Tag Archives: police brutality

The Divided States of Play

Man, we love our guns–and why shouldn’t we?  We have a right to love our guns up like new puppies.  Guns are everywhere in our culture, and since we want our kids to grow up with the full American experience, we love guns for kids.  We even love kids with guns!  Unless they’re black…then, no gun for you.

This week, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio after police chased him following a report of an armed robbery.  Cornered in an alley, police report King leveled a pistol at them, prompting them to shoot him dead [though another boy arrested in the case contradicts the police story].  Turns out, the pistol was a replica BB gun, no more dangerous to the cops than an easy bake oven.

But toy guns have proven to be dangerous to toy-gun-toting black boys.  Tamir Rice was committing no crime when Chicago police rolled up on him and killed him in a matter of seconds, even though dispatch had passed on that the gun Rice head may not be real.  John Crawford didn’t even have a chance to pay for the toy gun that got him killed: police shot him in Dayton Ohio while he was still shopping in Wal-mart with the toy after a fellow shopper called 911.  The pattern was so disturbing that California Governor Jerry Brown pushed legislation to address such fatalities following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.  The law aimed at manufacturers to halt the sale of toy guns unless the entire exterior was white of a color–but in a world of pink pistols(yes that’s a real Hello Kitty gun) and 3D printed guns this measure is likely to face future problems.

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http://www.calguns.net/calgunforum/showthread.php?t=656998&page=3

If a toy could be just cause for police to kill your child, then why have these toys at all? Outside city streets where cops are engaged in urban warfare is a whole world where kids with guns are good clean fun. According to an article in the Injury Prevention Journal, 3.2 million BB and pellet guns are sold in the US each year. BB guns are available for purchase without a licence or age restriction in most states. They may well show up at a Christmas party or wrapped in birthday finery in a home you care about.  In this parallel place of play, children pine for tons of guns.  Adults concern over supplying these toys revolves primarily around the danger of putting someone’s eye out, as famously captured by the movie A Christmas Story.

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I had the great pleasure of spending some family time up in the lovely White Mountains of New Hampshire.  We had campfires and barbeques, went to the lake and of course the local attractions–Zeb’s Candy store and the army navy store.  As long as I can remember, from the mountains to the Cape, a trip the Army Navy store was always on my brother’s agenda.  Now with three kids of his own, they too can’t wait to get there.   This year they wanted their favorite Aunt to come too.

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So off we went to the war store.  Now, I love me a good post-apocalyptic smack down series, but in real life, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m not naive to the ways of the world, but I also believe that nearly all problems can be solved nonviolently.  I was struck first that this is America–we glorify war, death, and violence even as we play cop to those worldwide who would use violence for their own ends.  Here at home, we have stores full of fake guns, then use those same fake guns to justify the death of young black and brown boys. Our heroes are all drenched in blood and stores like this are their preschools.  Let’s shop!

Does your baby coo for law and order?  How about this fabulous onesie, complete with a fake truncheon.  Don’t worry about outgrowing those  blues–you can just size up to the full toy kit so they can keep toddling at their local protests.  PS Get Parent of the Year for wearing the matching full body riot suit!

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Game of Thrones play more your style?  Strap on these knuckle knives for a fun time.  I’m sure these sharpened brass knifeckles are super safe and not for violence of any kind.  The same goes for this wall of swords and battle axes.  Strictly decorative.  For people who want to decorate their home with lethal weapons.  It’s a look.

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Ahh, the heart of the fun–the Airsoft BB gun wall.  Here is a shot of the long guns of fun–just a part of the 30-foot wall covered with toy guns, all looking completely real except for a small (removable for the resourceful) orange tip.   Not only do they look real, they are also real expensive$150 to $250+.  These are no five dollar cap gun–they look like the real deal and they shoot little plastic balls that don’t worry are no problem for the environment.

Truncheons and knifeckles and guns, oh my, what a toy store!  In case you have trouble reading the room, you can read a few books to help you have even more fun doing things like surviving a societal meltdown or building bombs with butane lighters.

So if the Army Navy store, which that day was doing brisk business full of sunburned vacationers out looking for a souvenir of summer family time, is considered a family friendly activity, full of games and toys to bring your family together, then why do young boys keep getting shot by the police for playing with these toys?

Why are guns and weapons good clean fun for my white nieces and nephews, but deadly play for my students of color? What could possibly be the difference between the patrons of the gun aisle and Tamir Rice, or John Crawford?

