Police & Policymakers Need to Stop (Mal)Practicing on Black Bodies
My brother, Kiese Laymon, is the dopest writer in the game. He likes Andre 3000 more that I like, and I like the Wu more than he does. I’m a Brooklyn dude who is biased to NYC boom bap style rap music. He’s a Mississippi guy who doesn’t concede to the braggadocio of us Northerners. In other words, we disagree like brothers do. One thing we don’t disagree about, however, is the importance of practice. I got a passage of his on my wall in my Bedstuy studio apartment. The 595-word reflection about writing begins and ends with the phrase, “We’re not good enough not to practice.” Every word, every sentence, is an island that needs to connect rhythmically to the larger isthmus. Practice makes perfection possible. Practice is what hones your craft. Practice is what you do when you care about something — in this case words and the interpretation of your words.
But what about when the practice is policing or creating policy that will disproportionately affect Black and Brown bodies?
Clinton #1 apologized for the malpractice of legislation called the 1994 Crime bill that officially added the prefix ‘mass-’ to the words -incarceration and –criminalization? His mistake could not be taken back by simply saying, “sorry.” He was practicing criminal justice policy that transplanted communities of Black people from neighborhoods to prisons. It wasn’t his conscience that troubled him so much that he was compelled to revisit his malpractice. It was the campaign of his wife for president that pushed him to acknowledge his errors.
…And what about while practicing being the chief executive of Chicago,Rahm Emanuel apologized to Chicago residents for the corrupt policing under his watch that resulted in the police shooting of Laquan McDonald? Emanuel apologized for Laquan, but what about Rekia Boyd and the many other victims of police violence in Chicago? Apologizing for one doesn’t absolve accountability for the others. Did his officers not practice criminally and corruptly in the other instances too?
…How about the NY Daily News in its practice of swaying public opinion through journalism? Earlier this week the newspaper published an op-ed confessing, “We Were Wrong: Ending Stop and Frisk did not end stopping crime.” Before the apology, we were okay with a major newspaper advocating for the arbitrary criminalization of Black people in the so-called interest of justice. (are you trying to point out society’s role with this last sentence?)
…Or what about the Department of Justice report on Baltimore released on August 10, 2016 that exposed unconstitutional and unlawful police practices by the Baltimore police department. The report states that Baltimore police engaged in , “enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans…and that he relationship between the police department and Baltimore’s residents is “broken.” How many Department of Justice reports are necessary to convince the American public that policing practices areinherently a racist white supremacist tentacle.
In the effort to make this nation a more perfect Union we seem to be desensitized with the imperfections of policy and policing being practiced on the backs of one particular race. From slavery to three-fifths representation as a compromise — to segregation as an improvement to a less than human classification — to body cameras on cops as a solution to traumatized and brutalized Black people saying “just stop killing us,” this society is comfortable experimenting with incrementalism on Black lives.
What else do I mean by careless incrementalism? It is no secret that intra-community gun violence is a pandemic. There are more than 8 million firearms produced every year for the US market. That’s about one new gun for every New Yorker every single year. We know that guns kill, particularly Black people, yet this nation has not cared enough to slow down gun production or implement some sort of externality against manufacturers because of the collateral damages of their product. Instead we are content with creating stiffer penalties for those who use guns. What if that were white kids killing each other with guns at high rates? Would this nation be okay with losing its White sons and daughters at 12 times the rate of people from other developed countries? What if entire communities of White people were going to jail for using guns? What if criminal justice reform was code for White people in prison instead of Black people locked up?
As the heroin epidemic spirals out of control in White communities law enforcement and policy makers have been able to implement effective strategies that values saving their lives instead of a War on Drugs.
This nation, for which it stands, knows they are not good enough not to practice, but they also know how to practice better when it’s not a Black body.
Law enforcement did not care to practice carefully with Korryn Gaines. They did not care to practice properly with Philando and Alton. Policy makers neglected to practice using their words properly as if it were their own children; like when Nancy’s “Just Say No” rhetoric birthed mass incarceration or when Hillary called us super predators and validated mass incarceration. They only offer(ed) lukewarm care when votes are stake…
If I were speaking to my brother Kiese right now I would tell him that my New York bias is what allows me to dismiss Andre 3000 and his southern lyricism. I would also tell him that this nation’s bias doesn’t care how they practice on us because they don’t care about how their words and bullets will pierce us. I would tell him that eleventh hour apologies are not tantamount to justice. I would tell him that the pursuit of making this nation a more perfect Union should not be at the expense, disposal, and dismissal of the humanity of Black people. Policymaking and policing are practices just like doctors practice medicine and lawyers practice law. I would tell him that, yes, they are not good enough not to practice, and that they need to stop practicing on us.