Thursday, August 1, 2019

Day 21: What did they see?

There have been various of my usual sorts of things tumbling about in my mind, capturing the magpie's attention to greater and lesser degrees, over the last few days.  I'd been thinking that maybe one of those might come to the forefront today, asking to be written about, when I saw this article, entitled, "Video shows last moments of Dallas man, restrained as officers joked". 

And it just seemed like something that needed to be acknowledged. 

Because it's not the first time.  And, although I wish with all my heart that this next bit weren't so true that it's appallingly easy to type, it won't be the last. 

There are so very many things to say about this.  Things that acknowledge complexity.  But in my mind there's also something very simple here.  It's not OK.  It's not OK to watch someone die because of something you did to them, while laughing.  Ever. 

I keep stalling out there and trying to figure out what to say next.  I know that what many people say at this point is that police officers sign up for a job that is dangerous, and they respond as they do because of their training and because they're working in dangerous environments.  And that many of them - most of them, even - are good people.  They'd also say in this case that this man was mentally ill (he is the one who called the police because he was having an episode of his illness), and on drugs. But saying that in this context is sort of like saying that Brock Turner had Olympic prospects.  Or that a 16-year-old rape victim should have been told that pressing charges against her rapist would ruin his life.  It's really not the point.  It privileges the narrative, the perspective, the life, of a person who did something callous and fundamentally inhuman.  It turns the victim into the perpetrator, and erases their perspective and humanity from the story.

What I keep coming back to, especially in cases like this, where we're not talking about a split-second reaction, but rather about a prolonged, extended act of callous violence and disregard for the suffering of another human being, is - what did those officers see?  Not whom did they see, because it seems to me that they must not - they could not - have been seeing a fellow human being; but rather what did they see?  Does mental illness inherently make someone less worthy of consideration as a human being?  Does Blackness?  I mean, I get that the data are in on that one - for many people, the answer is yes. 

And I don't think it's just a matter of, police officers have to make split-second life-or-death decisions, so sometimes they get it wrong (that was certainly not the case here, or in so many other cases).  That is, in so many ways, too easy.  It not only lets those who actually commit these crimes off the hook, but it lets all of us off the hook.  It allows us to refuse to take responsibility for all of the many many narratives floating around that tell us that the mentally ill are somehow less human; that people of color are somehow less human.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, even in a situation where someone poses a danger, it is possible to see them as a human being.  And that's why I don't buy the argument that officers need to be able to just act in the face of danger, full stop.  Sure they do; but whom do they see as they move towards action?  What narratives, life experiences, beliefs inform their vision?  We know that people of color, and especially Black men, are seen as larger, older, more dangerous than white men of the same ages and sizes.  That's a cultural lens.  It's the racist smog we breathe.  Put a gun in the hands of someone steeped in that smog, and it's nearly impossible to prevent tragedies.

It's the laughter that makes me ill.  What would it take for me to laugh at the dying suffering of any living being?  What justifies that distancing of one self from another?  What do we have to tell ourselves to make that seem in any way normal; or, worse than normal - understandable, justifiable, something that we support?  I do not believe that police work requires inhumanity.  I don't buy the narrative that we need tough people to do the tough work - not if our definition of tough people is, people who don't see the spark of humanness in other people.  It seems to me that the only people who should be doing that tough work are people who are able to see that.  And that we need to provide the support and structure to make that possible.

There is so much more to say here, so much to consider, so many intertwining forces that come together to create these tragedies, again and again.  But mostly, my heart cries out: how could they laugh?  How can they live with the knowledge that they laughed?  What are we doing to ourselves to create a world where that happens?

1 comment:

twinsetellen said...

This resonates with echos of your post on "is he racist?". It doesn't really matter if there is an Olympic career at stake or a person with a dangerous job doing the acting who is a "good" person, what matters is what they chose to do and what impact that had on other human beings.

Oh, also what matters: that the other being in this interaction is seen as another human being. Because if they aren't, then they can be mistreated and the person doing the acting can remain a "good" person.

I realize my comment is basically retelling the content of your post, but as an external processor, I ask your indulgence.