Why the Police Should Kill Me Next
“It’s like a perpetual state of exhaustion,” my friend Tony said as he hopped into a cab on his way back the the U.S. It is rather fitting that Tony, another black man from America, had been visiting me in Lisbon while our brothers Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were being executed by police back in our home country. We didn’t really discuss it that much during his three-day stay in Lisbon, we just basked in a little Black joy by visiting museums and monuments, cheering on the Portuguese national football team, and taking it all in.
Perhaps both of us were comforted enough by each other’s company. We just did our best to enjoy our experience. As the only black man in a cohort of 65 Remote Year travelers, I know that Tony’s presence came at the precise right time for me. I am grateful for his brotherhood at a time like this.
I’d be lying if I said that part of my decision to leave the United States and take part in Remote Year wasn’t motivated by some level of escapism. I fully embraced my privilege and left the country (Though I should say that I have a slight problem with this framing because I don’t think that escaping a reality of incessant assaults on my being is anything but my right. I just wish more of us had the resources to act on that right.)
I ran away. Away from a institutionally racist workplace (a criminal justice nonprofit no less) where I was the only person of color on a leadership team with very well-intentioned white colleagues. Away from a country where more guns had been pointed at me by police than any other group. Away from the constant stream of absolutely debilitating Black trauma porn.
But somethings pull you right back in.
I guess I foolishly thought I could romantically expatriate like James Baldwin and Nina Simone and not feel these things. That I could selfishly disconnect from what my Black and Brown brothers and sisters in the U.S. (and around the world) are experiencing. During our first week in Valencia, one of the (brilliant, beautiful, funny, vibrant, talented) Black women in our group was accosted by local police and even taken into the police station while walking home one night. They kept her until the morning because of their racist suspicions. I don’t know all of the details and I won’t attempt to tell her story, but I say this to highlight how futile my feeble attempt at escapism truly was.
I was further disheartened by a white colleague in Remote Year who deferred to police as we discussed the incident because he “wasn’t sure how she acted in the moment,” as if it’s our duty to be polite and docile when our basic human rights are being trampled upon. What kind of prejudice must exist in one’s heart to constantly defer to the (extensively documented, racist) police state even as they live with us, work with us, and call us friends and colleagues?
This world we have created quickly reminded me that it is perfectly safe for our white friends to walk home as blitzed as they want, even high on all types of recreational drugs, but those of us with Black skin must tread much more lightly even while fit as a fiddle.
It already almost happened to me. It was the evening of July 1, 2015 and I was walking out of a friend’s apartment in Northern California. As I rounded the corner on the way to my car, a sheriff’s deputy pointed a gun and a flashlight in my face and immediately cuffed me with my hands behind my back and threw me onto the trunk of the car. I asked what I had done as the deputy unloaded my pockets of my possessions and told me that I “fit the description” of someone who had been reported to have jumped a fence into a nearby recycling center. I plainly told the deputy that, as he could see, I did not have any recycling on me.
The deputy demanded access to the contents of my phone, I declined. I know that Riley v. California and the 4th Amendment afford me this right against unreasonable search and seizure. The deputy did not like my uppity ways so he threatened to book me for the evening if I didn’t give him the code to my phone. I declined further.
I spent the next 12 hours in lockup. I used a soggy ham sandwich as a pillow that night. The deputy even went so far as to email my supervisor at work and tell her that I had been “incarcerated” (a misuse of the term), yet another invasion of privacy and violation of my rights.
That moment when I was looking down the barrel of the deputy’s gun is seared into my memory. I had never been given such a visceral reminder that, like my ancestors, my body is still not fully in my control. The next day at work, one of my white supervisors attempted to comfort me in my distress by telling me that “change takes time,” as if there is a fucking countdown clock on my ability as an American citizen to fully enjoy the rights that white Americans enjoy daily. This only added to my alarm at the broader power structure in place.
It seems like the only vehicle to get people in power to accept difference is, ironically, sameness. I remember when Zach Wahls, hero of the same-sex marriage movement, said to me one day at an LGBTQ conference, “Well Paul, it’d be a lot easier for me to convince Farmer Jim to support same-sex marriage than it would be for you.” He might as well have said: Paul, we can’t possibly expect Farmer Jim to believe that Black people AND LGBTQ people are equal at the same time! The saddest thing about his statement is that…he’s very unfortunately right. The long march towards true freedom in America has always been about one group vaulting over another for its rights. Only when it becomes so untenable for the dominant group to continue to deny us access to the privileges inherent to whiteness, heterosexuality, masculinity, Christianity…only then are we bestowed with some measure of equitable treatment.
So in that spirit of sameness being the vehicle of deliverance for oppressed people, I volunteer to return to the United States and be murdered by the police. Why? Because I have a white family. It pains me to think of them in anguish, but if it means one less Black man or woman will be murdered by police because white families begin to share in that pain, then so be it.
My hope is that in my sacrifice, my white family will appear on TV and wail and cry about my murder like Alton Sterling’s family was forced to do. Perhaps if more white families are forced to publicly wail and cry about the extralegal deaths of their Black family members and friends, some action will finally be taken to end this genocide against Black people, which has never really stopped since the beginning of our country.
It feels like we have tried everything. I just can’t think of any other way.