I grew up in Oakland, California in the nineties and have been arrested and harassed by police more times in my life than I can count.
I have been one of the people running away when we heard the call, “5-0! 5-0!” signalling that, no matter what we were doing – lawful or otherwise – it was time to disperse because the police were coming. I have never needed videos showing other Black people being terrorized across the country to understand intimately the consequences of the State’s hypervigilant criminalizing of Black folx in Black ‘hoods. Frankly, I am confused why anyone, at this point, still does.
Last week, a video of a Black mother in Fort Worth, Texas seeking justice after a white man assaulted her 7-year-old son went viral. According to NPR, the woman was outside with her two daughters after she said a neighbor had choked her son for allegedly littering. The woman, Jacqueline Craig, called police to report the man.
Craig’s niece streamed the ensuing altercation on Facebook as the police officer badgered Craig, asking her why she didn’t “teach [her] son not to litter” and threatening to arrest her if she doesn’t calm down. As Craig gets more upset that the officer won’t address the actual crime that was committed against her son, the officer pushes Craig’s 19-year-old daughter Brea Hymond out-of-the-way after she stepped in between them to protect her mother. He then wrestles Craig to the ground, holding a Taser to her back and threatening the crowd of family members with the weapon.
By the end of the altercation, Craig and her two daughters – the other only 15 years old – were arrested for existing and needing assistance from police while Black.
The day after her arrest, Craig told reporters at a press conference that the arrest made her “feel like less of a parent that [she] couldn’t protect him when he needed it.”
As a mother of three Black children, that line stuck with me. It reminded me of the words my mother told me and my brother growing up, letting us know that she would do everything she could to protect us but there were just some things that were out of her control. One of those things was the police.
Like many mothers of Black children, mine knew that police officers would criminalize my 6 foot four-inch body before they even knew my name. She knew they would see the Jordan’s and piercings and think the worst of me without regard for my humanity, gender, or age. She, like many people in my community, was familiar with the phrase “shoot first, ask questions second,” a saying many of the elders used to describe Oakland PD’s extralegal pacification tactics. She never watched videos to learn these lessons. She lived them.
I stopped watching videos depicting vicious, extrajudicial murders of and violence against Black people by the State (police officers) and armed vigilantes when I saw ex-North Charleston police officer Michael Slager stand flat-footed, aim his pistol, and murder Walter Scott in plain daylight after a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light in April 2015. Since then, the highly publicized deaths of Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, and so many others have been streamed on social media, commentated on by unknowledgeable pundits, and minimized as random acts of a few “bad apples” to undermine increasing calls from activists and organizers to abolish the police.
Many of the people who so vehemently oppose police abolition back up their claims by citing statistics about how “few” Black people are killed by police each year or how many traffic incidents do not end in death or whatever asinine comments they can glean from the Internet. Yet, what they regularly fail to do is actually experience or understand what is like to be Jacqueline Craig or my mom or me or the countless other mothers of Black children who have to navigate these communities that police officers have declared war on daily.
These are the communities where children like Tamir Rice don’t come home after playing in the park. These are the communities when newly-minted high school graduates like Michael Brown don’t see their first day of college. These are communities where little girls like Aiyana Stanley-Jones don’t get to wake up and watch Saturday morning cartoons. These are communities where Jaqueline Craig’s entire family has to watch as she and her two daughters are humiliated, brutalized, and objectified by a racist police officer all because they actually trusted that he would do the right thing by their 7-year-old son and brother.
Police abolition is not just about “bad apples” or altercations that end in death. It is also about the constant terror that weaponized police authorities enact on communities of color. It is a conversation about the ways so many of us have figured out that the safest option is actually not calling the police because they escalate any situation involving Black people. We do not need any more videos to know what police abolition is about. We have been living it for generations.
Fundamentally, police abolition is about using our own resources, knowledge, and experiences to form community-based systems of accountability, something we already know how to do. So, I will continue to abstain from viewing footage that underscores the need for police abolition and continue to have conversations about what a more just world should look like. I wish more of us would do the same.