Stop Resisting*

Warning: The following blog contains video content that is extremely disturbing and is posted for educational purposes only. Please watch at your own discretion.

PBS – Need to Know: Crossing the Line at the Border

I’m posting the link to the PBS documentary on the murder of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the San Diego border because there are two words that haunted me when I read about the recent altercation between police and a black family at a Fairfield, Ohio pool. The words are “Stop Resisting.” It would seem that these are the magic words that police and law enforcement officers utter to magically transform and safeguard their actions into an act of subduing a “violent criminal”…in the case of today’s situation, a 12 year old girl (read about it HERE.) With Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, the officers claimed that he became violent and needed to be subdued as they were transporting him back to Mexico…even though, as the video above shows, his feet were bound and ultimately his trousers were nearly torn off.  We hear the officers shouting “stop resisting” while he is repeatedly tazed and crying for his mother. In the end, he can be seen lying unresponsive on the ground (this happened in plain view of many people crossing the border and was captured on a camera phone.) We hear echoes of this command to “stop resisting” when we look at the Eric Garner video and see an unarmed man being choked to death. We hear it when the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice case (also a 12 year old) claims that the “he had no other choice.”

IMG_0249These cases all began with assumptions. Assumptions and specific choices by the victims: that they could get away with breaking a minor law (Eric Garner); or escape a traffic violation or child support (Walter Scott); or in the case of Tamir Rice that he could play with a toy gun, or in the case of this week’s 12 year old, that she could go to a pool and swim with someone who had no suit. But it is the assumptions of those doing the policing that are repeatedly turning these stories into funerals. The assumption that a teenager wearing a hoodie is going to rob somebody and doesn’t belong in the neighborhood (Trayvon Martin); the assumption that a large framed teenager walking in the street is an unwelcome and lethal threat (Michael Brown); the assumption that a bikini clad 15 year old is going to cause physical trouble (McKinney, TX); the assumption that a 12 year old girl at a pool is a threat to a fully grown, armed and body armor clad man (Fairfield, OH); and of course the assumption presented in the PBS video above, that a hog tied immigration detainee with a broken ankle is a potentially lethal menace to at least 10 border patrol agents (Hernandez-Rojas.)

“The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.”

If all of this sounds ridiculous it is because, tragically, it is. There is no logic or justification for the psychology that is being exhibited as a standard in the way policing works in the United States. The only thing that is extremely clear is that the behavior being trained into the way people are policed in our country (regardless of the race of the officers…see Freddie Gray) is that if an alleged perpetrator has black or brown skin, regardless of their gender identity or if they have an accent, they are assumed to be older, more devious, more violent and more of a lethal threat to public order than they most likely are.

Our culture is playing with fire. The more that black and brown people, immigrants and the disadvantaged are assumed to be violent threats, and the more they are targeted by what feels like a “renaissance in racism,” the more they are going to feel the need to violently fight back.  All of this has the potential to spiral even more out of control than it already has.  As a civil society, we must look at the social construct we call race and actually deal with it. The truth is that we are no where yet near living in a world where it is either useful or welcome for a biologically, genetically and ethnically white woman to choose to be “black” so that she can co-opt her place in “fighting the good fight” ; particularly, when black and brown people who can’t choose to be anything else are being shot, beat up, targeted and abused, not only by deranged white supremacists, but even by the very people who are supposed to be protecting us all. The social construct of race was not created to keep white people in…it was created to keep everyone else out (see: #europeanimperialism & #onedroprule.) Until we deal with that  inequity, there will be no real just and fair inclusion…or policing for any of us.  And until we deal with it, people of color most certainly will not “stop resisting.”

*Please note: this post was written before news of the murders at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina had broken. Out of respect for the grieving families, I will not post commentary until an investigation has begun and the community directly impacted has decided on how they need to be supported. Please hold them in your hearts.

Conversations About Masculinity – 2

What do we want to be?

