For People of Color Witnessing Police Homicides When the Body Cameras are Not Enough

Ockham’s razor tells us that the simplest answer is the best answer.  Just under a year ago, there was a massive push to get cameras on cops after the Mike Brown shooting.  But this simple answer has not been enough.  What cameras have given us, instead, is a front row seat to police violence. We can watch and judge for ourselves what is happening.  We can point to the murderous truth of bad police shootings.  Still it keeps happening.

The recently released footage of the stops of Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose  are shocking only in the scope of tragedies contained in their footage. Those who already know Black lives matter are heartbroken again.  What the police video assures us is that if we step out of line, some cops will not hesitate to hurt or kill us.  That if you speak out, your rights will mean nothing.  That if you hesitate, they will not.  That if you run, you are as good as dead.  No matter if you are a man, woman, young, old, wholly innocent or unadjudicated suspect.

We watched them kill Tamir Rice.  We saw Sandra Bland’s bad stop before her death in police custody. Poised for reaction, Cincinati officals released the the footage of Sam Dubose murder along with a warrent for the killer cop.  What these incidents tell us is that cameras are not enough.  The video in none of these cases helped to preserve the lives of the victims of police violence.  While two of these three cases will lead to charges against the officers involved, the introduction of video into policing has not stopped officers from taking the law into their own hands.

The fact that cameras alone have not stopped extrajudicial police killings means that there are deeper issues at play.  So, what are the other blocks in this justice jenga?Implicit bias in individual and the system, and a public slow to condemn  violence against blacks (even as they weep about Cecil the lion).  Camera are giving us the data we need to acknowledge some of these deeper issues so the real work can begin.

Why would a cop murder someone knowing he is wearing a body cam?  Perhaps he doesn’t care–he is a true “bad apple”  lacking conscience  or control.  He’s a socipath.  Maybe the murder of Sam Dubose was so out of control that he didn’t care what the tape caught.  In this case, the body cam could prevent future crimes against citizens now that he is behind bars, but the broader fix is to address hiring and training of police to prevent disturbed individuals from holding rank.

a t-shirt from a cop supply shop.

Maybe a cop would act out on tape because he believes his partners and fellow cops will hold the thin blue line and cover for him or her.  Crazy? Like a fox.  We’ve seen countless cases this year when the official story was a cover job to keep a bad cop from facing deserved justice.  In this case, we need an overhaul of our justice systems, a radical reimagining that creates checks and balances, systems that ensure that law enforcement is accountable and responsible to those whom they are hired to protect and serve.

Think about your job.  How many of your customers could die at your hands before you would be fired and policies would be reviewed?  I’m a teacher–the answer is 0.  If a student dies in the care of a school, or a customer dies while eating at a restaurant, the public cries for justice and reform.  If a citizen dies at the hands of the police, the public may ask what he  or she did to deserve it.  Racism has pervaded American culture since the introduction of enslaved Africans at Jamestown.  The bias against people of color must first be acknowledged and then addressed before we can celebrate the achievement that is the America of the Declaration of Independence.

I remind you that the police have no legal justification for shooting unarmed citizens. but our discourse languishes in the relative culpability of the victims.   For those of us who value black bodies, these videos traumatizes us.  We are watching people die time and time again, people who look like us, like the people we love, people that are us.  Just as a fabulous commercial with your favorite celeb is engineered to make you think that you too can be that, so too do dash cams remind us, like a burning cross, to stay in our place or be executed.  I say to you don’t despair, don’t give up, don’t believe the hype.  Black lives matter isn’t a slogan, it’s a simple truth and a siren song that has guided us from slavery and jim crow to civil rights and the white house.   As protesters in Cinicinati chanting Kendrick Lamar’s words last night reminded us–we gonna be all right.

Build Media Mind Muscles

Learning to think about media, or media literacy, is both fun and functional.  Sure we live in a media saturated world, straight mainlining image and messages 24.7–but do you think about it?  Do you ask yourself why are there 1000 channels and nothing on?  Why is the news so bad at the news? What is the payoff to tastemakers to work so hard to manufacture our tastes?  Thinking critically about the content we see and the conveyer belt that shoves images our way can help us make meaning out of  the mush.

Media messages shape the way that we think about ourselves, our planet, and each other.  The unreal world created by movies, TV and new media can define for us what is real, what is happening, who deserves the very best, and who deserves what they get.  Big issues, like the definition and redefinition of race class and gender

the state of the planet and our responsibility in it

and even the line of right and wrong

are framed for us but the media that surrounds us.

You can combat the consequences of believing everything you see and hear by thinking about the media that surrounds you. Start to notice what media tells you about who’s who and ask if that lines up with the real wold we inhabit.  Notice the way that music, images and words are combined to create stories–that may or may not be true.  Watch the way one story can stand in for a whole group of people.  Be aware of how media sells you some dangers while helping others hide in plain sight.  Start small, but just think.

