November 27, 2006

Racism Kills, Or Ruins Lives At the Very Least

To start on a positive note, let me give props to Air America Radio hostess Randi Rhodes, who spent most of her entire program today 11/27/06 covering the lethal impact of racism in yet another case of police emptying their guns into unarmed African American and Latin American men. I noticed that there were more people of color (and police and former police) calling in to her show than usual, and I feel we're just as eager to discuss this rationally and to find solutions as those who deny racism exists in the U.S. are to ignore it.

50 rounds fired (31 from one officer) kill one man and wound two others after a bachelor party at a Queens strip club let out early Saturday morning. Another case of “contagious shooting”?

The man who died, Sean Bell, was to be married later [that] day. Bell is remembered by his pastor.

FLASHBACK: While the investigation has just begun, comparisons have already been made to the 1999 shooting of an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, who was gunned down amidst a hail of 41 shots.

I grew up as a medium-brown-skinned female who didn't speak English until second grade, in a U.S. racial and ethnic ghetto in a huge city. I saw tons of drugs dumped into our community by white men in big shiny black cars, wearing black suits and white shirts; gangs of kids no one wanted to educate or employ, who were left alone by parents working for less than minimum wage in factories, terrorizing other kids, women and the elderly and disabled. Cops could somehow find/catch graffiti taggers successfully but they couldn't seem to stem the gangs - they were afraid of them and hoped they'd kill each other and save them the trouble - and the flood of hard drugs because cops collected money from the white men in suits to target competitors, not the source.

There's a retired cop in my family, and small-time dealers were the priority he was ordered to watch for - not their sources. He was stationed in Harlem, so guess who the small-timers were.

A Latino-Black male family member was racial-profiled consistently when canvassing in expensive neighborhoods to raise funds for environmental rights organizations. He'd have to produce ID and wait by the squad car, in sight of any potential donors he might've canvassed. Naturally he could never cover as much ground as his white co-workers, who merrily made more for themselves and the organizations, unmolested by police. The well-known environmentalist group never filed a single complaint on the police departments, yet they were collecting money for the Human Rights Coalition through the canvassers , as well as themselves.

Many of my African American friends were racial-profiled - and damn near arrested and/or shot - on the very university's campuses that they paid tuition to! Check this latest one, with the post-9/11 Arab student profiling:

I can "pass" [for white] in winter (especially if I don't open my mouth), so I hear some things that white people would never say around me if they knew what/who I am. All kinds of people of color also, Latin Americans in particular, and some Asian Americans, have spewed some anti-Black rhetoric around me that left me temporarily stunned but never silent. The propoganda against Black people is so intense, so prevalent, and perpetuated in international as well as national mass media. As a result, Black people are as likely to be targeted as criminals in non-Black ethnic communities as in white ones. Most people, including progressive white people, don't care though. It doesn't matter to them how many days and nights innocent Black men in particular spend in county jails, how many jobs are lost, how many families disrupted, how much money wasted on bail for innocent people in hopes of saving a job!

Once I drove for weeks with my tags not on my plates but in my glove box, but it was winter, I was pale, and I was never stopped - until my African American girlfriend rode with me. She was often mistaken for a male by white men, as were many African American women with short natural hair and no visible makeup or jewelry, I often found, even in an African Art History course by the very [white] professor teaching it! Giving her a ride, I was stopped by a policeman, we were spoken to threateningly, she was called "Sir" sarcastically, and I had to put my tags on immediately. If it had been her driving, I can imagine a scary humiliating scenario where she would've been thrown against the car, cuffed and arrested.

I was also followed in sporting goods stores and department stores in general when my girlfriend and I'd shop together. My practice then and since whenever this happens is:

  • I always take all the goods I wanted to buy to the register (with sometimes 2 or even 3 clerks/security people stalking us)
  • I have them ring them up
  • I ask for the manager
  • I explain that their racial profiling has made me too angry to complete my purchase, and
  • I leave.
I grew up, finally, fearing that the male Latino adolescents in my family and neighborhood were more likely to get shot in the back by passing police if seen running full-throttle in the streets, especially in commercial or white neighborhoods. I had to teach my own son to watch his velocity and exuberance in white neighborhoods. That's a very sad fact, that most mothers of dark males especially teach them this admonition, but only a few of my white progressive friends and allies have taken on racial-profiling as a human rights crime until it was aimed at Arab Americans after 9-11. Ironic.

I've seen people of color and poor people get suckered into taking a plea for petty crimes they were only caught for because of profiling. Next, they lose access to financial aid and higher education, then have to deal with legal discrimination to deny them decent jobs even after they complete a sentence. I've seen them, in other words, get criminalized for the rest of their lives on one stupid move, and we have laws on the books to keep it that way even when we know the laws are discriminatory against Black and brown people especially, the poor and working class.

What's it take to make people care and take action? Look at the lives ruined, lives unjustly taken, and think about it and act next time you hear a racist or classist (dare we Americans use that word anymore?) comment, read/hear/see a racist/classist story in the media. Take it further: when you see people stereotyping poor people or people of color or youth as probable criminals, ask why. If you believe most poor folks are crooks, ask yourself why. Really, no ethnic or economic group is made up primarily of thugs - there are even some nice rich people, and some of them are white, and some are male.

One thing definitely leads to another, and these realities need to be challenged by all of us before they destroy any possibility of trust among us who want to see change for justice. If you don't think your particular movement needs to do this, then I hope at your next meeting when you look at your fellow activists, you see a lot of people who look very different. If not, then you need to do this, or that isolated barricaded feeling that nags at the edge of your mind won't go away.

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