Eric Garner case should have been easy for them.
He was unarmed. The medical examiner ruled it a homicide. There was video. Multiple videos, which told the story better and more accurately than any eyewitness or police report ever could.
After all, we’re just talking about an indictment here. A simple process by grand jury to determine if the prosecutor had enough probable cause to bring the case to trial. In 99 percent of all legal actions, the grand jury is just a formality. It’s seen as a way to validate the prosecutor’s case more and scare the defense into copping a plea. However, after months (the hearing started in late September) of considering if there was enough evidence to charge NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for fatally choking Garner, the grand jury decided that the officer’s actions were justified. And once again, the family and general public, who wanted justice, got nothing.
I want to be outraged, but I can’t seem to feel that way. And many of the people I know have expressed the same numbness. In particular, the Black people I know. It’s a weird dance of “I told you so” we Black folks play with ourselves. We snark about our collective stupidity in putting our faith in the justice system. We make snide comments about our silliness in believing that we are entitled to the same level of respect by law enforcement and other government in general. We blame each other and the victims of these police killings for not being smart enough. “They” should have known not to run, skip, jump, hop, push away, fight back, resist and even breathe in an officer’s presence without the cop’s permission first.
We hide behind this huge wall of denial and delusion as a way to maintain some level of control over our lives. We make a list of actions and things to stay away from in order to keep up this illusion of control, including speaking incorrect English; getting bad grades; sagging our pants and rocking skirts with short hemlines; walking around with our hands in our pockets; walking around with our hands up; playing with toy guns; wearing hoodies in the rain; seeking a stranger’s assistance in the event of an accident; seeking an officer’s assistance in the event of a car accident; trying to make a quick buck off of hustling loosies…
We do our best to shield ourselves with strict adherence to social order, respectability and perfection.
And yet every 28 hours comes a blunt reminder that no matter the behavioral shift or attitude adjustment, we are not in control. As comedian Chris Rock noted in a New Yorker interview recently, it is not black progress but rather white progression that has to happen. And the way I see it, the only real way any progress can happen is through a cultural shift, which sees black people as human and worthy of equal protection and respect under the law. Also justice. As without justice, there is no peace.
Still, every major politician, news pundit and civil rights leader from President Obama down to New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, has gone on television after the latest announcement to not indict, to call on black folks to remain peaceful. President Obama went on television and tried to pacify us with a task force, co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, which will look at ways to reform police policies and demilitarize the department. During his press conference, Mayor De Blasio took his pacification a step further by reminding us of how he too had to give his son the same list of actions to perpetuate the illusion of control. As he partly said in a statement before the media:
“So I’ve had to worry over the years. Chirlane’s had to worry. Is Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities—crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods—but safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors.”
However, nowhere in his olive branch of camaraderie and sameness did De Blasio mention that it has been his administration, which has supported and championed the broken window policy. A policy of policing, which made it possible for police to target and attempt to arrest Garner that day for something that amounts to a misdemeanor. And President Obama fails to tell the public that Chief Ramsey lorded over a department in Washington D.C., which paid out millions in civil lawsuits for “repeated bloody and abusive crackdowns on protesters.” Nevertheless, everyone wants folks, black folks in particular, to be peaceful.
But what does it mean to be peaceful anyway? I can tell you that being peaceful is not some shallow proposition centered around nonviolence, tranquility and love. Peace doesn’t mean that you get to be left alone – to shop, hustle and have fun, to watch mindless television and to bury your heads in the sands while Black Rome burns. Peace is not passive. It does not require you to hug our enemies or turn the other cheek for the sake of faux unity. Nor does it require grieving widows of murder victims, whose killers have just been set free, to stand in front of television cameras and other media and pledge forgiveness for the sake of nonviolence.
Instead, being peaceful provides the space for that same grieving widow to scream righteously to the heavens “hell no!” when confronted with questions about whether or not she will accept the unjust ruling as well as the phony offers of sympathy from her husband’s killer. Being peaceful means to be a foot soldier for freedom, equality and justice at all times. It requires us to be confrontational and demanding and most importantly, committed in the never-ending fight for the right to exist.
And let me make this clear: This is not a post to promote looting and rioting, no more than this is a post suggesting voting, marching, boycotting and petitioning our government for answers. Rather, this is an acknowledgment again that what is needed here is a cultural shift. One that acknowledges black people’s right to access the same laws as everybody else. And secondly, a shift that acknowledges that all of the protesting, rallying, screaming, rabble rousing and yes, even rioting and looting, are necessary to push the national conscious where it needs to go.
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who everybody is using now to quell the righteous indignation in favor of “non-violence,” taught me that. He also taught me this:
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
We shall not be silent.
The likely and sad news is that we will be preparing ourselves in another few months for another failed indictment of a police officer. This time for taking the life of a 12-year-old kid with a toy gun. But I hope folks will not be silent at each and every single instance where justice should be shouted out, screamed at, yelled upon, kicked, stepped on, punched in the gut, boycotted, destroyed and yes, even burned down if needed. We don’t owe America our silence, not if we want America to be peaceful. And blessed are the peacemakers, who will inherit the earth.