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Play is the work of children, Piaget said.  Play is how they learn about the way the world works, what the limits are and what their place within it is.  Some children in our country are privileged to play with weapons and wield violence with no consequences.  Parents stand by proudly as children learn to shoot with no sense of the fear parents of color face preparing their boys to face a culture too often cocked and loaded. Some children get killed for playing the same games their white counterparts play with impunity. Some children think a toy gun will look like a toy to cops, thinking it will keep them safe from lethal trouble at least. They don’t realize that in their small black hand cops will see only a deadly weapon with a criminal attached.

If a child is a child, and a toy is a toy, then we are left with race-again-as the factor determining who lives and plays versus who dies at the hands of the state.  It’s time for common-sense gun legislation to extend to the guns we buy for kids:  it’s common sense to keep all our kids safe.

 

 

 

 

Cops’ Lies and Videotape

TRIGGER WARNING: this article uses links to police brutality.  Videos are used here to emphasize the graphic nature of available video content that has yet to result in widespread radical police reforms.  It is my experience as a professor that many students have not seen the videos included here.

Walter Scott was shot in the back while fleeing South Carolina police officer Michael Slanger who now faces charges of murder.  What made this case so different from ones before it?  When Walter Scott ran for his life, fearing quite rightly the cop who fired 8 times across 15-20 yards, Feidin Santana turned his cell phone on and started taping. Clear video evidence of Slanger shooting the victim, then apparently planing a taser nearby to support the official report he filed that sounds like a broken record of police abuse:  “He was a threat to public safety. I was in fear for my life. I had to shoot him.”    The video Santana shot gave lie to the official version of events, resulting in murder charges again Slanger, and renewed calls for cameras on cops.

No doubt the constant cascade of black lives culled down at the hands of the state can leave us hopeless, wondering what it will take and what can be done.  The power of Santana’s video in this case, and the importance of its incontrovertible evidence in forcing the process to bend toward accountability cannot be overstated.  Justice in this case was on its way to being denied before the video surfaced. So can video be the answer?

After  each of several recent high profile police shootings, much attention has been focused on putting cameras on cops.  Body cameras are already being used in many police departments across the country.  The logic goes that if there are cameras on cops, then there is a record that will allow us to see first hand what cops are up to.  And for those few bad apples, the camera will act as a deterrent from their crimes.  In fact, stats show that officer aggression is down when cops are equipped with rolling a/v. Though sometimes those apples shut the cameras off…..one report places officers’ compliance with camera policies as low as 30%.

The problem with this argument is that it assumes that bad police shootings are simply a function of a few bad cops gone rogue.  The root of police brutality, however, lies not just on the individual “bad cops”, but on the justice system that they represent, and the racism that has been a part of that system since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown.

Increasing the visibility of police brutality ignores the deep roots of systemic racism. The police are the pitbull and the end of the leash of the state.  Police are charged to serve and protect, but the state is responsible for training, monitoring and disciplining the police.

After video of Rodney King surfaced in 1991, it seemed certain that police brutality’s days were numbered.  After all, if you watched the video, you couldn’t deny what you were seeing was wrong, right?  But then those cops got off, and the killing of black people by police continued.

In August, we watched heartbreaking death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD.  We watched him die in front of our eyes.  The video couldn’t be clearer.  There was no way justice could be denied.  But those cops got off, and the killing of black people continued.

official combined mug shot of Slager, charged with murder

Now in South Carolina it looks like their trying to get it right…only four days after, when Santana was prompted to bring the video to light because the police were lying, blaming Walter Scott for his own death.  Video is forcing them to come correct.  The default setting, though was a police force eager to cover up the death of an unarmed black man.  Video can make them come clean, but it doesn’t challenge the dark heart of their policing practices.

Video evidence can no doubt help get justice, but only after the crime has occurred.  Cameras on cops?  Absolutely.  But the presence–or absence–of videotaping does not cause, merely captures, police brutality.  A longstanding history of police brutality in the black community needs a complex solution including increased political access as we saw in Ferguson’s recent city council win.

Citizen accountability boards and community groups looking can provide a feedback loop to help nip problems in the bud, and make sure the community can trust those charged with their safety.

To do the heavy lifting ahead, we need an educated and culturally competent electorate that leaves denial behind to chase our dreams of all being equal.  Unless the many people that still blame blacks for their own victimization rejoin the all too real world of rampant racial injustice it will be hard to have the kind of electorate that will hold the Sate and local governments to heel aggressive police tactics.

Putting cameras on cops will end police brutality no more than cameras in every connivence store have stopped armed robbery.  Video didn’t stop sexual assault, instead it created a whole new platform for degradation.  Even now videos of blacks being attacked by police play as both tragedy and trope.

