misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

The killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile; deadly racism in this proliferation of guns

We must allow for the fact that most people learn wisdom only by personal experience ... it explains their insensibility to the sufferings of others ... There is a good deal of excuse on ethical grounds for this attitude. No one wants to meet Fate head-on  ... inward calling and strength for action are required only in the actual emergency .... (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)


I've just witnessed such horrifying pairs of videos that I must write about an encounter I had with a police officer last week over a traffic violation, one I had years ago again over a traffic violation, and a few other verifying experiences either I or a daughter had.

Here are the videos and story.

This will tell of the video taken by Lavish Reynolds just after her boyfriend was killed and what happened afterwards. Lavish Reynolds feared for her life too.

Alton Sterling

This video shows a group of officers shooting a black man, Alton Sterling, to death as he lays on the ground screaming with fear. It's followed by a news story showing the mother of Sterling's son talking about her husband, her son weeping, followed by the store-owner who took the video.

Philando Castile

The first of my personal stories resembles most others I've had over the years, with a couple of exceptions, which I will tell about, that taken together taught me that in the US (and probably elsewhere) if you are a citizen encountering a police officer, you have to be very careful how you will react because they may act hostilely to you with impunity.  The first occurred recently after guns have become common, but the previous two occurred in the later 1980s and early 1990s before the proliferation of these deadly weapons.

From a few experiences my daughter had and what I've read and been told by friends, I don't call on police even in emergencies unless it's really dire -- someone's life is in direct danger.  For those who have disabled or mentally distressed people in their house, I want to emphasize, from what I've read (numerous articles) and felt I would never call on police if there was someone disabled in the incident lest the disabled person be misunderstood and hurt. Disabled people who are acting unconventionally will be taken in as if they were dangerous criminals or "tasered." How inappropriate this might be as treatment for a disabled person I leave my reader to imagine.

Encounter 1: I was driving up Independence Avenue last Thursday around 11 am, and in a state of nervous stress as it was the first time I'd ever tried to drive myself from Virginia to the Folger Shakespeare Library. I was driving to the Folger because I had bought tickets for my daughter, Izzy, and I to go to a play at the Folger on the Saturday, and felt I needed to practice and to discover if there was parking. I thought I needed to learn how to get us there by car as the Metro was no longer going to be working past July 5th: the blue and yellow lines were not going to go beyond Braddock Road; there would be a shuttle bus to take us to Pentagon City.  We or I alone might want to go to the Folger for plays, concerts, poetry readings over the next years.

I was very unused to driving in DC streets around the area.  I had just managed all the turns in the highways and was coming up the right avenue and coming close to the Folger. My garmin said "turn right" at an insection in front of the Library of Congess, and cars were behind me pressuring me to turn (I thought) as the light was green, and as I began to turn I first saw a car rushing forward and two pedestrians further back. I stepped on the gas to do this quickly but thought I had done a risky thing. Within seconds a police car was after me, stopped me, and a white male police officer came to my car and said, Did I know what I had done wrong? He then said had it not been that the pedestrian had seen me and stepped back, I could have hurt him, smashed him. I believe I apologized profusely, tried to explain, and he listened and took my driver's license, registration and went back to his car. He came to the car again and asked me to explain and I told that I was nervous, the first time driving on that street, that I realized I should not have tried to make that left turn too late, and I was very sorry. He repeated that I had endangered the pedestrian, and went away and then came back again, and said he had checked the least violation and went over the fine and how I had to pay within 30 days or it would be doubled, or I could contest it. I again explained and felt just terrible, so distressed.

Gentle reader, this situation was directly parallel to Sandra Bland. She was ordered to get out of her car, she was berated, she was yanked out of the car, then yanked on the ground by her hair; she was handcuffed, she was thrown into a police car and arrested. None of this happened to me and my traffic violation was much worse. Three days later she was found hanged in her cell.  Verdict: suicide. Now I am wondering if the word LYNCHed should be applied. She must've been very uppity in that jail too. Imagine the scene of her murder.

