“Justified Killings” from a black guy who knows a little history

You know what; I want to say several things about “justified killings”.

We, as black people, often cannot tell whether or not a killing is justified. There have been many, many situations where a cop has killed a black person, then covered up the incident (often with the help of the justice system), or planted evidence at the scene to justify their killing. Or just said they were scared, and that’s often enough. There is evidence of cops discussing how to cover up their killings. We see cops not even be indicted for killings they take part in. Look at the murder of Tamir Rice. There’s video of Officer Timothy Loehmann firing on Rice as he exits the car. Statements from the officer were that he told Rice to surrender and he pulled the (toy) gun on the officer. Loehmann had a history of incompetence, and inappropriate behaviour for a peace officer. No indictment in his case. Police being convicted isn’t even on the table much of the time. They aren’t even charged. There’s no trial. One of our kids is shot dead in the street and it looks like the justice system just shrugs its shoulders and tells us to ‘stop looking so intimidating; stop playing with toys that might frighten police officers.’

This didn’t start with Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice. Consider the Black Panther Movement who patrolled our streets in the 60s with firearms to protect citizens from police who were killing them and a justice system that shrugged at the killings, and who provided social programs for struggling black communities. Consider the Black Liberation Army, a decidedly less community-minded paramilitary organization that formed in response to the undermining of Black Panther leadership mostly by police infiltrators and the FBI (see COINTELPRO. Or just click that link. I did the research for you). The Civil Rights movement from 60+ years ago — most people know the horrors blacks and even pro-black whites faced during that time, except it was much worse than you probably know — and further back to theUniversal Negro Improvement Association which worked to get blacks in positions of power and working for the liberation of black folks in the early 1900s in the midst of the poverty caused by sharecropping and other schemes to disempower and manipulate uneducated and unworldly recently freed slaves. Its founder, Marcus Garvey, was deported by the US government, and the organisation fell apart.

You can even go further back to the Freedmen’s Bureau from the mid-late 1800s, a government agency which helped newly freed slaves find food, water, clothing and work, all things their former masters left them without. As there was nothing resembling reparations, most black slaves were merely released with whatever they had on them and ‘freed’ with nothing more than their lives. The Bureau also fought to give black freedmen equal consideration in court, as (I’m sure you’ll be surprised) they were not given fair treatment by civil courts, especially — but not exclusively — in the south. In response to the Bureau’s actions, blacks were portrayed in propaganda as lazy monkeys banking on the hard work of white people, specifically for the welfare programs provided to the former slaves. In 1872, Congress passed legislation to shut down the Bureau.

There hasn’t been a period where the government (often through the criminal justice system) hasn’t done anything and everything it can to shut down black progress, kill us, frame us for our own murders, label us as terrorists and monkeys and stupid and lazy and intimidating and dangerous. We see evidence of this all of the time. Most of us every day. Do you see why we don’t really believe the police and the courts when they say a shooting was justified? They’ve been lying about what happens to us being justified for over 200 years. Why should anyone believe they’re telling the truth now? We may not all know the specifics of our history like I do, but we all know someone who was wrongfully stopped. Someone who was threatened. I’ve only met a few black people who don’t at least have a close relative who knows someone who was killed by police or in a racially-motivated attack. I have a cousin who was killed by police. He was shot multiple times, and he raised his hand to cover his head, it was shot nearly completely off. [Note: The article about this incident includes pictures and names of family members. I regret I won’t be able to post it.] Many of us received ‘talks’ from our parents in the proper way to behave around white people and around police for our own safety. I know to leave my merchandise behind before I look at anything near the door, and don’t put things I plan to buy in my backpack before paying because a little girl was shot to death in my mother’s childhood city for putting bottle of orange juice in her backpack before going to pay at the counter.

On an even more personal note, I’m a black guy who works in a government adjacent field, for a lawyer. I wear a suit most days, and dress nicely when I’m not. I have a sleek haircut. (see my thumbnail and you’re welcome) I carry a designer bag. I smile when police slow down to watch me as they pass. I say good morning to the old woman who grabs her purse when she sees me coming. I don’t react when a white woman crosses the street when she sees the black guy in a suit carrying his go-to casual Coach satchel in the early evening. I had a gun pulled on me by a cop when I was nine. If it hadn’t been for a young, female black officer who threatened to take him down if he didn’t holster his weapon, and been backed up by her young white partner, I wouldn’t be alive today. He didn’t see a scared child (and a small one at that) when he looked at me. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He was angry and desperate and scared — he’d somehow learned that I, a skinny crying black kid, was someone to hate and to fear. If that cop had killed me, would the papers have turned my love for Power Rangers and Wonder Woman into something more sinister? Would the criminal justice system have labeled me as a juvenile criminal and worked to prove that my murder was justified? The most frightening thing about those questions is that I don’t know the answers.