Tonight I’m going to a vigil, a type of vigil that doesn’t really happen in White communities. It doesn’t need to.
This is Alonzo Ashley. Well, this was Alonzo Ashley.
Alonzo was killed one year ago by the Denver Police. He was at the Denver Zoo, and he was struggling with heat exhaustion, so he put his head in a water fountain to cool off. He was acting weird (as anyone with heat exhaustion will), and when the police told him to take his head out of the fountain, he did not. They raised their voices, so he, understandably, got frustrated and raised his voice right back. The Denver Police used tazers on Alonzo to “subdue” him. While he laid on the ground, he began convulsing and stopped breathing. He died in police handcuffs. He died because he was trying to cool himself down on a hot day at the zoo.
The sad part about this story is that in Black and Brown communities, this story is not unique. In the first 6 months of 2012 alone, 110 Black people were killed by police in the United States. That’s one extra-judicial killing of a Black person by police officers every 40 hours for the first 6 months of this year, and unlawful murders of Latinos by police are on the rise.
Alonzo Ashley, Ervin Jefferson, Steven Rodriguez, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Danny RodriguezPatrick Dorismond . . . There are faces behind these numbers.
This is nothing new, but more and more, Black and Brown people are standing up against unchecked police brutality and abuse of power.
Amazing young leaders like Jasiri X are using art to educate young People of Color about how to interact with the police to avoid this state-sanctioned violence, and organizations like the Colorado Progressive Coalition are holding “Know Your Rights” trainings that empower young people of Color to know their rights in interactions with the police.
What’s amazing (though in no way surprising) is that in the face of this incredible violence at the hands of those that are supposed to be protecting the people and in the face of the incredible activism and street protests against this violence, White people, by in large, have no idea.
In the words of Tim Wise,
What Black parents…understood but which Whites had the luxury of ignoring was the deep and abiding fear that pumps like blood through the veins of Black mothers in this country, especially when they are the mothers of black men: the fear that persons in positions of authority – most immediately police – may well end the life of their man-child if they misinterpret a move, a look, a glance, a comment, or a smirk. It is a fear with which they learn to live early and always: the fear that the next time your child walks out the door, unless you or someone else has broken them first of whatever exuberance is otherwise second-nature for youth, they may be coming back to you only in a box, and even then, only so that you may dress them one final time (White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son, p. 22).
White Privilege manifests itself in many forms. One very simple way to see privilege, though, is to look at the ways that White parents are privileged to teach their children to interact with police versus how parents of Color must teach their children to interact with police. The former is “with respect” because “the police are your friend.” This is how I was taught to think of the police. The latter is “with respect” because “at best, they will harass you or arrest you for no good reason; at worse, they will kill you.” And the police involved will suffer little-to-no consequences.
White Privilege means seeing the police as the “good guys” rather than as those to fear. White Privilege means defending the actions of police no matter how questionable, violent, or unlawful. White Privilege means turning a blind eye or searching for reasons to blame the victims of police brutality.
When it’s clear that those who hold the social, political, and economic power will do nothing to curb this state-sanctioned, extra-judicial violence, the question for those effected by the violence becomes, “Do We Need to Start a Riot?”
Meanwhile, White people stand by idly.
Something needs to change. The question to White people, then: What are you willing to do about it?