9-1-1 What’s your emergency? Yes, It Even Happened to Bob Marley’s Granddaughter
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By: Iyabo Onipede – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
What a week! Again, in attempts to manage our own fear, we have managed to exert violence on others, the most vulnerable. From the loss of lives of peaceful demonstrators in Palestine to Yale University, to three women trying to leave an Air BNB in California, to a barbeque in a park in Oakland, California, this week, we saw multiple evidences of various forms of violence as some of us exert the privilege of regaining our sense of security and safety.
Let’s talk about Yale, the Air BNB and the barbeque.
So, a woman was taking a nap in the common area of her dorm and another woman perceived this as a problem and called the police. Find out more HERE.
The napping woman was a black student who had to prove that she was a student at that school and the person reporting her was a white woman. The napping woman was a graduate student at Yale.
The three black women checking out of their Air BNB were swarmed by police cars and a helicopter because a neighbor called the police because these women looked suspicious and they were not friendly. They were legitimate customers.
The Barbeque was epic. A black man was grilling at the park when a white woman, calls the police because he is not supposed to be using a charcoal grill in the park. If you have ever wondered what allyship looks like, it is the image of the woman videotaping the person calling the police. When the police finally arrive, the woman reporting the crime bursts into tears.
In these three instances, and bear in mind, this just begins to scratch the surface of race in America today, the police were called by white women. It seems a sofa in a common room at Yale, an Air BNB and a public park are off limits for people whom others deem, “do not fit in.”
So today, I want to explore what our relationship to the police is all about. For me, I grew up in a country where the police had very little power. They did not carry guns and they were viewed as a little bit more than glorified traffic control experts. Yet, they were public servants and therefore deserved respect as they were authority figures.
The first time I ever saw a person disrespect a policeman was about 15 years ago. I remember driving down the expressway in Virginia rushing to the Dulles airport with my ex-husband. We were late for our flight. He was clearly speeding, and I told him to slow down. He said, “We are going slower than everyone else on this road.” And I did notice that cars were flying past us.
Of course, the police stopped us. My Ex was livid. He asked the cops why he stopped us as cars were flying past us. I asked him to calm down and apologized to the police for him. Being the bossy woman that I am, I took charge of the situation. I will never forget how pissed off my Ex was. I thought the cop was reasonable and I was friendly enough towards this authority figure. I just thought he was doing his job. I thought it was unreasonable for my ex to be so mad at someone just doing their job.
I noticed my ex’s eyes were bloodshot read as he just stared straight ahead, his hands at 2 and 10 on the steering wheel. His face was swollen with rage and he did not utter a word the entire time. I handled everything with the cop.
I knew we were going to get into a huge fight when we finally got on the road.
And fight we did.
He told me that I did not understand that he was just racially profiled. He said that I was “kissing the cop’s ass” and it shamed him. He told me I could never understand his humiliation. He went on to tell me all the times he had been stopped and searched. He told me how he always felt racially profiled. I blew him off and told him it was in his head, that the cop was just doing his job.
I think of that story today and I realize that my upbringing and experiences shaped that experience. Just as his did.
He did not trust the cops. He was born in this country and as a black man, he knew not to trust the cops with his life. I had no concept of his experience. It took years of seeing police brutality on black bodies through TV, as well as social media, to begin to realize all that was unspoken in that incident.
I can say it today without flinching: I was wrong. I was in a phase of my life where I was unconsciously trying to assimilate in this culture and that hidden motivation blinded me to my ex’s reality.
Since that incident, I have had other encounters with the law and here is the one thing I know: When you have a police encounter, how you come into the police encounter is how the police treat you. If you are a victim, you will be further victimized by the police. If you are accused of a crime, the police assume that is the truth and will treat you as such. If you are a person reporting a crime, the police believe you have the authority to report the crime. There is no such thing as “Innocent until proven guilty,” especially if you are a black person. Police are people too and it is impossible for them to stay neutral. To me, the police are not my friends. They are not there to protect and serve me. Experience has now taught me that they are there to accuse me, find all that is wrong with me and punish me for it. Therefore, they are not “my people.” I avoid them.
When I moved to a quaint town called Clarkston in Georgia, a white woman friend of mine told me to go to the police station and tell them I just moved into the neighborhood.
“Are you insane?” I asked her incredulously.
My friend is one of the most “woke” people I have ever met. She looked around and said, “I obviously blew it. What did I get wrong?”
I told her that for me to go to the police station is to put myself on their radar. She disagreed and said she saw it as me introducing myself and letting them know I am part of the community. She offered to go to the police station with me.
For her, a white woman, she has a sense of belonging and feels it is her right to have access to the police. She can anticipate a friendly protective relationship with the police. For me, a black woman, I eye the cops wearily and keep it moving. We have nothing in common and nothing to discuss. The goal is to live here for as long as I want and never have an encounter of any kind with the police.
Six months later, I have not yet gone to the police station.
I consider it critical work to consider our interactions with the police and how it impacts the lives of those around us. I consider it our work to assume “blindness” and begin to work towards “seeing” the problem through the eyes of those who are having very different experiences.
Our culture has put white women on a very high pedestal. I will never forget a white woman classmate in graduate school telling me that her uncle told her, “You hold the future of the white race. If you have children with a black man, you dilute the race. You have to keep yourself pure to preserve the race.”
And when she said it, my face drained. Yet, several white women in that class said they had received the same messages from their relatives.
The preservation of the white woman is embedded in our culture in many ways. White women calling the police when they feel threatened is just one way. During the days of Jim Crow, white women would accuse a black man of rape and he was lynched. Those three phone calls I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They were lynch calls – phone calls for the system to protect the pristineness and property of white women.
Please note, that these women called the police, not to protect themselves physically, but to protect their property, their entitlement. Yet we know that every encounter with the police for a black body is far more dangerous than it should be. But a white woman’s perception of the threat to her property is more important than the life of a black person.
I wonder what is your relationship to the police? Do you believe that they are there to serve you and protect you? Protect you from what? Do you realize that the access to police service and protection is not equal for everyone in this society?
Next time you decide to call the police, if you can, and your life is not in imminent danger, please pause. First fully assess the situation. Take a deep breath. Do you need to call the police? Or is it just your sense of pristine dignity that just got offended?
Just know that if it is a person of color that you are calling the cops about, you may have just lynched the person.
More by Iyabo:
Iyabo is a Leadership Development Coach whose work focuses on the soul of the leader. She moves leaders from thriving careers into discovering, crafting and living into their life work. By helping successful people integrate spirituality into their leadership roles, they become more engaged with their work, expand the connection of their work to social justice issues and experience more satisfaction in their life work. Using the power of narrative and reflection, she helps leaders fine tune the sacred “work their souls must have” (Alice Walker).
Iyabo is located in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated from Goucher College (B.A.), Georgetown University Law School (J.D.) and Candler School of Theology at Emory University (M.Div.).
Iyabo’s home on the web is at http://www.coachiyabo.com
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