These eight action steps are written by Catrice M. Jackson and published in Bazaar on June, 8, 2020.
“1. Resist the urge to withdraw, lash out, and become defensive or emotionally brittle when black people speak the unfiltered truth about racism. 2. Refuse to be a co-conspirator with white terrorism by breaking the intergenerational legacy of white silence and complacency. 3. Recommit in every moment to be extremely uncomfortable and uncertain while on your anti-racism journey. 4. Stop being afraid to talk openly and directly about racism in general and your own racism in particular. White people always think it is “those other white people” who are the problem. 5. Grab a seat, sit down, and be quiet. White people are not the experts on racism. Listen much more than you speak. 6. Listen to black women, and if they’re willing to teach you, pay them for their labour. 7. Accept that there are no exceptional white people, but there are white people who do good things. 8. Understand that there is no perfect formula for becoming anti-racist, and that the work ends only when you take your last breath. Learn what the Weapons of Whiteness are, discover which ones are your go-to weapons, and be ready and willing to disarm yourself.”
Soldiers and police (I’ll just call them “militants” because it’s hard to distinguish when they are in combat gear) who were “just following orders” to side with this criminal federal government regime against the majority of the American people have a serious moral issue to deal with, and maybe more. In the worst cases police and soldiers committed atrocities against peaceful unarmed citizens carrying it their civic responsibilities this week. There are many well documented cases of unprovoked attacks on citizens and journalists. It is unacceptable and these people must be held accountable.
Protesting criminal government is a moral civic responsibility. Protecting the status quo of social inequality is not. No justice, no peace. These militants are on the wrong side of the moral divide.
Actions have consequences. These militants are too young to remember society’s reaction against what was politicized as “baby killers” returning from Vietnam. Soldiers were shunned, couldn’t be hired, and faced social condemnation for at least a decade of the 1970s. “Just following orders” carriers even less respect today.
“First they came for the Communists And I did not speak out Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists And I did not speak out Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists And I did not speak out Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me And there was no one left To speak out for me”
~ Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller Lutheran Pastor.
We must speak out. We must take action. And we will always seek justice.
Note: Of course I know that this blog post does not consider the many soldiers and police who act honorably. That’s the point. It’s not about them.
In the midst of horrible an reprehensible behavior by some police officers this week gassing, beating, arresting and shooting peaceful citizens elsewhere, I want to acknowledge that our Millville police walked peacefully with the community over the weekend and yesterday a New Jersey State Police officer from Port Norris stopped at my rural home and Baysave business just to ask if everything was OK. I really appreciated it. Thank you to all those officers! My family member in law enforcement are embarrassed and horrified by the aggressive actions by some police against peaceful protesters. Some police chiefs ‘get it’ and others just do not. The days of tough guy law and order mentality of “dominate the streets” being touted publicly by the president will just not work anymore. I appreciate president Obama’s statement yesterday that police policy happens at the local level, not by national policy. But why is it that some police chiefs ‘get it’ while others do not? Why is it that some understand the underlying the massively powerful force of resentment against government and others think they can maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach to law enforcement?
I didn’t know much about the topic of policing until my son was in law school focusing on criminal law and policing policies. (He won the school’s recognition award for exceptional performance in that area and had several great criminal law internships). In addition to conversations with the young lawyers, At first I was surprised that young lawyers are so opposed to traditional policing and criminal law tactics. Then I read a few books and resources on the topic to get a real education. I learned that we’ve been handling our policing and criminal law wrong for a very long time. It’s just like learning that spanking our kids was wrong and ineffective for all those generations. Unfortunately it is not reasonable to expect that the average person will educate themselves. The belief in outdated and ineffective policing persists in the minds of the majority of undereducated population (and especially politicians who think they know better). We are well familiar with “The Myth of the Rational Voter” concept as explained by author Bryan Caplan that a democratic process cannot be relied on for good public policy.
Those of us who study social policy and effective policing know that looting and rioting is an inevitable result of the decades of the widening gap in economic and social policies that are enforced by our government. Ultimately, we can’t fix police policy until we begin to address these other inequities. But no matter what, the policing policies of the past are wrong and ineffective and will only lead to more bad results.
It’s been 40 years to the month since the City of Miami race riots in May of 1980. Public Safety Officers chased, beat and murdered a black man in public. The 33 year old black man, a former marine, was illegally operating a motorcycle but not involved in any other crimes. Police crushed his skull and he died of multiple skull fractures. A total of 8 police officers were charged with crimes ranging from evidence tampering to manslaughter. Prosecutors tried four officers on charges of manslaughter, evidence tampering and other charges. The officers were acquitted at trial. Public outrage led to riots including looting, arson, a sniper and murder.
Now my son Josh is a public prosecutor in Miami. I’ve met his friends who are also Miami prosecutors. We hear in the news and otherwise about bad acts by both the police and the public.
Yesterday new riots were ripping the city apart. Tense times will follow. All we can do now is pray for all.
Post script: A friend reminded me tonight about reading ‘Huckleberry Finn’ aloud to Josh and his sister Arielle when they were young. It was such a meaningful experience that I still have that copy of the book in my nightstand today, more than 20 years later. It was tough for me to say the word “nigger” aloud so many times in those bedtime readings. I struggled with it. I struggled with the resulting conversations about racism with my children while discussing the book. But we all learned. My attitudes about racism evolved and matured and continues to evolve and mature. But the book wasn’t just about racism, of course, and neither are the issues we face today. I hope these lessons from childhood so many years ago will help guide Josh in his difficult official duties now.
Riots are not the result of protest of the killing of one black man. Riots are not just about killings. Riots are not just about blacks. Riots are the expression of the unheard over decades. The sooner that the media and the public realize this, the better off we will be to deal with the current crisis.
Many police chiefs across the country will come to regret decisions they made in the early stages of these riots. They just don’t know better but will come to understand that they chose bad strategy that made matters worse.
“If we are to ever transform our outrage into meaningful social change, we have to do more than take to the streets with cellphones. We have to organize rallies, not riots. We have to use the pen and our voices before the sword and the stone. And we need leaders who rise from the flames of civil unrest to navigate us arm in arm, both literally and figuratively, away from purposeless violence toward purposeful progress in civil rights and social justice that began more than half a century ago.” – Joe Pierre MD, Psychology Today, May 30, 2020