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On Police Brutality, Living While Of Color, & Why Brutality At OWS isn’t Shocking

I’ve seen a lot of posts talking about OWS, police brutality, race, gender, & intersectionality. Many of those posts include links to the famous stories of police brutality. And those stories are important & should be told. But, by only talking about those stories I worry that we’re giving the impression that police brutality is relatively rare in communities of color. I’ve posted in the past about the cop who called me a nigger when I was 12 & the time my (then) 13 year old husband was beaten up by a cop. But, those weren’t our only run ins with abusive police officers. Experience has taught me to worry about the cops. I think of them as a risk to navigate more than I think of them as people who are here to protect me or my family. My husband & I have already had the talks with our oldest son about how to act when he’s stopped by the cops. Notice I said when he’s stopped.

That’s because I have been stopped while doing everything from taking a walk to grocery shopping to helping someone move. My father in law runs a Medicar service that primarily caters to the elderly who need help getting from their homes to doctor’s appointments. My husband used to ride along to help him out, since it’s a family business. One day they were stopped by the police because some cop decided a white van leaving a hospital on the West Side of Chicago fit the description of a tan truck that had been involved in a robbery in the Loop. They forced them out of the vehicle at gunpoint while a bunch of elderly people watched & worried. When it became clear that they didn’t fit the description? The cops told them they were free to go and left. That’s it. No apology, no consideration for all the people in the vehicle, but then everyone involved was a POC.

Matter of fact, let me tell you about Kourtney Wilson. I’ve known her since she was a teenager. She’s a nice young lady who unfortunately has lupus. Two years ago she had a seizure, her roommate dialed 911 & when the paramedics came (despite being told about her health status), they manhandled her & had the police arrest her.  As if that wasn’t bad enough they took her all over the place (two different precinct houses & two different hospitals) so that she was denied medical treatment for 9 hours. Think about that for a second. NINE HOURS after she had the seizure she finally got the help she needed. And that’s a case that only made the local news & the blogosphere before vanishing into the Wayback machine to be dug up by people like me with a reason to know her name. Imagine being afraid to call an ambulance when someone you love needs one because they could be arrested for being sick. Imagine being killed in your own home like Kathryn Johnston or Aiyana Jones. Imagine being harassed or having a gun pulled on you just because you’re going about your day while being of color.

We don’t have to be at a protest, or actually fit the description of a suspect to have a negative interaction with the police. Officers like John Burge have tortured POC into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit & gotten away with it for decades. We know the police cannot be trusted. So, to see the police using pepper spray on protestors, or going out dressed in riot gear to evict them from encampments? Not at all a shock. I know some will say “Well now we know, & we’re trying to fix it for everyone” but you’ll pardon me if I don’t buy that the changes OWS is fighting for will extend to POC. Not when every time someone brings up race and OWS there is invariably a “It’s not about race, it’s about class. Why are you being divisive?” response from multiple people. POC of every class have to be concerned with the possibility of police brutality, & until OWS addresses that reality, how can it represent the entire 99%?

3 thoughts on “On Police Brutality, Living While Of Color, & Why Brutality At OWS isn’t Shocking”

  1. Stogu says:

    This is awful. I definitely think that (America, at least) likes to pretend that it’s one big happy society. Like when they papered over the cracks with the Missouri Compromise, and then that got messed up by California obtaining statehood, and then there was the Kansas-Arkansas Act…sorry, history geek. Point is, it’s definitely terrible to simply point out just the good or the bad stories, and really marginalizing. Have you read this post?
    When people retell stories of marginalized people, they choose one of two routes, generally. Either they turn this person into an inspiration (like a person who’s not common-bodied completing a marathon) or they tell a tale of woe that pulls at your heartstrings and fascinates you. The first is marginalizing for a couple of reasons: reducing the person’s existence to this one/these many accomplishments & their marginalized status, implying that whatever was done could not ordinarily be done by people of their status (which is condescending), and implying that all people of their status should be able to do it (which is victim-blaming). The second is marginalizing because: it reduces the person to their horrifying experience(s) & status, it’s done for entertainment usually- people can shut off the PC/TV and go back to their privileged lives, and it just…makes them inhuman, simply characters on a screen.

    …that got off on a tangent, sorry…anyway! Yeah, totally awful. Am reblogging.

  2. NancyP says:

    You may or may not know “Shark-Fu”, blogmistress of “Angry Black Bitch”, and St. Louis journalist. She has an autistic brother who cannot communicate easily with strangers, let alone strangers who aren’t in the mood to listen. She frequently writes about how she worries that he will be arrested while black. Typical beat cops aren’t trained about and don’t know anything about how to recognize and handle individuals with autism, sensory deficit, developmental deficit (aka mental retardation), mental illness. Add racism, and innumerable tragedies occur to black and brown innocent bystander individuals with these conditions.

    Police training should include some serious time observing (one way mirror, with permission)* at various clinics for people with the above conditions. The police candidate trainees should be getting on-site patient-specific teaching from the clinician or an additional advanced M.S.W. (clinical), Ph.D. (clinical psychology), or M.D. (psychiatry) resident seeing the patients/clients. Introduction to Psychology classroom courses simply aren’t enough. For that matter, other first responders (firefighters, highway patrol, emergency medical technicians) would benefit greatly from some observation and teaching time. Even clinician-directed actor simulations** of potential field situations with people having the above conditions would be better than nothing.

    * This was part of the training of medical students 25 years ago, an introductory phase to demonstrate clinical interviewing and counseling protocol and to observe patients who didn’t want extra people in the face-to-face counseling situation but who didn’t mind having an extra person behind the mirror. After seeing a few interviews, a student would attend face-to-face interviews directed by the clinician. Eventually the student would do an intake interview, and then the clinician would do the expert intake interview.

    ** The actors are trained by M.D.s/ D.O.s to simulate patients with specific conditions, and to be able to identify when a procedure (palpation, auscultation, etc) is performed adequately. The actors are also instructed to perform patient personality profiles (garrulous, stoic, close-mouthed, complaining, obsessed about a side issue, etc). The totally green medical/osteopathic students are assigned to interview and do a basic physical exam on these simulated patients, with M.D./D.O. observation and instruction when the student is floundering. Some actors like the job.

  3. Angela says:


    This is my first time reading your blog. I wish I’d discovered it earlier.

    I was wondering what your thoughts were of the participation of POC in the Occupy movement — particularly the involvement of high profile people like Dr. West. Positive? Or rather negative in that it allows white liberals to continue believing “the changes OWS is fighting for will extend to POC”?

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