Like seemingly every person in the United States (and many abroad) I’ve been thinking a lot about the murder of Michael Brown after the ruling came down that Wilson would not have to stand trial. I’ve read the court documents, I’ve watched every video, I’ve researched all of the evidence available to the trial. There are a myriad of things ways in which Wilson’s testimony is inconsistent, contradicts evidence, and is just plain fucking wrong–all of which have been expertly deconstructed by minds much greater than mine–but there is one thing that keeps on slapping me in the face, a point that really needs to be analyzed more.
It is the unlikelihood to the point of absurdity this idea that any black person would ever purposefully harass a police officer without an immediate desire to be murdered.
Please keep in mind during my thoughts that I am a white person, and as such my thoughts are tainted by privilege. I have never been pulled over or interacted with police officers in a manner where they were disrespectful to me on the basis of race. I know that, if I were to ever be pulled over, I would be treated very leniently.
But I also know that this is a huge fucking privilege. I have the safety of harboring ill thoughts toward police officers and even hatred because, for me, there is little chance that these thoughts would ever put me in danger. I have the safety of the illusion of manners, a lack of threat, and indeed of my life having any worth simply because I’m a white woman.
I’ve seen and heard how much this doesn’t happen for people of color in the United States. Where I come from it is more difficult to find a person who hasn’t either been the target of police harassment, hasn’t witnessed it, or isn’t related to somebody who has been the target. Those who grow up in areas of poverty, with a disproportionately high population of people of color, and/or an area with a lot of crime? We all know the way that the police force acts differently. They are trained to do so, to take unnecessary risks with the lives of citizens. They seem to “protect and serve” a phantom population of people who need protection from the “thugs” or “gang members,” never realizing that all they are doing is viewing the entire population as a threat.
In that kind of environment, with that kind of institutionalized racism, there is no fucking chance in hell that a parent wouldn’t teach their child from a young age how dangerous the police potentially are. And they do. To quote from Aisha Sultan’s excellent piece :
Marlowe Thomas-Tulloch said that when she noticed her grandson was getting bigger and taller, she laid bare a truth to him: Son, if the police stop you, I need for you to be humble. But I need more than that. I need for you to be prepared to be humiliated.
If they tell you take your hands out of your pockets, take your hands out. Be ready to turn your pockets out. If they tell you to sit down, be prepared to lie down.
You only walk in the street with one boy at a time, she told him.
“What?” her grandson said. In his 17-year-old mind, he hadn’t done anything wrong and nothing was going to happen to him.
“If it’s three or more, you’re a mob,” she said. “That’s how they will see you.”
She started to cry.
“Listen to me,” she begged. “Hear me.”
Finally, she felt him feel her fear.
If they ask you who you are, name your family.
Yes, sir and no, sir. If they are in your face, even if they are wrong, humble yourself and submit yourself to the moment.
“I’m serious,” she said. “Because I love you.”
She told him she would rather pick him up from the police station than identify his body at a morgue.
This is not an isolated story, nor a rare one. This is the reality that millions of black Americans live every single day.
With that in mind, who in the world can take Wilson’s claim seriously? That without more provocation than “please get on the sidewalk,” a young, black teenager would tell a police officer “fuck what you have to say”? That he would call a police officer a pussy? In what kind of world would a young, black teenager who knows the consequences of such behavior and who was about to leave for college take the risk to talk back to a person who could potentially take his life? In what world would a young, black teenager act in such a way that would, at the least, get him arrested when he had allegedly just committed theft?
The answer is simple: in the imaginary world that racists live in. This imaginary world is one where young, black teens are automatically expected to misbehave, to be dangerous, to act violently without provocation. In this world all black people are either selling or using hard drugs. In this world black teenagers are probably drop-outs, will probably stay unemployed to get free money, are lazy anyway. This is the world of the racist, where a young, black teenager would ever call a cop a “pussy.”
Does Darren Wilson live in this world? Almost certainly. Besides this, his testimony counted on other people living in this racist world. And judging by the amount of support, the amount of money he received from donors, and the fact that he got out of a trial? There are many, many people who live in this imaginary world.
Finally, I know that I keep bringing this up, but for real Dave Chapelle nailed it: