When Pandemics Are Not Enough

Someone I’ve never met, but who’s friends with several folks I know posted something he thought was funny this morning. It was a “joke”
about his desire to be able to afford “riot tourism.” While this may be tangentially related to his research area, for an educated white guy to have posted this in the midst of uprisings (not riots) against the on camera murder of an unarmed Black man was beyond “tone deaf,” it was infuriatingly disrespectful and callous. (I reacted strongly, suggesting that he perform an impossible anatomical feat of self sexualization, before eliminating him from my list.)

What’s happening now in this country is important. The pandemic showed the ongoing apartheid in healthcare, housing, income, and employment in ways that have made it obvious to even the most oblivious and insulated people in our society. The most recent in a steady stream of murders ,of another, unarmed Black man, (George Floyd) already cuffed and on the ground, was the final straw. Furthermore, the realization that many people have been more upset by damage done to property than the on screen murder of a human being has not only added fuel to the raging flames, it has also corroborated what The Children of Captive Nations have been saying for 528 years.

When my son was about two years old, I was feeding him dinner when I heard a lot of activity in the hallway of the apartment building I lived in. I was a recently single parent at the time, living in a cheap walk up in what was back then a rough area of Park Slope on St. Mark’s & 5th.
I heard running and boots on the stairs, followed by loud banging and shouts of “Police, open up”
Too surprised to be scared, (I’d descended from a more middle class lifestyle and neighborhood and didn’t yet know certain aspects of my vulnerability ) I opened the door and saw a number of cops upstairs and downstairs, with two facing me at my door.
They proceeded to tell me they were looking for someone (the perpetually sought after Black dude, of course) and to ask who was in the house with me. By this time some fear had made its way to my brain and I replied that it was just me & my little son. They demanded to enter, even though I said, “He’s two!” “We have to see him, we have to see for ourselves” said the Black officer as his white partner peered aggressively over me, weapon at the ready.
They entered, with me trying to keep ahead of them, so my son would see me first, and not two heavily armed, frightening strangers in our kitchen.

This is the fearsome Black guy that they saw:


The Black officer politely thanked me, but the silent white cop just turned away, his disappointment showing clearly on his face as he moved quickly towards the door, in pursuit of that “Black guy.”

That was the first time for my son. Only his first, far from his last. It was not mine. I remember my brother and his friend, maybe 8 or 9, climbing on the roof of the Post Office across from our house, to retrieve a ball they’d pitched or hit onto the roof. I remember the cops grabbing them and taking them to the Fourth Precinct in Jersey City, even though both kids lived on the block, our mothers were home, and they could have knocked on our door, especially since I told them my mother was there.

I remember my mother’s fury as she marched down the street to retrieve her child and give the cops a piece of her mind. I didn’t get all of what the grown ups talked about that evening, but I heard them saying that “a white child would’ve been brought home to his parents” for punishment. And I heard the mingled fury and fear and relief as they talked on into the night. I’d be much older before I understood the depths of their relief and the reasons for it.

Like every Black, Native, Latinx, or other mother of colour, or any conscious person who loves someone of colour, I’m forever traumatized, forever vigilant, forever clear about where we stand in this country as “non-whites.” I sleep through the night only on the occasions that my son, his family, and I are all under the same roof, and I’m honestly not entirely unhappy that Covid-19 has him working from home, safely away from the negative possibilities that are a daily reality for Black and Brown people in this country. My son is a person of stature, but none of his education or awards, nor the fact that he is one of the best men I’ve ever known, would mean a thing if a police officer, or almost any random racist white person with a weapon or a weaponized phone, decided to target him, or my brothers, or nephews, nieces, loved ones.

And I know that like a Mr. Smith in a Matrix movie, pretty much any seemingly benign white person is a latent, potential racist threat. That liberal, educated white woman who was prepared to frame a Black man and put his life at risk because he had the audacity to question her right as a white person to break leash laws is the perfect example, but it’s most certainly not the only one.

This isn’t an intellectual or academic exercise to me, and I question your humanity if that’s all it is to you. If you could watch any of the now numerous videos of weaponless Black/Brown people being assaulted or murdered but show more concern for property, or judge their character, or even activities in the face of brutality, you are an immoral, soulless person.

Talking back to white people/requesting that they leash their pets/possible petty fraud/theft/driving/jogging/eating/watching tv/being in a group, etc. are NOT felonies. But guess what? Even if they are, the law says that people are innocent until proven guilty, entitled to representation, a fair trial, and a verdict before any form of punishment can be meted out, and that police are neither jury, nor judge, nor executioners, by law. You don’t have to like or approve of a person for them to merit these basic protections under the laws of the land and the rules of basic human morality. And if that’s a problem, it’s you who are in the wrong country, not We, the People.