Over at BfP's, Luisa made this observation on a post (in which BfP asks "does it make sense to give a group of people who put on a specific outfit the power to kill, rape, violate, and otherwise cause destruction and devastation to a particular area and its occupants?"):
I was not raised to respect the police or military. and this gets me in a little trouble ever now and then… I can feel myself becoming anxious around them. I always want to say something rude but, I also fear them. It is a strange emotion. I feel queasy when cop cars pass me. They are the only people who I fear in my neighborhood because if they force me into their car late at night, my fellow humans might just let it happen and who knows where I will end up. who knows what story they’ll tell…
I know that strange mix, the loathing that comes from knowing that, when this person puts on a uniform, he (yes, he) somehow assumes a power that makes his actions unquestionable (even if those actions include demanding a minstrel show). That fear that he can do anything to me and get away with it. And I'm not just saying that; it is a very real fear for me. My experiences with the police have included:
- My father and I being pulled over while I was an undergraduate, separated, and questioned. We were in Texas, our car had Louisiana plates, and the cops admitted they suspected drug trafficking. Similarly, I was tailed closely by a cop for a while in a small East Texas town who didn't turn on his lights, initially. He was following me so closely that I put on my signal and got into the next lane. Then he turned on his lights--said I was supposed to wait until I'd traveled at least so many feet after turning on my signal to switch lanes. The problem, again, was my Louisiana plates in a Texas town. He wanted to know where I lived currently, where I was traveling to, and why. I answered, simply because I didn't know if I was allowed not to answer and I had no intention of disappearing in East Texas.
- Coming from a club one night, my sister and I were pulled over by two white male cops who made us get out, shined flashlights in our faces and smirked the whole time. They asked us what we were doing out so late.
- My male cousin, a minor at the time, being taken to the police station in the middle of the night and the police refusing to let any of us come in. When we began to loudly protest, my aunt begged us not to, scared what they might do.
- Having a friend who was pulled over for a traffic stop quizzed about my car (I passed by twice to make sure he was okay). The officer, new to my hometown, asked why that "Texas car" was in town so much. What kind of business could I have there?
And so on. It's not that I don't have respect for people trying to do their jobs; it's that I've had a wealth of experience in which that job description has magically expanded in ugly ways. Quite often, the response from black parents I know has been to teach their children to always defer to authority, to not question, to do as they are told. For example, I hear parents say, about spanking their kids, "I'm whooping his/her ass now, so the police won't do it later." And no, this is not just an excuse to engage in teh evil spanking, it is evidence of a very real belief that teaching children to obey "authority" figures may save their lives.
Yet, just as I don't want to leave my son with the image of the police that I created with my comment, I don't want to teach him to blindly obey either. I did tell him later that there are "lots of good police who protect people," but that some of them feel like they have "superpowers over people" because they have guns and clubs.
And uniforms. Lord, the power of a uniform.
In the meantime, I am thinking of this. Sean Bell was 23. Kathryn Johnson was 92. Is there ever a time, an age when we are safe?