The other day, I wrote about the death of Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot and killed by the police in Louisiana. In less than 24-hours, right before I was going to bed, I checked Twitter and discovered that yet another black man was shot and killed by the police. Two nights ago, 32-year Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesota. Castile was pulled over for having a busted tail light. According to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds–who was in the car at the time, with her four-year-old daughter in the backseat–the cop told Castile to hand over his license. Castile told the cop that he had a gun on his person, a gun he had a license to carry. While Castile was reaching for his license, he was shot several times by the police officer. Immediately after, Reynolds filmed the incident via Facebook Live, Facebook’s new live streaming feature.
It’s a graphic video that pulls at the heartstrings of anyone with a soul. The outrage was instant, and even the governor of Minnesota said that none of this would have happened if Castile was white. Every legitimate concern about the racism behind police brutality has stats and plenty of different people’s experiences to back it up. But has that stopped people from coming up with every excuse in the book to justify yet another black death at the hands of the police? Of course not.
The thing is, people still don’t seem to think that police brutality is a real problem. They believe that the police are always right, and that black people, activists, and Black Lives Matter supporters are just using race to stir up drama. Your parent, your friend, or maybe even you might be someone who believes just that. This rhetoric will likely amplify in the wake of last night’s Dallas shooting, in which five police officers were killed after a peaceful anti-police brutality protest. I only have one thing to say to that: Enough. Yes, emotions are high, but police brutality is still a real problem that needs to be addressed. Here are seven annoying things you need to stop saying about police brutality, because it’s time to keep it real.
1. “Police brutality has nothing to do with race!”
I’ve heard people claim that the police kill more white people than black people, so police brutality obviously isn’t a race issue. Think again. Non-hispanic white people make up 62 percent of the US population, black people make up 13 percent of the population. And yet, black people are killed at three times the rate of white people and other non-white racial groups. Black men are seven times more likely to die at the hands of the police while unarmed than white men. There’s no way that this is a coincidence. If you think that black people are just more aggressive or make more stupid decisions that get themselves shot, consider the fact that our society teaches us to view black people as inherently more dangerous than other people. Mix that, with a scared cop, and you’ve got black people having a higher chance of getting shot and killed by the police.
Police brutality is awful in general; 1146 people were shot and killed by the police in 2015, and 229 of them were unarmed. Of that 229, 79 were black. Remember that black people comprise 13 percent of the population as you think about these numbers.
Racism is alive and well, and many people hold racist beliefs or biases that they don’t even know they hold. Some of those people end up being police officers.
2. “All you have to do is comply with the officer, and you won’t get hurt.”
Also untrue. Castile’s story is a perfect example of this not being the case. An officer’s job isn’t to be a professional executioner, and disobeying an order shouldn’t be reason enough to get shot. It’s also worth pointing out that many white men have pointed guns at cops, and weren’t shot by the police. So…
3. “The police officer feared for his life!”
Police officers have a tough job, especially in a country where its citizens have disturbingly easy access to guns. The tragedy last night in Dallas makes that all too clear. But officers are only supposed to shoot to kill if they feel as if their lives are in immediate danger (which, is still problematic if police see people of a certain race as more dangerous than others). When police officers are trigger happy, none of us are safer. In fact, some police departments, like Dallas’ police department, have implemented de-escalation techniques in their training. This has led to a 60 percent drop in complaints against the police from 2009 to 2014, and has resulted in a 30 percent drop in police assaults as well as a 40 percent drop in police shootings. So let’s not act like pulling the trigger is the only option the police have in every situation.
4. “But he had a criminal record!”
This always seems to come up after an incident of police brutality. We find out more about the victim, including whether or not they committed any crimes, and if they did that is suddenly justification for them being killed by the police. Why? Because he was a criminal. Sorry, but even if somebody was arrested for pot possession or did a little jail time for stealing, that doesn’t mean that they deserve to be shot in the chest six years later for no reason.
If you get pulled over and shot by the police for no reason, you wouldn’t want your death to be justified because you were caught shoplifting nail polish from Claire’s one time when you were 13-years-old, right?
5. “Not all cops are bad!”
We know that. Nobody in their right mind thinks that every single cop is evil and plotting the deaths of innocent people on a daily basis. But saying that not all cops are bad doesn’t negate the fact that there are plenty out there who are. There are racist cops. There are sexist cops. There are cops that are rapists. There are cops that are thieves. These people shouldn’t be cops, and more good cops should speak out whenever their fellow policemen do terrible things.
Here’s one example of a cop doing just that in the aftermath of these shootings:
6. “We just need body cameras, that’ll solve all of this confusion.”
Yes, cops should have body cams so that we’re not relying on other people to record incidents of police brutality, but it’s not that simple. For example, when it comes to the Sterling incident, the cops were, in fact, wearing body cameras…but they fell off during the scuffle! Fell. Off. There has to be a more uniform standard of body cams, ones that are very difficult to detach. Additionally, while cameras might help clear up any confusion over what really happened, they can only go so far when it comes to indicting cops who used excessive force. For example, Tamir Rice. Rice was 12-years-old when he was gunned down in a park by a Cleveland police officer who thought the toy gun Rice was playing with was real. The entire incident was caught on camera, and the police officer responsible for his death didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. If we still live in a culture that is quick to blame black people for their own deaths–“he shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun, he shouldn’t have moved his hand so quickly, maybe if he didn’t breathe the wrong way he wouldn’t have been killed”— a body cam will only go so far.
7. “Black Lives Matter is dangerous and race baits! Blue lives matter!”
Look, if this is your response to people complaining about police brutality, think about what you’re saying. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that nobody else’s lives matter, or that they matter less than black people’s. It’s about bringing light to systematic racism that deems our lives of lesser value than others. Why should black people demanding justice be seen as an attack on the police? It’s not. End of story.
What other ridiculous things have you heard people say about police brutality? Tell us in the comments.