Police Brutality Against Black and Brown People: We’re In This Together

A poster demanding justice for the August 2010 shooting of John T. Williams in Seattle.


A poster demanding justice for the August 2010 shooting of John T. Williams in Seattle.

 

Gyasi Ross, Indian Country Today, 8/22/14

 

Native people are the most loving people in the world. And it makes sense—so many of us have seen this movie before.

We got our own problems, right?  Still, ever since the Michael Brown tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, I’ve received hundreds of Facebook messages and emails—Native people understanding the connection between black folks’ interaction with law enforcement and Native folks’ interaction with law enforcement.  The Natives who’ve contacted me seem to know, “We’re not saying all police officers are bad.  Heck, most are ok.”  But those Natives know that when things do go haywire and a police officer does do something bad to someone, it’s usually someone brown. And when that brown-skinned person is killed or hurt badly, it’s usually for something small.  Insignificant.  Something that doesn’t deserve deadly force.  Like allegedly stealing cigars.

That’s rough.  But to quote Bill Murrary in Stripes, “That’s the fact, Jack!”

RELATED: The Shooting Death of John T. Williams

Those Natives told me—if I get a chance to write about this—to express that they understand the family’s profound sense of loss and grief.  They were very clear when telling me that they stand with the people of Ferguson.  They recognize this—this looks familiar.  Maybe that’s why so many Native people are standing with the frustrated and grieving folks of Ferguson.  Maybe that’s why so many are up in arms about this recent unnecessary death of yet another brown person.

Photo by Jack Storms
Photo by Jack Storms

 

Many of Natives have seen this movie before.  This looks a lot like John T. Williams—the beautiful and brilliant Native carver, shot while breaking no laws by Seattle Police Officer Ian Burke.  We recognize how the inquest tried to paint John T. as aggressive, as drunk—the same way that the Ferguson Police Department “leaked” information that Michael Brown may have had weed in his system.

So what?  Who doesn’t have weed in their system??  Weed doesn’t make you aggressive—it makes you hungry and lazy.  But the police department is attempting to make Brown look like a “thug”—which we all know is code for “ni**er.”  We recognize this doublespeak, the smokescreen.

Protesters marching the Seattle streets demanding justice for John T. Williams.
Protesters marching the Seattle streets demanding justice for John T. Williams.

 

But I digress.

This movie looks a lot like the recent Becky Sotherland incident, tasing over and over and over an unconscious Native man in Pine Ridge. Or AJ Longsolider, 18 years old and died in a jail cell, sick yet no one from the state would help him.

This looks like Black Wall Street—there are plenty of Natives in Tulsa; we remember how Blacks caught hell for doing well.  This looks like Oscar Grant—brutal.  Unnecessary.  Tragic.

The destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921. An armed white man watches over African American prisoners and a dead man. In one day, the thriving black neighborhood was destroyed.
The destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921. An armed white man watches over African American prisoners and a dead man. In one day, the thriving black neighborhood was destroyed.

 

Look, there are plenty of good police officers. I mean, I come from a “Don’t talk to the cops” family, but I also know that there are many who do their jobs every day respectfully and lovingly.  This is not a condemnation of law enforcement—not at all.  But it IS an observation about some law enforcement.  I KNOW there are amazing police officers who engage in good and healthy practices—heck, just the other day, a member of the Suquamish Tribal Police took time out of his day to give instruction to my nephew that literally might save his life.  That’s community policing. That’s beautiful. That’s the opposite of police brutality.

But when police brutality happens in this country, it happens to black and brown-skinned people entirely too much.  Now I’m not saying I want it to happen to white people more­—­all I’m saying is that there are a WHOLE bunch of white folks who were convicted of ugly, violent crimes, and they were around and healthy to stand trial.  And then there are a WHOLE bunch of black and brown people who weren’t alleged to have committed any crimes, or at worst a misdemeanor (like that pack of cigars), and those black and brown people aren’t alive anymore.

Seems inconsistent.

RIP John T. Williams.  RIP Michael Brown.  God bless all the victims of police brutality, of all colors.

#Ferguson #RIPMikeBrown

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Dad/Author/Attorney
www.cutbankcreekpress.com
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

 

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/08/22/police-brutality-against-black-and-brown-people-were-together-156533

‘Separate and Unequal’—Ferguson Has Implications for All Ethnicities

AP Photo/Jeff RobersonPolice wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised Monday, August 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised Monday, August 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri.

 

Alysa Landry, Indian Country Today, Aug 21, 2014

 

Nearly two weeks after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, protesters continue to call for marked changes in law enforcement policy.

Brown, an 18-year-old black man, reportedly robbed a convenience store in the St. Louis suburb around noon on August 9. Thirteen minutes later, he was shot dead by a white police officer.

The incident, which rocketed to national attention with the help of social media, touched off days of vigils, riots and military police action in a town of about 21,000 people. It also sparked a federal investigation and brought to the surface complaints about racial profiling and police brutality.

