For me, this is no joy in this trip down memory lane. Often, as you accumulate the years, it’s like that; bittersweet at best. In this case, it’s that way because I remember police brutality.
I remember it when it was in its hey-day and really something scary to witness; a maelstrom of pain and panic turned loose on an unprepared, yet resilient black public. It was like they just didn’t care but the calm and cavalier manner with which such storied individuals as Bull Connor or George Wallace would unleash all the weapons in their considerable arsenal against unarmed men, women and children captured the consciousness of a then evolving American landscape and forced the questions that ultimately drove change.
There was an ostensible meanness in the actions perpetrated against blacks and those who supported them back then; plain, forthright and in your face. Such deeds were par-for-the-course and taken for granted as simply another way of doing business. It was visibly embodied in the very public and iconic arrest of the Black Panther Party members in Philadelphia. Stripped naked, they were paraded outside in full view of the neighborhood by
the Philadelphia Police Department then under the command of Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo. There was no logistical reason to do so; there was only present the callous need to ridicule and dehumanize as well as incarcerate.
Since then, such collective actions have undergone a subtle change. “Police brutality” has morphed into something called “police shootings of unarmed black men”. One would think that such specificity would bring with it a renewed endeavor to solve such pin-pointed dangerous actions. However, with this transformation comes an unequivocal acceptance of these occurrences as something necessary to uphold law and order. And that’s something police brutality never was.
Police brutality was and continues to be all-encompassing in its evil and spiteful effects on humanity as a whole, regardless of income, sexual orientation, gender, race or age. Notwithstanding what you call it today, it was never solely something that happened to young black men; it was always understood that this could happen to any American, at any given moment.
Today, as the whole country fights a battle for increased accountability with local police departments, it might be a good time to change our way of looking at this old manner of harming and controlling American citizens; because it truly is something out of an old playbook.
Let’s recognize that it is what we say it is and as long as we say that its crimes against young unarmed black men, a large portion of the population won’t really give a damn.
Changing how we characterize these terroristic acts on the people is a subtle shift but one that celebrates our inclusiveness and stresses the need for all of us-all citizens-to stick together in this situation. It’s the only way to be sure that we’ve eradicated fully this oldie but “not-so” goodie.