it around showing how woke you are, with no regard for the trauma you are leaving in your wake.

You are sharing the murder of a human being.

You are sending trauma to your friends and loved ones. You are autoplaying trauma in their timelines.

If that doesn’t make you want to throw up, honestly? What is wrong with you?

This is not the time to center your feelings. Yes, it hurts. Yes, you feel helpless and sad and angry and sick. I do too. I feel all of these things. I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t. But this is not about our feelings.

It is about our silence and our indifference. And that needs to stop.

Amplify the voices of people already out there doing the work. Collect your fellow white people when they say something fucked up and racist. Take the burden of explanation on yourself.

It’s not people of color’s job to do that work. It’s not people of color’s job to exhaust themselves having the same conversations over and over, in this real moment of trauma.

That’s on us.

White people, we can do better. And we MUST.

We must speak when it is our turn to speak, and only then. And we must also listen.

Writer Ashley C. Ford puts it this way:

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America’s history with racist violence is long, and it doesn’t disappear the day after an incident. It endures. It has endured for hundreds of years, with or without hashtags, with or without body cameras. And it will continue to endure until the day we all demand better.

Those demands are being voiced. We cannot give up until they are met.

It is literally a matter of life and death.

#AltonSterling

#PhilandoCastile

#MikeBrown

#TrayvonMartin

#EricGarner

#WalterScott

#FreddieGray

#LaquanMcDonald

#SandraBland

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