On Why Hugs Aren’t Enuf
I currently live in North Carolina. By now, I’m certain plenty of people have heard of the latest state-sanctioned execution of another person of color; this time, a disabled Black man by the name of Keith Lamont Scott. We’ve been having protests here in response, and like usual, our rasclot of a governor McCrory is pretending he’s concerned about our state’s wellbeing while simultaneously throwing a bone to the corrupt cops as though they’re somehow the victims in this unending struggle. Such couldn’t be further from the truth when one considers the lengths he’s gone to absolve them from any accountability, which includes a law that will go into effect on the first of October, allowing them to release any footage they obtain (including dash and body cam recordings) at their own discretion, or not at all.
Mind you, those who mock the general public’s distrust of the current administration as conspiracy theorists might want to take note that the very Police Chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg law enforcement has since gone on the record in the wake of this shooting by saying “Transparency is in the Eye of the Beholder,” in response to his decision to withhold footage from the public. Note that this decision flies in the face of Mayor Jennifer Roberts’ vow to reciprocate our trust by making sure these men were accountable for their actions.
Police Chief Putney in fact only rubbed salt in our collective wounds by initially claiming that his only interest re: any shooting footage was its release to the actual victims of Scott’s murder; he however, had no problem allowing a police union spokesman -Todd Walther- to view this sensitive media. Nonetheless, dash cam footage has finally been released to the public, likely in response to Scott’s wife, who also released what she’d recorded via her phone. I won’t link to either.
I’ve seen recently that yet another recording is making the rounds amongst the public. The footage is especially popular with the Conservative media, who’ve resorted to exploiting Civil Rights iconography to shame protestors and those fed up with the corruption here in North Carolina: footage of a young Black man giving out free hugs to riot officers during the night the protests first broke out. The video has predictably gone viral, given how sharply it contrasts with the disaster porn currently saturating the public consciousness: often footage of buildings being sabotaged, protestors shouting with mercurial furor while roads — even highways — are shut down and clouds of tear gas smother the streets. In addition to a State of Emergency being declared — as well as a curfew — and the National Guard being on reserve, one would imagine the situation in Charlotte was a deleted scene from The Purge.
I imagine the sight of a Black man peacefully engaging with stoic — and armed — riot police, especially white ones, on the eve of this state-sanctioned murder is a ray of postracial hope, peace, and reconciliation in the midst of a maelstrom of chaos and racial unrest. It’s an example of countless attempts to lionize these men and paint them as martyrs — victims, even — in spite of how firmly they’re protected by our gov’t and allowed to act with relative impunity. This narrative is the perfect counterargument to those dang biased Blacks and NBPOC folks who insist that this nation not only has an ongoing display of excessive force and abuse of power within the law enforcement, but also a deeply-ingrained racial animus.
Hugs, to them, are all we need. I however, need more than a superficial gesture, which brings us to the core of this work (CW, since sexual assault mentions are present):
I remember the time I was once harassed by a racist ass cop just off-campus one evening at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I remember I’d just come back from the Library after typing an epic thesis that was incidentally about Nat Turner, but that’s a topic best reserved for another post. So, I’d just left my dorm and was about to head out for dinner when this cop, a bespectacled white man with a relatively unassuming frame stopped me. Note that this man already had a reputation: he’d falsely arrested a close friend and beaten up a Muslim student in his own dorm room before.
This man claimed I supposedly “matched the description” of an armed robbery suspect, hence why he approached me with his hand on his gun and never took it off of it. He then began questioning me after asking for my ID. [Full disclosure: I’m an Epileptic who’d had neurosurgery just a few years earlier and predictably had certain complications recovering from it.] His tone inadvertently caused me to have a partial seizure during the event — I’m still aware of my surroundings when these happen, but get confused and act weird as a result— which didn’t help the matter at all. He left me alone after I obviously couldn’t provide him with anything, which may or may not have had something to do with another student he’d harassed pursuing legal action being in the area. He was extra-polite to the other person the next time they spoke, though.
I remember the time my best friend was detained after being accused by a Becky (yeah, I fucking said it) of being a dangerous suspect. It happened shortly after he’d visited his then-girlfriend-and-now-wife at the university’s video library(she worked there). Mind you, he’d picked her up every day there without incident prior to this, and all it took was a single call for these assholes to ban him from ever visiting campus. It didn’t, however, stop there. That very evening, a flood of cops swarmed the video library and began pointlessly searching the building like it was a trap house hiding kilos of drugs. They then did this to her car, and finally her dorm room, utterly humiliating her.