MacArthurIf people don’t think that race and gender justice are deeply connected, then they are living in a delusional world.  When I first got wind of the horrific burning of an 18 year old gender bending youth, Sasha Fleishman by a 16 year old (unnamed because he is a minor) on a city bus in Oakland, I was stunned and immediately went to the place that most of us go for our news these days…the internet.  But in doing a search for “Oakland youth burned on bus” I came up with, among other things, a site that is called ‘niggermania’ (I will not link to it here because I’d rather not drive traffic to it and who knows what kind of crazies are behind it.)  On this site, there were a lot of people who were very intent on making it clear that because the victim was white and because the perpetrator was black that this would somehow lead to the media not making as much of it as if the race roles were reversed.  There were a lot of mentions of Trayvon Martin and a lot of very sad and bigoted language all around.  I still marvel that my search brought this site up.  But rather than just being pissed off by the existence of this site, I had a good long think about it and realized that this perspective actually didn’t surprise me in any way; in fact it seemed eerily familiar.  Not because, all white Americans are bigots…that is far from the case.  Instead I realized that this was a sampling of the worst elements of the dominant culture invective played out in its most exaggerated and acid tone and as an American, I am accustomed to always hearing about race.  America is obsessed with race.  Regardless of the conversation, somehow, there is always a racial bent on it.  Ask any non-American and they will tell you so.

But that still doesn’t answer the fact that the bigots have been correct in how this story has not had the juggernaut press of other stories of late where black people have been the innocent victims of crimes of racial profiling.  As I see it, there is one reason and one reason only for this lack of coverage: gender.  The sad subtext of the media being more tacet on this story than on the others has a lot to do with a very subtle approval of the suppression and ‘turning a blind eye’ to issues of gender non-conformity.  It is a subtle affirmation, whether deliberate or not, of the act of the 16 year old saying in effect that they agree on a certain level that a boy who does not present socially as a boy is a bad thing.  More specifically, this silence sends the clear signal that when someone who is outside of the gender norm is victimized, it is somehow not as important as when someone who is racially profiled is victimized.  We see this time and again with the non reporting of transgender crimes either to the police or to the media.  Now admittedly, this is part apples and oranges.  The profiling cases we are currently seeing in national media all involve murder and this case is assault.  However, this current situation also involves a minor choosing to permanently disfigure someone and the resulting punishment treats the minor as an adult.  With all of the questions surrounding juvenile justice and the mass incarceration of people of color, there is a significant conversation that could be had here about the fate of this young man thanks to his own twisted decisions.  All of these stories have ghastly and tragic elements and each deserves to be heard by the public.  But we cannot dismiss the Oakland burning as some kind of child’s play gone wrong…’boys will be boys.’ This was a deliberate and gruesome act based on (by admission of the 16 year old) a hate bias against someone’s gender expression.  So where are the marches?  Where are the protests?

Nowhere, because as a culture, we don’t care.

I ask the question, “who do we want to be” in the conversation on manhood, because we have choices.  We have the choice to decide if we are going to be violent and abusive; we have the choice to decide if we are going to put up barriers; we have the choice to decide if we are going to look at someone and call them disgusting, or worthless, or less than us in someway.  We have choices.  But we don’t have a choice in how we express our gender.  This is a completely individual and for some a God given gift.  It is part of the fabric that makes each of us an individual.  Likewise, we also have no choice as to our race.  It is not something we can fix and fiddle after the fact, because, like our gender and gender expression, it came along before us and is defined by who we are.  In no circumstance, can I think of a situation where race trumps gender. Nor can I see a place where gender expression is more important than race.  We must invest in the search for a new language (literally and figuratively) to talk about these elements of our humanness  as part of our basic makeup and it is the struggle toward that language that makes this journey so difficult.  What do we want to be?  We want to be free and safe in both our gender and racial expression.  We want to be whole.

Because I am black, I am not a monster…but I can choose to do monstrous things.  Because I am gender queer, I am not a pervert…but I can choose to do perverted things.  You see, we are who we are, but we choose what we do with it.  The young man who burned Sasha Fleishman is not a monster because he is black (although ‘niggermania’ would have you think so) but he chose to do something monstrous.  Just as Sasha Fleishman is not a pervert for being a man in a skirt, although our media and culture would have us think so through their tacet response.  We have choices to make about our actions and we should be choosing actions that are grounded in love.  We cannot make choices about who we are and we shouldn’t confuse bigotries and biases for identities.  We can choose to be full of hatred, but you must remember that ultimately we are all made from love.