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2014 felt like the year that many Black people woke from their slumber. Somehow we’ve been lulled into a comfortable sleep, but it’s apparent that we live in a racially unequal country. But there was something about last year–whether it’s the rise of social media activism or the number of highly public cases where Black people were shot and killed by police. It all became too much. If racism doesn’t sleep, we probably shouldn’t either.
It would be almost laughable if it wasn’t downright depressing how the narrative surrounding a shooting of a Black person is always framed. Before I even looked into the details of the LAPD shooting of a homeless man, identified now as “Africa,” I already expected the narrative to go like this: A Black person encountered the police, they were not behaving appropriately” for whatever reason. He tried to give grab a gun and then the police shot and killed him.” I wasn’t wrong. The narrative is always the same. And the narrative is old, tired and ugly. Matter of fact, this is the same narrative that was used on the unarmed shooting of 19-year-old Anthony Robinson.
Watching the video of “African” was unsettling. The way in the police attacked the man who the community reports as having mental illness, is unjustified. Police personnel are supposed to have training in dealing with those who suffer from mental illness. I know because I have friends who give these trainings. Aside from this horrendous approach to dealing with any person, and especially one who has a mental illness (which has been reported as being known by those within the community), it is incredibly difficult to believe that a band of police officers together, cannot restrain any man without killing him. It is not only incredibly difficult to believe, it is an atrocity.
Of course too, I also expected the mainstream narratives that would now work to justify the killing as it always does, pointing out “wrongdoings” in a person’s history. I refuse to even go into those details because that is a deflection from the matter at hand and a way to derail the conversation. That ought not to be the legacy of a man who suffered in life and death. Given that this happened in the same week that the Justice Department released the report from the Ferguson PD, showcasing racism within the organization, it is quite telling that the police institution is not exempt from America’s racist systems. And we cannot be naive enough to believe that it is only Ferguson where this is a problem. Our eyes have seen too much from last year, if nothing else.
Now it is true that our system failed “Africa,” and Robinson long before the police killed him that day. “Africa” needed care and support from us. We, the people, are responsible. Perhaps that is too great a burden to bear for many but that is the reality; we do not get to tap in and out of society’s systems only when it benefits our narrative. “Africa” died without dignity, but society rendered him to the margins, so we let him live without dignity too.
We should have done better for “Africa” and for all who are on the margins of society. These sorts of things will keep on happening if we do not find political, social and structural means to hold the powers that be accountable. We cannot have civil servants of the law continue in this way because it is contrary to living in a civil society as well as a disgrace to the ideals of democracy.
Always remember that #BlackLivesMatter.