Video won’t bring Walter Scott, or Eric Garner back. Video alone is not enough.

No Justice: Killer Cop Walks, Prosecutor Blames the Media

Tonight in Ferguson Missouri, prosecutor Bob Mc Collough announced that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged for shooting and killing 18 year-old Mike Brown in front of witnesses at 1 in the afternoon  August 9th.  While the prosecutor confirms Darren Wilson was responsible for killing the unarmed teen, the grand jury, led by the prosecutor, did not return an indictment. Darren Wilson is now a free man.    The announcement comes floating on a flood of calls for calm from everyone from the governor and the attorney general to Michael Brown’s father.

Since that night in August when Michael Brown was shot down in a residential neighborhood of Ferguson, protesters have applied steady pressure calling for accountability for his killer–Officer Darren Wilson– and those in the system who protected him.

Mike Borwn's stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.
Mike Brown’s stepfather holds a sign accusing police of shooting his unarmed son just hours after the shooting.

Thousands of people in dozens of cities have staged legal and peaceful protests seeking justice for Mike Brown, despite a widespread media narrative that has focused on stoking fear of violence and retaliation from the black community both in a Ferguson and across the country. There are two important points to consider about massive coverage of “potential violence.”

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First, focusing on the potential for tension and violence, rather than the reason for the protests and anger positions the black community as ‘problem people’ deserving of repressive measures of control.  In the days leading up to today’s decision state agencies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gear to be used against US citizens protesting injustice by the American government.  That’s enough to make conspiracy theorist sound like they might be on to something.  After the massive show of paramilitary gear in August to deal with protests met with a massive outcry, the authorities’ only lesson seems to be “bring bigger guns.”

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Secondly, media narratives that frame peaceful protesters as blind mobs bent on violence and destruction of personal property, justifying strong armed retaliation of the police, keeps the focus off the injustice at the heart of the Mike Brown case.  While news stories in the days leading up to today’s announcement focus on preparations for a hurricane of violent protest,  Darren Wilson has already negotiated a quiet exit.  Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since August 9th.  Given the lack of an indictment Wilson was eligible to return to work on the force.  That he could negotiate this at all adds insult to injury–he was legally able to return to patrol the same streets that he shot Mike Brown on, despite dozens of eye witnesses to his unlawful use of force and the continued potential of federal civil rights charges. Today’s decision is clear evidence that we have yet to shed a history of racial disparity in our justice system.

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You may say, as many will in the days to come, that if the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to indict, then Darren Wilson remains, legally, innocent, and therefore, no racism occurred.  Let’s be clear: racism is the systemic exercise of power advantaging one racial group over another. The shooting was just the first in a long string of points of tension in Ferguson.

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In the Mike Brown case we have seen authorities exercise power in their own interests over those of Mike Brown, the community or the constituencies to whom they are responsible.  Despite widespread calls for the police chief and the prosecutor to recuse themselves, they have refused.  Calls for independent special prosecutors trusted by both sides were denied.  Information leaks, clouds of tear gas, FAA restrictions on media and hundreds of arrests, including the arrest of many high profile civil rights activists and peaceful protesters, line a trail of racism from Mike Brown’s body to the steps of the Missouri courthouses.

And now after months of peaceful requests for action on behalf of Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, justice is again thwarted.  Don’t get mad, they say.  Don’t act out, they cajole.  James Baldwin once said, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”  

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To be assured that if you are a black man you may be stopped by the police and shot down in the street like a dog.  To look at young black boys innocent before the world paints them as wolves.  To send your husbands and sons–and daughters for that matter–out with the knowledge that they may be targeted by those sworn to protect them–this is the reality, and one well worth your rage.

Now is the moment not to fall apart, but to fall together.   Since Wilson has not been charged, double jeopardy does not apply and another prosecution of Wilson is possible.  Remember, any decision on federal civil rights charges in the case are still pending, so there is still opportunity for national pressure to bring justice in this case. .  Whether black or white or Latino or Asian, we’re all responsible for keeping the American dream of freedom and equality for all alive.

Don’t be distracted by fear mongering and race baiting. Let your anger today be a weapon polished with knowledge and drawn in civil action against those who think you too uncivilized to fight strategically.  Fight with tweets, fight here with words and letters and here with marches.  Fight with your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

After a recent discussion about Ferguson in my college class, a students asked me, “What should I tell my 3 year old son? ”  The very idea that he will need to know about systemic racism when he is Mike Brown’s age breaks my heart.  Despite today’s decision, this cannot persist.   We as a nation must do better.  Nurse your broken heart today, and then lace up your gloves.

