“I feel like…people need to understand that not all officers are crooked, not all officers are racist, bad people…and not all people who, uh, get shot or tazed or arrested by officers are innocent victims. Just because you’re black doesn’t mean you’re a victim, just because you’re white doesn’t mean you’re a racist, just because you’re a cop doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. This world really needs to stop putting labels on people and things and see them as who they are… people, doing jobs, doing things. Ignorance has no color. God doesn’t see color, why should we?”
This is a quote from Will Stack, a 22- year old African American and member of the National Guard. He said this statement at the end of a self-filmed video that has gone viral on social media, regarding a traffic stop interaction he had minutes before with a white police officer. This video (view here) has been getting praise from many of my friends and nationwide viewers on social media, and, quite frankly, I understand its popularity. Stacks is incredibly honest, and his encounter with a white police officer ending with a cited “warning” on median laws, revealing that not all interactions of black men and police end in gun shots.
Further, it is a video I may have “shared” or “liked” if it wasn’t posted within the 24 hours of Michael Slayger ending the life of Walter Scott with 8 shots in the back.
Here is what I find most interesting about Stack’s video along with my own personal interpretation of the situation.
The current tension in the atmosphere of America regarding police interactions with black males feeds this “F*@& the police” mentality that many criminals and thugs have, justifying a perverse belief that black men should not be held accountable for illegal action because they are just doing what they must to get by. Unfortunately, many of our readings have pointed to the unmistakable reality that the black population has historically and intentionally been systematically set up for economic and social failure, leading many black individuals (especially black males) into criminal activity. Nonetheless, I have family members, who are black, and who engage in criminal activity, only to act surprised when they have unpleasant interactions with the police who they openly dishonor and disrespect. Criminals dislike the police because the nature of the police is to, often inappropriately and brutally, damage the means by which African American’s in the gangster life can successfully attain material wealth. This is what I think Stacks is getting at when he says, “not all black people are innocent victims” and many times, police officers are enforcing the law against people who are doing illegal things.
It’s true. Not all black people are “innocent victims”. But I’d argue that more non-black people would agree with that statement than this one–> Many black people are innocent and are, in fact, victims. Not in a powerless, self-pity kind of way. But in a, you get racially profiled on a daily basis kind of way. The common assumption in black-white interaction is far less that black people are upstanding, intelligent, capable, and positive citizens of the community that deserve the benefit of the doubt. But that’s just my opinion.
Which leads me to my second point.
In an interview with Stacks, he describes what he did when the police officer approached his car. He was, what he described “a little cautious”, turned down his music, placed his hands on the steering wheel in direct sight of the officer, and made sure not to reach for anything as to avoid looking suspicious. During the interview, the reporter states that Stacks video describes how “things are supposed to work between the police and their communities…between black and white”. But here’s the thing. I’ve been in cars multiple times with my white friends and family members, pulled over, and more times then not, they have no reference point of this kind of behavior that is almost second nature to black citizens. To my understanding, a young white male, an innocent young white male, is probably not going to be running a checklist in his head like Stacks was. He isn’t thinking… “okay, put my hands on the steering wheel so that he doesn’t think I’m a threat”. That is the thought of an innocent black man who has had “the talk” about police interaction. In many regards, the young black male is expected to overcompensate for his blackness when encountering a police officer, even when he is innocent. Neither Stacks nor the white reporter acknowledges this, but this is something that I find problematic. Innocent black men should not be responsible to overcompensate for a skin color and a stereotype they did not choose. Stacks states that not all officers are bad people and not all black people are victims. But he fails to note that the fact that he reacts this way to a police officer, in many ways, makes him a victim of a system that requires black men to behave extra-innocent when they are in fact innocent. The fact isn’t that people should respond with this level a cautiousness to police officers period. The fact is that young black men are expected to, and in fact, educated too behave extra-innocent, when young white men don’t even have to have that “talk”.
Finally, the context that some people are placing this video makes it extremely problematic. Placing these statements in correlation with the shooting of Walter Scott is inappropriate. Why? Because Scott, regardless of his running from his vehicle during a traffic stop, was shot from behind while running in the opposite direction of a cop. 8 times. Unarmed. He was, by definition, an black man and an innocent victim. And this cop was not doing his job. He had, in fact and legality, committed murder. So, in my opinion, captioning this video with hashtags related to Michael Slayger and Walter Scott could sending the message that what has happened to Scott, Trayvon, Gardner, Brown, and the many that have suffered from the pangs of injustice the past couple years specifically, are not a reflection of racial injustice and biases.
It’s hard to be a black man in these times, because to make a statement like this you face possible ostracization or judgement from your African American community. On the other hand, you face the approval and applause from a privileged white populace (I don’t mean all white people, but those who protect their racial biases at all cost) who is seeking out justification for their belief in a system that is pervaded with racial injustice, and an excuse to uphold their belief in said system and social settings.
I don’t want to be apart of those who may judge the thoughtful and vulnerable words of Stacks, and I think a lot of what he said has some level of truth in it. I just think that it is in fact important that because of grassroots mobilization efforts to document and protest and promote discussion about racism in America, stereotypical understandings of race are not only coming to the surface, but they are also being questioned by our legal forces and people of all races all over the nation. For some, this new information may strengthen their racist ideals out of self-protection, defense mechanisms, and an unwillingness to change. But for others, it may spark a change in the mind of many Americans, specifically white Americans who have had no previous understanding of the black male experience with the police, and who I believe need to acknowledge the injustices of a fatal governing system that has harmed many innocent black men for a long damn time.
If I could say one thing to Stacks, as a friend and not an enemy, I would say that “colorblindness” is not the immediate answer. It may be an outcome …of looking at race its interaction with law in a raw and uncut way… with honest eyes and open hearts. But acting like race isn’t a thing can not and should not be our first step. In my opinion, the first step is acknowledging injustice. We cannot fix a problem we are not willing to stare at dead in its face and call what it is. In Stacks’ opinion, ignorance knows no color, but in my opinion, injustice knows color…and it operates along the color line. In fact, injustice and color are like a best friends who do almost everything together. And it’s not just a black/white dichotomy, but a non-white/white dichotomy present in many cultures all around the world. Once we embrace that as fact, then, we can talk about how to envision a better world, where we can be like the God who sees no color.
In other news, iPhone just released an update where you can alter the skin color of your emoji. They have 6 options from peachy white skin to dark brown skin. Now that’s what I call progress! LOL