September 20, 2015

Walking While Black: Who’s the Real Criminal?

black lives matter

As I watched the video of a black teenage boy being beaten in the face with a baton in Stockton, California after a major—wait for it!—jaywalking event, I wondered what it must feel like to see police officers and think violence rather than safety, abuse rather than protection.

I wondered how this young man’s life would be affected going forward, as he relives being body slammed to the ground.

I wondered if he’ll ever jaywalk again.

I wondered if the nine police officers are happy now that this teenager has learned the law of the land: thou shalt not cross the street if not at a crosswalk.

I listened to the woman screaming on the video, “He’s just a kid! He’s a f*cking kid!” over and over again, knowing for sure that he will never be a kid again.

Now, he’s a Black Man.

Oddly, he is my kindred spirit. I, too, am a brazen criminal.

I jaywalked once in Washington, D.C. I was a student crossing the street with my college labeled backpack on my shoulder. I heard a man’s voice yelling, “Hey! Hey!” I ignored what I thought was some creepy cat-call and went on about my way.

The street I was on was known for heavy prostitution at the time. It was an odd mix of college students, prostitutes and their Johns who, too often, drove their BMWs into the alleyways, day and night.

Moments later, a police car abruptly skidded, stopping in the middle of the street.

Two white male police officers jumped from the car, doors swung wide open, and began the chase.

They were not chasing a prostitute. In fact, I’d never seen that happen once. They were chasing me! I was terrified and I ran as fast as I could. My little, jaywalking self made it to the sidewalk. I stood there frozen, my adrenaline on overdrive, as the cops yelled at me.

“Get in the car! Get in the car!

I’d grown up hearing about things like this, about stories of being arrested for driving while black in a nice car through the nice neighborhood you’re not supposed to live in.

My father is a Black Man. That’s life. When a Black Man and his wife pull out of a rest stop on the highway in a brand new bright red Porsche, the police stop them. That’s life, my parents’ life.

When a Black Woman is hired to teach Spanish in an all white area and the board later discovers that she’s not Hispanic, she gets fired. That’s life, my mother’s life.

When a college sophomore, an A student on an academic scholarship, jaywalks, she’s chased down and ordered into a police vehicle. That’s life, my life.

Seconds later, when they caught up to me, I did not move.

I knew, and please understand me, I knew, that if I got into that car, I would never be seen again. Every time I asked “why?” they repeated, “Get in the car.” I saw a classmate nearby and I asked him to get my boyfriend. Luckily, he was nearby—I was headed to his apartment. Hence, my joyful and illegal stroll.

He stood there with me as the officers called me stupid and paranoid.

They wrote me a ticket for jaywalking as if I’d committed some jaw dropping, heinous crime.

I did not feel humiliated. I felt angry. I felt threatened. I felt unsafe in the presence of those who are supposed to be my, our, protectors.

I wasn’t beaten with a baton or thrown to the ground.

I was lucky.

I’d finally endured, to a limited degree, what I’d heard so much about.

This is what I should have expected as I crossed the street while being educated and black. There are no limits to the risks of being rich, poor, young, old, male or female when you are black. I was attending Howard University at the time, learning about the history of devastation for black Americans via lynching and burning, individuals and entire towns. That history has morphed into the current police brutality, murder and abuse of law as we see it today.

The most important modern change is the addition of video, the only way these stories move from word of mouth to visual proof.

The Constitution says, “all men are created equal” which originally excluded women and gave black men in free states a 3/5 vote and a tax break.

‪#BlackLivesMatter‬ represents a call against institutional racism, a system of inequality based on race, and specifically, police brutality against and toward black people. So, miss me with that #AllLivesMatter sh*t. Understand how petty and disrespectful it is to the history of our country and to those who are currently enduring abuse.

We already know that all lives matter.

Many of us are waiting for others to catch up.

We hope that you’ll join us as we move from a conversation of awareness to a campaign for solutions to put an end to this ludicrous and disgraceful behavior.



Are you Racist?

Author: Seanne N. Murray

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Ted Eytan/Flickr

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