Five hundred ninety-five. That’s not a big number to some. But, when 595 quantifies the loss of lives, it’s always hard to stomach, because ALL LIVES MATTER, right? However, when that number symbolizes the loss of another black life at the hands of police, it feels almost epidemic; viral – because it feels like once again BLACK LIVES DON’T MATTER.
The latest killing, Alton Sterling. He is the most recent black man to be killed by police, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sterling, the father of five was killed while standing in front of a convenience store selling CDs (with the store owner’s consent).
News outlets are reporting that police were called to the store front, because Sterling threatened the caller with a gun. I get this. If I were threatened with a gun, I would call the police too. Still, what happens next defies logic and it’s what causes outrage in the Black community. It’s what moves people of all races to march in the streets. It’s what causes the clueless, those who are so far removed, and who have zero empathy to ask “Why?” “Why are those people so mad?” “Why are they so fucking hostile?”
Video footage shows police wrestling Sterling to the ground; Sterling struggling with police – which by now Black people know is a no-no. Never wrestle with the police. Don’t place your hands in your pocket. Ask if you can remove your license from your wallet. Put your hands up. Stay in your car. Be polite. Say, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, mam.” NEVER run from the police. These are all the things I have told my sons (and daughter) to do should they find themselves interacting with the police. These are the types of conversations taking place in Black churches and around the dinner tables of many Black families. Sad. But, an undeniable fact.
Sterling was pinned down by two police officers. Their actions were not enough to subdue him, to control him. Instead, a gun was used to silence him. Forever. There are reports that Sterling had a gun in his pocket. Although, the video does not show Sterling reaching for a gun. Eyewitnesses say one of the police officers, who was on top of Sterling, yelled a warning: “He’s got a gun! Gun!” Then a police officer removed his gun from his holster and shot Sterling multiple times in his back and chest.
I know a lot can transpire in the heat of an altercation between police officers and citizens, or during any altercation for that matter. But, they had already pinned Sterling to the ground, right? If they feared Sterling would reach for his gun, why not shoot Sterling in his leg? Arm? Then grab his gun. Why shoot him in the back and chest multiple times? This is just common sense. Our police officers are sworn to protect us; to conduct themselves as professionals; to value all human life.
Even so, violence has historically been the relationship that Black people have had with police. You don’t have to go very far in our nation’s history to learn that Black people were lynched; hung from branches of trees. Police sprayed us with water hoses and their dogs barked and bit us as we marched for civil rights. When Black people see the images of police brutality and killings sprawled all over news, it is bound to stir up feelings of anger, helplessness, and yes, sadly violence.
If you are a police officer… No let me preference this, because I know there are good and law abiding police officers out there. If you are a police officer who is afraid of Black people and you believe that all Black people are violent, are animals, and you hide your fears of us behind your badge and gun, then you need a career change. Minimally, you need cultural sensitivity training or training on how to de-escalate. You also need to know that Black people are just as afraid of you, as you are of them. You don’t need your gun. Just the sight of you is enough to cause our palms to sweat; our hearts to leap out of our chests. I repeat. We are afraid. Deathly afraid.