Among protesters’ demands is creation of a federal commission to investigate trends of militarized police forces nationwide—and the civil unrest that follows. If formed, the federal commission would be the first in nearly half a century to address these issues.

“I think the time is long overdue for something like this,” said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the leading national authority on racial profiling. “There’s talk in the wake of Ferguson of reconstituting a commission that would look at police use of force, if not the entire criminal justice system.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 established the 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the causes of race riots in Los Angeles, Detroit and Newark in the mid-60s. Also called the Kerner Commission, the group met for seven months and produced a report that suggested white America bore much of the responsibility for racial unrest.

 

Protestors confront police during an impromptu rally, Sunday, August 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)
Protestors confront police during an impromptu rally, Sunday, August 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

 

The commission found that black frustration came from a sense of powerlessness, poverty and lack of opportunity. It called for the federal government to intervene and provide housing, education, employment and social services to black communities, and to dismantle discriminatory practices system-wide.

The commission’s most quoted conclusion was this: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Johnson accepted the report in March of 1968, but ultimately did not support it.

Yet many of the Kerner Commission’s findings are still relevant today, Harris said. Minorities still experience social inequalities and police departments—often undertrained and overworked—lack meaningful federal direction.

“One of the things that the Kerner report said is that many of these disturbances began with police encounters with citizens—even traffic stops—that went awry and ended up with people dead,” he said. “It’s amazing how that thread moves through so much of the last six decades.”

The militarization of police departments has happened just in the last two decades, Harris said. As many as 80 percent of small- to mid-sized police departments have SWAT teams armed with military surplus weapons. Too often, when the tools are available, departments want to use them, he said.

 

Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, August 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, August 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

 

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday was in Ferguson promising a thorough investigation into the shooting. In a statement, Holder pointed to the bond of trust that should exist between law enforcement and the public, calling it “all-important” and “fragile.”

That trust has been historically absent in relationships between minority populations and police forces, Harris said, noting that it can be hard to find a black man anywhere in the U.S. who has not been a victim of racial profiling. Profiling—from both sides of the equation—happens long before an incident becomes violent, he said.

“In relations between African Americans and other minorities and police, you’re never writing on a blank slate,” he said. “There’s a history that goes all the way back to slave patrols, which were among the first sources of organized law enforcement.”

The U.S. Constitution, which reflected attitudes and beliefs of the time, defined slaves as “three-fifths of all other persons.” Those beliefs trickled through the generations and centuries and are still apparent in today’s conflicts, Harris said.

“The history of race relations and racism in this country pervades police institutions just as it does every other institution in the United States,” he said. At the same time, when a white police officer shoots a black person, “perceptions and memories and beliefs are already there for people to say this is another one of the worst examples of how police treat black people. It fits a long-existing, deeply held narrative.”

Conflicts like the one continuing in Ferguson have broad implications for all non-white populations, said David Patterson, assistant professor at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, located in St. Louis. Patterson, who is Cherokee, said it all boils down to identity and experience.

 

Protestors rally Sunday, August 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by police in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday, August 9. Brown died following a confrontation with police, according to St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, who spoke at a press conference Sunday. The protesters rallied in front of the police and fire departments in Ferguson following Belmar’s press conference. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)
Protestors rally Sunday, August 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by police in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday, August 9. Brown died following a confrontation with police, according to St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, who spoke at a press conference Sunday. The protesters rallied in front of the police and fire departments in Ferguson following Belmar’s press conference. (AP Photo/Sid Hastings)

 

“Any human being who has experienced suffering, the default emotion is anger or rage,” Patterson said. “When you see images like men lying dead in the street, those emotions are easily brought on. To be non-white in certain communities, those images are burnt into our minds.”

Patterson pointed to historical conflicts like the 1864 massacre at Sand Creek, Colorado, or the American Indian Movement’s 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee—two confrontations where military action resulted in excessive violence. He believes the incidents illustrate a pervasive disconnect between military or police forces and minority populations.

“Using words like ‘they’ and ‘them’ allows us to be separate,” he said. “When you view a community or race as the ‘other,’ you don’t have to connect. You can view African Americans or Indians in a certain way and see them as less than human.”

 

David Patterson, assistant professor at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, located in St. Louis, weighed in on the events in Ferguson. (Washington University)
David Patterson, assistant professor at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, located in St. Louis, weighed in on the events in Ferguson. (Washington University)

 

The same section of the Constitution that defined slaves as three-fifths of a person excluded Natives entirely. Natives were not considered citizens at all until 1924.

As federal investigators review the Ferguson shooting, a separate probe continues in Albuquerque, where officers have been accused of a pattern of excessive force. That federal investigation was launched in March after Albuquerque officers shot and killed a homeless man who was camping in the Sandia foothills.

Patterson said he wants to see protests continue in Ferguson until meaningful work toward solutions begins, including more federal direction for police forces and resources for minorities.

“In some sense, this community is at its most powerful right now,” he said. “As long as folks keep marching and keep the cameras here, things can happen.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/08/21/separate-and-unequal-ferguson-has-implications-all-ethnicities-156516