I remember the time the same police department arrested a couple friends who were also students and claimed that they were drug dealers as part of an ongoing sting. Funny that they didn’t arrest, however, the preps who regularly snorted coke in the fucking bathrooms in one of the other public buildings. They never seemed to ever handle rapists who sexually assaulted other students on campus by drugging them either, including a group of students who’d gang-raped an unconscious woman at a frat party. The guys mocked her when she awoke afterward, and she’s never been the same.
I remember when I first learned that Trayvon had died. I went out with a hoodie, skittles, and iced tea in protest at an event. Whenever I talked about the subject in secular circles, I learned rather painfully just how naive I was for expecting a skeptical movement spearheaded by cis white guys to be able to relate to or address my struggles re: race or gender by sheer virtue of our shared nonbelief. These men who constantly brandished their rationality and ethical superiority with the intensity of a Westboro fanatic, were hardly distinguishable.
I remember fasting the day Troy Davis was executed. I’d followed his case ever since it had reached mainstream media and maintained that vow in spite of my family’s objection (for Health reasons) to it. I remember keeping Rekia Boyd, Kathryn Johnston, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Tanisha Anderson, among other Black women, in consideration on discussions of police brutality within our community. I remember the narrative that officers — and later, the media in general — perpetuated: that the only “victims” of police brutality were those who were respectable; that a single blemish automatically justified a death sentence. Crimes — even nonviolent ones — committed decades ago literally became admissions of guilt in their eyes, even despite the cops having no knowledge of them prior. I remember Circle Bear.
I remember the time my friend’s house burned down from a freak accident. He was a stout, copper-toned Black man who’d sustained severe third degree burns on his arm while trying and failing to save his child. His arm lost most of its sensation, although he can still use it, and he often jokes about literally putting out cigarettes on it, even allowing friends to do so as well. The local media reported the accident and claimed that he, along with the rest of his family, had abandoned the infant to die inside of the fire. His family naturally wasn’t the first to fall victim to this practice: similar happened to the Black parents of a child who’d disappeared many years ago. I’ve forgotten many things since my surgery, but I never forgot his name: Jyrine Kyese Harris.
I remember the victims of police shootings having their lives and bodies put on trial without being able to testify for themselves. I remember the news describing Freddie Gray’s mother as an “illiterate heroin addict”. I remember articles that misgendered trans women who’d been arrested by cops for defending themselves. I remember the sympathy the media wanted us to feel for the serial rapist and former officer Daniel Holtzclaw, rather than his victims, who news outlets routinely slut-shamed and caricatured as opportunistic and untrustworthy liars. I remember the nightmares I had pondering what the legacy of a disabled Afroboricua with Epilepsy and a mood disorder would be.
I saw that viral video of a Black man hugging an officer in riot gear, and remembered the things I just described. I remembered the videos of cops dancing, playing pranks on unsuspecting civilians with ice cream, and the mention of police having Barbecues with Black Lives Matter activists. None of those things, however, brought a single person killed by cops in state-sanctioned executions back to life, nor did they undo the damage wreaked upon the lives and reputations of their survivors.
The saccharine images littering the media couldn’t erase the disgust I felt when only one cop faced criminal charges out of seven in total, for which he was acquitted and the others suspended. They’d fired 137 rounds into a vehicle containing a mentally ill and homeless Black couple. It didn’t quiet the rage buried deep within me whenever I saw a widely-circulated snapshot of a Black therapist laying on the ground with his hands raised while his special needs patient sat nearby, playing with a toy truck someone had mistaken for a gun. The same therapist was shot — he thankfully survived — and the officer who shot him cleared of any wrongdoing.
I saw that brotha do everything but sing Kumbaya with those officers — which he’s more than entitled to — and then remembered the numerous cases of departments being busted by their own ineptitude for planting weapons at crime scenes while their cameras were recording. Those hugs are supposed to make me forget these injustices and placate my frustration with a system that blatantly disposes of us, but hugs and smiles do not veto questionable legislation. They don’t cover funeral costs or ensure the promise of due process. They certainly don’t guarantee that Black Lives Matter.
Color me unimpressed.