When the polices undertaking is to uphold a racialized law and order, black people can be arrested just for living their lives
The rap group Public Enemy famously stated that” 911 is a joke “. But that was in 1990. These days 911 is dead serious. Anyone in the United States can dial those three numbers and summon people with guns and handcuffs to participate in their anti-black paranoia. It’s racial harassment, sponsored by the government and supported by tax dollars.
When one calls 911 in New York City, the first issue the dispatcher asks is” What is your emergency ?” I wonder how the white people lately in the news for calling the police on black folks would have answered that question.” Two men sitting at Starbucks .”” Four women golfing slowly .”” Graduate student napping .”” Man moving into apartment .”” Women moving luggage out of a house .”
The people who call the police are not the main problem. Of course those people are, to use an old-fashioned word, prejudiced. It is difficult to imagine them being made anxious by white people going about the business of their everyday lives. But this kind of racism for black people is, in fact, everyday.
This does not mean that it is acceptable: everyday racism is aggravating, health draining, and, for its survivors, labor intensive. Everyday racism requires a performance when a black person navigates white spaces. You conspicuously display your work ID. You look down on the elevator. You whistle Vivaldi.
The people who call the police can fill a black person with a productive fury or a corrosive various kinds of loathe. In my ideal world, when people call the police on black people for no good reason, they would be taken to a public place and beat with sticks. By black people. They are spirit assassins. But still they are not the main problem.
The main problem is the response of the state.” We’ll send a squad over right away .” The caller has offered a short pitch for a white supremacist fantasia, and now the dispatcher green-lights it. She sends a crew over to the set defined by the caller and the sight is created.
Black people are forced, by armed officers of the governmental forces, to justify their presence. They have the burden of proof; members of the public who called the police is assumed to be correct. That the black gets to build her suit at all is an incremental evolution in justice from the antebellum south, where white people could and did make all manner of false accusations against blacks but black people were not allowed to be witness against whites in any official proceeding.
In recent suits, black people have offered excuses like” golfing“,” napping” and” moving “. For two African American men at the Starbucks in Philadelphia,” waiting for a friend” is deemed insufficient. The men are placed in handcuffs and taken to jail. The Philadelphia police chief, Richard Ross, says” the police did absolutely nothing wrong “. Later, when the arrests created their own nationals firestorm, the chief apologizes. He says that, as a black human, he should have known better.