Addressing Ignorance in the Face of Police Brutality and Protests

It’s happening again, and I just CAN’T. In the past week, three Black men, Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Lamont Scott, were shot and killed by police officers in Columbus, Tulsa, and Charlotte, respectively. They were sons, brothers, and fathers, and they were stolen from their families. I am beyond heartbroken…and I am angry. We must demand criminal justice reform, and we must address the root cause of police brutality: racism. We are also called to speak up and to defend the rights of individuals to protest. If you are initiating or perpetuating ignorant arguments about these topics, you are part of the problem. So today, I’m using this forum to counter those arguments (all of which I have seen on social media) and to educate.

Argument #1: If you point a gun at the police and get shot, you’re not the victim of anything but your own stupidity. Let me begin by saying that this statement is disgusting and wildly insensitive given current events. It’s also not applicable. Tyre King was carrying a BB gun and running away from police, Terrance Crutcher was unarmed, and Philando Castille was entirely compliant…all were fatally shot. Furthermore, most law enforcement agencies have a use-of-force continuum which instructs officers to respond with a level of force appropriate to the situation, with lethal force as a last resort. This is similar to the rules of engagement (ROE) for the military. The ROE may, among other things, require a collateral damage assessment, positive identification, and use of force proportional to the threat at hand. If soldiers in theater of war can use the minimum force necessary, surely police officers on the streets of America can do the same.

Argument #2: If you are pro-Black Lives Matter, you are anti-police. This is absolutely untrue. I have the utmost respect for those who choose to protect and serve, but I also want those who abuse their positions to be held accountable. I think we are best served by a “both/and” mentality as opposed to “either/or.” Jon Stewart said it best: “You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.”

Argument #3: The real problem is black-on-black crime. This is simply an attempt to distract from incidences of police misconduct. Rudy Giuliani famously cited the statistic that 93% of Black Americans are killed by other Black Americans. Well, the fact is, most white victims are killed by white perpetrators. So almost all murders are committed intra-racially in this country, but have you ever heard the term “white on white crime”? No, because the term “black on black crime” is itself racist by insinuating that violence is somehow just a problem among Black people. Don’t pretend (and don’t let Fox News tell you) that Black Americans don’t care about crime in their communities and don’t use it as an excuse to ignore extrajudicial killings by law enforcement.

Argument #4: Students today don’t understand war or trauma. A librarian friend of mine heard a professor say this to pre-service teachers. Unbelievable. She spoke up, saying, “Those students are experiencing racial trauma and daily news items that are affecting them in ways that we can’t begin to understand. We need to makes sure we are giving children time to process and express and reflect.” She’s absolutely right. Don’t tell me that the violence against Black people is going unnoticed by Black children. To quote Kelly Wickham Hurst, founder of Being Black at School, “From the foul responses to Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest of the National Anthem to the most recent killings of unarmed Black people, the trauma being brought into school systems today is real.” It’s irresponsible to dismiss the very real fears of our students of color. If you’re a teacher, please read this article “10 Things Schools Can Do Today for Black Students”: https://medium.com/being-black-at-school/10-things-schools-can-do-today-for-black-students-40839a839b7a#.shhx42ojn.

Argument #5: It is unlawful to fail to stand with one’s hand over one’s heart during the national anthem in protest. Proponents of this faulty argument refer to the Flag Code as found in Title 36 of the United States Code, which was approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. It states, “During a rendition of the national anthem, when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their heart.” First, I have a hard time believing that all those up in arms about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who has been kneeling to protest the oppression of people of color in this country) are standing up in their homes during the “Star-Spangled Banner” (hello, hypocrisy). Second, the Flag Code is a guide “to be followed on a voluntary basis.” Don’t believe me? Check out this congressional report: www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf. You’d better be glad it’s a guide too unless you want to be prosecuted for that U.S. flag shirt you have on because the same code you cite addresses the impropriety of using the flag on items of clothing. Finally, in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that government officials cannot force anyone to participate in patriotic rituals, and I quote, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or at their faith therein.” And thank goodness, because doing so sounds a lot like Hitler’s Germany.

Argument #6: It is disrespectful to veterans, service members, and military families to kneel during the national anthem. Kaepernick has actually received a great deal of support from U.S. military veterans using the hashtag #VeteransforKaepernick. They took to Twitter with comments such as, “I didn’t volunteer to defend a country where police brutality is swept under the rug” and “I’d never try to shame someone with ‘patriotism’ in order to silence their First Amendment Rights.” It’s been suggested that Kaepernick’s behavior is somehow reprehensible to military families. Well, I’m the granddaughter and sister to veterans and the spouse of a deployed solider…and I’m not offended. If NFL players or Megan Rapinoe or a group of students want to kneel or raise a fist to protest injustice, it is their Constitutional right to do so. I don’t pretend for a second that my husband’s service and the sacrifices my family makes somehow trump that right. In fact, that’s why people serve…to protect the freedoms we enjoy.

I’ve seen plenty of memes about how we liberals are far too easily offended. Apparently, I should just read this stuff and move on…you know, be a grown up! But I’m not mad because you posted a swear word or disagreed with my views on cosleeping. I’m angry because your rhetoric is not just misguided…it’s hateful. Institutional racism is a major problem in this country, and it has manifested itself in these tragedies involving police and the Black community. Individuals are rightly protesting to draw attention to these terrible injustices. I believe that, as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Consider this my protest. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last.