I got to drive away unhurt, and when I finally got home sent off the $76 and told myself I would not drive in DC unless I had to again.  I threw out a list of things I thought I might have liked to go to for the Fringe Festival but thought I was not up to driving into DC.

I had a bad dream about the police officer that Thursday night and took a stronger sleeping pill. I can still see him looking at me as I type this blog.

On the Saturday I drove Izzy and myself to the play; again at the same street, the garmin said turn right. This time there were no pedestrians and no cars and as I turned I saw one coming along, but Izzy said, look there's a car coming. The implication was hurry, turn. We were okay, but she confirmed that this was a bad place to turn left and left turns should not be allowed. I decided that If I drive again, I'll drive up the street much further and see if I can find another place to make a left. I feel embarrassed that I came near to causing a bad accident and worse because I made this left turn again. I didn't learn from my first experience, it took a second one where I was calmer and could see what was wrong to show me what happens on this corner. I so worried lest I not find a place to turn.  Only on the second time when I was not nervous, when I was calm, did I see coolly I must find another way to get to this library and start to figure out a way to do it.  I comfort myself that nothing fatal or even bad happened to anyone because I lack confidence.

Normally I would not tell this story. I do this tonight to make the point I am persuaded (from previous experiences and what my friends have told me) that this is typical for a white woman, especially older (I am 69) in an encounter with a police officer. Briefly shortly after my husband died, I crashed my car. I passed out for a second and spun round and hit a bas on he side. I was going very slowly and the only person I hurt was me and thing my car.  When a young white male police officer came over, I was crying a lot and my older daughter was there. To make a long story short, the police were very polite and again I was given the least violation. I remember the guy said I reminded him of his grandmother. That's important for why I tell this story.

My point is that white people are treated utterly differently from black people by police officers. Perhaps someone reading this will say, "well, duh?" and "everyone knows that."  Do they? why in case after case, including the recent murder of Freddy Grey whose spinal cord was severed between the time he was taken into custody in a police vehicle and the time he left it, is no police officer indicted? not even for manslaughter?

The reason for this is for most white people most encounters with police officers are utterly different than encounters black people have with police officers. They just do not believe therefore that black people are in any danger from police officers. Many white people also share the racist fears police officers have of black people which the spread of guns (so that officers have to assume that many Americans will have a gun) has made a lethal (to black people) fear.   When they see a horrifying video of a police officer killing a black person, they look for explanations which tell them the black person somehow deserved that. This helps them to feel safe against the police officer.

Why do I not call on police officers in emergencies? I've been told other stories, by white men, of where the police officer was hostile and the man paid a price he felt was unfair in some way -- pricey ticket; by teenagers where it was obvious the officer wanted to ticket the teenager and liked intimidating the teenager -- which worried them; in these cases they were boys and middle eastern. But it's my own experience that I know that warns me. In the later 1980s Jim, my husband, had to take a plain to Cincinnati on a winter evening late at night, deadly cold. I drove him to the airport and coming back on a feeder lane, my car stalled from the cold. Almost immediately I was a bottleneck car on this feeder lane. Within minutes a white woman police officer was there next to me. I got out of my car and explained I didn't know what to do. I didn't carry a phone in those days. She looked at me and I could see didn't like me. She said scornfully, didn't I know how to jump start the car and began to say I should open the front and do this or that. No I didn't know how to do any of that nor have any of the things she said I needed, I said. Well, she said, you're going to have to move it, and stood there. I said I couldn't pick it up and carry it. I could see she was seeing me as this contemptible feminine woman who was unable to cope with a car.

