We’ve seen a shift in recent years as the ubiquity of cellphone cameras has started to change the way we talk about police violence in America, from Eric Garner to a Miami police officer who was charged with assault last week for kicking a man
in handcuffs in the face. But these sorts of encounters differ in a way. It’s no surprise that something as shocking as police murdering or brutalizing citizens would attract widespread attention. What is happening now is a less sensational sort of harassment. The banal, everyday indignities people of color are often forced to deal with—things white people like myself rarely have to think about—are being shared widely. Consider the group of black women who had the police called on them on a Pennsylvania golf course for not golfing fast enough
, or the Native American brothers who were removed from a campus tour
at Colorado State University because their presence made a parent nervous, or Darren Martin, who had six police officers arrive to detain and question him
while he was moving into his apartment in New York City, or the woman in Oakland
who called the police on a group of black people for “grilling illegally.”
When it comes to police violence, it’s become common to ask ourselves and others: Can you imagine how often these things happened and how little we heard about them before cameras? We could just as easily ask the same question about the types of encounters Siyonbola and Prendergast and others have posted about. These encounters happens across America every day. The mere act of existing in the world—taking a nap, barbecuing, moving into an apartment, shopping—is seen as de facto inappropriate when it’s being done while black.
Of course, this is not news. This has not just started happening. What is different is that people have become wise to the fact that sometimes going viral is their only recourse, so we are seeing more videos of it posted. And, on the plus side, many more people do seem to be paying attention to it. Had white Americans listened to people of color talking about their own lived reality for decades, they might have understood that this happens all the time. But America at large doesn’t tend to do that. Even with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there will remain a steadfast, indignant percentage of people—when given clear evidence of actual crimes, even cold-blooded murder being carried out by police—insisting on seeing all the evidence, or those who wonder what the obviously guilty black man must have done to provoke the righteous police into killing him. They always have it coming.
For those people, I doubt there is any hope whatsoever. But for people inclined to stand in solidarity, but not necessarily always fully invested—because, of course, it won’t happen to “us”—there’s one critical takeaway: Do not call the police every time you are made marginally uncomfortable by a situation. As the native writer Kelly Hayes explained on Twitter recently in the wake of these stories, “Police don't enforce laws. They enforce social norms. Gentrifiers who chronically call police aren't concerned with safety. They want to dictate social norms and conditions. They want control. And they know what it could mean to call. They are simply prioritizing their own power.”