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%?