The moment was heated, I saw she had a gun, and felt things escalate, so said I would walk back to the airport and try to get  a tow-truck. She said that would take too long and began again on what I needed to do. I said, why didn't she do it? She looked very mad, but then suddenly a white male police officer was there, and (to my relief) he took this woman away, walked back and said he had a phone he carried (a walkie-talkie sort of thing) and would I call this tow company.  I did, handed him my credit card. He then said I must walk back to the airport where I would find a cab he had called for me. I did so, and there was a cab there. A Muslim man who I still remember began to tell me how "God was looking out for you," and this was to test me, and would turn out beautifully.  He drove me home and politely trusted me to go into the house to get $25 to pay him.  He drove away and then next morning I got a phone call from the tow truck company telling me where the car was -- a service station. I did pay for a ticket this woman police officer had filed. Expensive.

In this second incident something beyond reason occurred between me and this woman and what was bad to my mind was she had a loaded gun. She seemed to me to never come near using it. I don't know how to use a gun and never carry one, and the subject never came up. But I was aware of it.  The vast proliferation of guns that has gone on was since this time. I am convince that it is the proliferation of guns (and the terror of police they will be killed) that intersects with racism to cause these murders of black people.

Maybe my second story is irrelevant but I think not. I've a third story which involved an upper middle class white woman. When my younger daughter, who has been diagnosed as Aspergers Syndrome, took to bicycling in the neighborhood sometime in the early 1990s, she encountered a couple of bullies who sensing she was vulnerable chased after her. These were black children who lived in an areas down the hill from where we live. She was teased and then menaced by them in front of our house, a white area. I would not have know about this but that in the afternoon of that day a black woman police officer came to my door. She told me a white woman neighbor across the streets had reported this "incident; to the police office, and she had come to reassure me the incident was "taken care of." She and a colleague had gone down to where the black children lived and told their parents to keep them away from this neighborhood and not to bully my daughter. Did I want anything else done so we could feel secure? I said, no. She went away.

I felt very odd about this. I was worried for my daughter when I was told, and was very sad that afterwards my daughter stopped bicyle riding. Unfortunately, she was scared away from it even though the police had acted. At the same time, I felt the white neighbor must have a lot of confidence the police would back her up and go and intimidate black and poorer people in another neighborhood on her behalf. I knew she was a lawyer as well as sold real estate. In fact she came over my house the next day in a very satisfied state of mind. I myself would never have called the police for this. This woman lived in a much more expensive house than us, one several times renovated. There were expensive cars in the garage.  She and  her hsuband sent their children to expensive out-of-state colleges.  I tell this story to present a state of mind of an upper middle class white women in the US; how she looked at the police, what she expects from them, and how they behaved at her summons.

Now for my younger daughter's experiences -- all occurred since she was of driving age. Twice while she was still driving, she was pulled over by a police officer and more than scolded, berated for not driving fast enough. Threatened she'd have her license taken away. All in mid-Virginia. She was made so anxious by these menacing experiences, she stopped driving. On a third experience, she was crossing the street, and upset about something, and jaywalked and a car almost ran into her. A police officer came over and he didn't like her lack of affect, not making eye-contact, and inability to explain herself. He actually began to threaten to take her into the police station but that the people driving the car had not driven away, came out of it, and said it was their fault and they would never press charges. They said all should be forgotten. They were an older white couple in a nice car. So the police officer dismissed them all.

Trival stories perhaps but it's this world of whiteness from which people come who will not convict police officers of misbehavior or even killing after a great deal of evidence shows that police are inadequately trained to be protectors and friends of citizen, and that they shoot to kill black people in the streets of the US happen it seems almost daily. The refusal of the media to acknowledge the continual state of risk and fear that guns everywhere causes is part of this insensibility. One result is a majority white population who will not work to control police officers from killing black people.

Jesse Williams's protest speech last week (before this latest killings)

Update: I just heard Obama's speech: despicable he called the snipers in Dallas; yes but are not the police officers who wantonly murdered Castile and Sterling and so many now named and countless others equally despicable. The gang who destroyed Freddie Grey's spinal cord with their bare hands? Black lives don't matter. Various groups of white people have the right to kill black people in the US, and Obama reinforced that this week.

Miss Drake
Tags: guns, racism, social life, violence

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