After The Tear Gas, Before The Next Victim

It’s been 22 days since Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson and left to lie in the street like a dog.  For the first time in three weeks, the story of the shooting, the protests that followed it and the insane military police response is slipping down the news cast and out of the spotlight.

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Much has been said in the last three weeks about the case, about race in America and what we should or shouldn’t do about it. A lot of what has been said is important and thoughtful, from addressing the systemic racism inherent to the case to exploring a wide range of activist responses for black people and white allies.

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There has been a provocative and valuable outcry against media representation of black people, particularly #iftheygunnedmedown, which paired two pictures of a young person: one more socially acceptable and one stereotypical. The hashtag asks which picture is like to accompany a story of them being shot by police.

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I haven’t yet said anything about the case. I’ve written to you a thousand times only to crumple up the web page and throw it at the wall. I’ve written through all the stages of grief, though admittedly too much from anger. In the end I am left feeling that there is little worth saying that has not been said a thousand times already. I don’t mean that I want an idea that stands out, I mean only that this seems too much like a script from beginning to end that I’ve heard before: the incident, the outcry, the authoritative denial, the protests, the smack down, the prayers, all devolving into an argument about whether racism exists.

National Guard Called In As Unrest Continues In Ferguson

And here is where I get stuck–in the face of a case that throws systemic racism into clear view, the dialog still trends to denial. I find my writing has been a defense, a plea that this is racism, that what the people protesting in the streets are saying is true. That black life matters.

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In a Pew Research Center poll, less than half of respondents thought that the Michael Brown case raised important issues about race, and 40% thought that race was getting more attention than it deserved.  The division deepens when broken down by the race of respondent.

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Despite a million tweets and a thousand blog posts that clearly outline how and why the police shooting of unarmed black men is a problem, the public response, especially from non-black people is one of doubt.  It reminds me of this scene from color of fear, a documentary about race when a group of men participated in a long dialog to untangle issues, and this happened:

Despite the wail of protesters, despite the avalanche of facts of he activists, despite the dead bodies of black men lying cold in the ground, still people choose not to believe.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Police kill black people with impunity. Race is the issue. Please imagine a summer when a young white mother of five was choked to death going to the store, when a recent white high school grad was shot in broad daylight, when a laid back young lady was shot while browsing Walmart with a sporting good sold in the store under her arm. You must imagine it because 5 white women weren’t gunned down by police this month.

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had to find a stock photo–try searching white woman shot by police

This is the heart of white privilege. It’s not just accumulated wealth or housing or education or even political access; it is the power to deny the very existence of others and to negate their experiences even as they unfold before your eyes. It is the power to turn public discourse from the facts-in-evidence to your feelings while looking for the truth. It is the power to not see it, and therefore deny others see it. It is the power to think that others deserve what you do not for reasons that amount to little more than victim blaming and denial of overwhelming evidence.

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In a country where some people are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin, there must exist a similar bias for people of the dominant group. Too often, we get mired in discussion about where the white whale of privilege exists–it does–and if this means all white people are living the dream– they’re not. But let’s not get sidelined by a conversation about white privilege.

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The debate about white privilege masks an even deeper truth, one that may just draw us together. We are all–black, white, latino and asian–disadvantaged by a system of racial privilege.  No matter your race, the shooting of Mike Brown matters to you and the ability of your family to life a happy life.  Denying racism keeps the country dependent on a broken system.  A country that is unfair to millions, that has laws legitimizing marginalization a and criminalization of some humans, while providing others economic and political immunity can never be safe, can never be just, and therefore can never be stable.

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While we argue if blacks are full humans– they are– or whether all whites are personally to blame–they’re not– the elite of this country continue to amass both wealth and power. We already know they have a lock on resources; less than 1% holds 23% of our nations wealth.  Research to be released in the upcoming Perspectives on Politics shows clear evidence that a very small group of people int his country also controls a vast amount of political power.

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The massive militarization of American police forces was very profitable for the military industrial complex. Continued conflict between working- and middle-class whites and working- and middle-class blacks, stoked by a racist, fear-mongering mass media, diverts attention from the real economic challenges both races face in an increasingly corporatized culture. Since the recession, we’re all more aware of how close we could come to ruin.  The politics of division don’t serve us.  Fighting each other, and killing innocents when we have real villains lurking behind unfair tax laws and politicians’ pockets is madness.

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Black, brown, female, poor, working class, elderly, disabled: isn’t a person on this list in your family? We can’t allow our national dialogue to run like a broken record every time evidence of inequity surfaces. We can’t stall out the conversation in “if it is”, or how to feel, and we can’t allow you to feel like you don’t have some skin in the games. No matter the color, your skin is a part of this system of privilege and disadvantage. You live in this game.