Here are a couple of sites that are finding interesting ways to get us to think about the media that we see every day and encourages us to explore that most critical of questions: why?


If we live in a country with nearly 40% people of color, why are the movies like another country?  If you think they aren’t, try out Every Single Word.  Actor and playwright Dylan Marron has edited down Hollywood films to only the words spoken by a person of color.  You can check out some of of your favorite movies and–spoiler alert–it won’t take you long.  Here my favorite, Noah.  As you see the movie cut to include only utterances of people of color, I remind you this story is set in Turkey.

In the middle of summer nothing is more pleasurable than a dip in the deep blue.  Just in time, the discovery channel gives us a one week dose of shark fear in Shark week programming.  These shark horror stories along with sensational news reports of shark attacks highlighted in the news makes it seem like Jaws is hiding behind every wave.

But what if we thought of sharks as beautiful and majestic and mostly uninterested in eating people–which they are.  VW gives you a chance to remix the shark-track and wha-la a kinder friendlier shark is just a few string instruments away.

Keep looking for ways small and big to think about the messages you see.  Media literacy is a practice, and like knitting or running, the more you think about media, the more you’ll build your critical thinking, and free yourself from unnecessary shark nightmares!

Flying Underground

The confederate flag is slated to come down over the capitol of South Carolina–long overdue and worth the celebration.  Public opinion was enflamed to this political movement by the terrorist attack at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, resulting in the death of 9 people.  While the flag is coming down, the racist ideology that it represents won’t go in a museum, just underground.

In our 24/7 media saturated world,  an event like the Charleston massacre takes over the airwaves, igniting public debate and sometimes–like with the flag–can result in a groundswell of movement that results in real change.  Sometimes, like in the weeks after the Newtown massacre, the public pressure to create political change isn’t enough to overcome obstructionist policies and plays.

When we are done celebrating this latest victory,  remember that the flag is gone from the capitol, but Dylann Roof has yet to be convicted of the terror attack, and the racist hate groups that radicalized him operate unabated.  Just 2 days ago the prosecutor in Roof’s case reminded us he is innocent until proven guilty.  I get that this is how the justice system goes, but it is a real reminder that in the furor over the flag little has been done to increase the accountability for domestic terrorists.  This is not over.

Symbols play an important role in society, especially because we are  an image based culture.  Simply put–optics matter.  At their heart, though, symbols are the visual representation of some object or idea.  Here is a graphic called a semantic triangle that illustrates this:

In South Carolina, we can pull down the flag, but that has not actually destroyed the ideology of white supremacy that the flag represents.  In the weeks since the debate over the flag  began, there was a sharp spike in sales of confederate flags, and despite Nascar’s best effort to eradicate the flag at it’s latest race, their flag exchange program was a bust.

Dozens of articles and hours of information have painted a clear historical line from the white supremacist ideology in the civil war, through segregation, past burning crosses and leading into the still-active and quite deadly white supremacist groups that operate in America today.  The flags innocent appearance  in Lynard Skynard t-shirts and Dukes of Hazards episodes are not separate from the more nefarious incarnation of the flag–same flag, same southern pride.   The politicians that resurrected the flag during segregation explicitly intentionally tied the symbol to southern pride in it’s tradition of segregation and slavery so that a million –sometime  unwitting–voices would keep their message alive.

The wave of public pressure on this issue has come to wipe the flag off the pole.The flag is down, the referent is gone, but the ideology persists and there is not groundswell to address the real perpetrators.  The internet hate machine, the very real domestic terrorist groups who have killed more Americans than ISIS, The kings of hate who cozy up to republicans. The flag is gone, but hate survives.

So celebrate this small victory in the summer sun, but don’t forget that there still lurks terror beneath.  We’ve going to need more sustained public engagement.  We’re going to have to admit that the most deadly terror attacks to Americans are perpetrated not by ISIS, but by US militia groups. We’re going to need a bigger boat.




What’s for Dinner? Racism Again?!

Fool me one time, shame on you…

Fool me twice….

Yup, that’s right, everybody’s favorite down home racist has done it again.  despite being kicked off the food network for using the n-word, and having a heaping serving of her past unsavory racist comments exposed, this woman has learned nothing.

Deen posted this picture from the set of a new show she is shooting with the hashtag Transformation Tuesday–just in case you didn’t notice the brownface her son is wearing.  this just a few years after loosing everything  when her racist comments were exposed by a former employee.

What’s more, she tweeted out this photo from a set–meaning she is taping a show with her son in brownface.  The first time, shame on her, but this time, viewers have supported Deen’s comeback, and that’s on you, Deen fans.

At what point to we acknowledge that she is willfully, knowingly doing this?  Oh, I see we’ve passed that point. Paula, you are a racist.