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It’s time to end racism so we can unite to fight our greater challenges, like economic injustice and resource management.  It’s not communist to want America to provide opportunities for upward mobility– currently we are 22 on the list of developed nations. It’s not un American to want our police and our politicians to represent people not super pacs. It’s not revolutionary to demand safety on your own street–it’s time.

My Brother’s Reaper

Picture this: you are walking down the street of your hometown, having just done a good deed when you are surrounded by police officers who demand you drop to you knees. You protest your innocence; they are unconvinced. You see yourself reflected in their glasses, your eyes wide like frightened prey as the pack of cops closes in. One grabs you from behind in a chokehold and brings you to the ground. You can feel his arm around your neck. You gasp out that you can’t breathe until you can’t even do that. It’s not supposed to be this way, you think, …your spouse, your children, and then nothingness.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before–oh but of course you have. Another summer, another incident of police brutality state sponsored murder. Just about a year after President Obama declared Trayvon Martin could have been his son, NYC police killed Eric Garner, a 43-year old married father of six on the street like he was nobody’s son. Despite our declarations to do better by those taken too soon, we have not done better as a nation: no new national gun laws; no overhaul of police procedures; no national examination of the massive inequities in the justice system.

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Here is the great irony: we are safer now than we have been for some time. National violent crime rates are dropping and homicide is approaching a 60 year low– that’s right 6-0.

violent_rateCrime stats are complex, and maintained in ways that sometimes make it hard to compare, but by any measure, violence is down. Theories abound over why it’s down, including a very interesting link between reproductive rights and violent crime made here by Freakonomics.

Even as violent crime has plummeted, fear of violent crime has continued to rise. Many Americans believe we live in a dangerous world, peopled with hood wearing thugs at every corner. Older generations pine for the good old days, that apparently we’ve washed of the violent crime that happened. Just like Shakira’s hips, stats don’t lie.

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Media plays a significant role in making people think the world is more violent than it is. A quick look at the prime time line up shows us hours upon hours of crime dramas. From the local news, to the most watched cable series, crime is literally everywhere, and that affects how we see the world. There’s even a name for it–mean world syndrome. George Gerbner’s theory goes like this: say you love CSI– in the world of CSI, violent crime happens 100% of the time. In the real world, violent crime happens .01% of the time. The more television we watch, the more likely we are to believe that what happens in TV world also likely to happen the real world. With so much violent content on TV, people that watch TV are likely to think the world is a mean, violent place.

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When we think violence is more prevalent, we support policies and spending to get tough on crime. Take a look at your own town’s police force:

Yeah, just rolling to the Happy Bee
Yeah, just rolling to the Happy Bee

 

More than likely, they are more well equipped than ever, with SWAT resources

071612LAV300 and paramilitary gear.

swatBefore you give the build up of of police forces credit for the drop in crime, let me inform you that studies show crime has dropped both in towns that spent massive amounts on arming police and in those communities that didn’t do that.

Money is an object–and objective in this arms race. According to Business Insider: the over $34 billion in grants has given rise to a growing concern that some police officers are looking less like civil servants, and more like soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan.

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Those who spend and make the money–from outfitters, to trainers, weapons manufacturers and gear houses are unlikely to tell us when to scale back. So who does this spending serve?

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It’s didn’t serve Eric Garner. SWAT expenditures were not enough to save 26 people–mostly children– in Newtown or the people killed by gun violence in the 74 school shootings since Newtown. Anticrime spending is a civil arms race where Americans are increasingly falling victim, from bad stop and frisk to death by police warrant, and of course, old fashioned police brutality.

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There is no greater drama that life and death, so crime is an easy go to to grab viewers eyeballs. When we let the stories affect our real world security, it’s time to use some media awareness and think critically about violence on and off the screen.

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Our real world can only enjoy lower crime if we hold police to the task they are charged with: protect and serve the people. We are Trayvon, we are Eric, we are our brothers and sisters. None of us can be safe in a world where police routinely kill people of color with no consequences. That’s the world we live in now. Use your voice and your vote. Time to be the people we promised ourselves we would be.

ENOUGH

Another day, another example of police brutality.  A man, seated, doing nothing but requesting his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom from police harassment is brought first to tears, and then to the ground.  In America’s quest to completely ignore systematic police harassment examine the repeated evidence of excessive use of police force, let’s look at the relationship between crime and punishment.

So let’s get this straight; according to the law:

shooting unarmed boy= no punishment

asking officer not to touch you=arrest

listening to loud music=death

Time to rethink the whole system.