Dr. E. Faye Williams
For the purpose of clarity, I sometimes begin a discussion with a definition because some will instinctively revise a definition based upon their personal opinion or a specific context. The word for this discussion is: TERRORISM! I chose this word because I’d rather analyze the epidemic of indecent police behaviors rationally than through the lens of emotion and rage that often accompany them.
Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as: the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve apolitical goal.
While those who live in communities considered marginal, especially African Americans, may not describe their lives in those exact terms, that definition defines the reality of the way of life for many. Although it’s not the behavior of all police officers, the personal experiences of many African Americans and the illuminating light of technology prove a commonly occurring/recurring pattern of police terrorism.
For those who would immediately reject my premise as invalid because, in the context of their understanding, terrorism is accomplished by “terrorist groups,” I remind them of the terror inflicted upon this nation by Timothy McVeigh. One or more individuals with a racist or misguided agenda can terrorize an entire community.
Using only the last two more publicized events of police terrorism – the Walter Scott murder in South Carolina and the mystery surrounding the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore – I’ll give you my perspective on the terrorism wrought upon our community. If you accept the premise of terrorism, we must also answer the question of the goal of that terror.
When Walter Scott was gunned down, his murderer stood, unapologetically, in his “uniform of authority” and virtually unloaded his gun at the back of Scott. What is obvious to me is that the mindset of the killer gave him the full right to commit such a heinous crime. He acted with the supposition that he could get away with murder – even when the first responding officer was Black. One can only extrapolate that the message to the community was, “We can act with impunity to exercise any level of control we choose and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The death of Freddie Gray is the classic example of a circumstance about which generations of African American mothers and fathers have warned their male children – running while Black. Ostensibly, Freddie was arrested for having a knife, but initial reports suggest that the knife was not found until after he was apprehended. This presents the question that can only be answered by my previous statement. Freddie Gray came under the scrutiny of BPD because he was running and because he was Black. At this point, we can only speculate about how his spinal cord became 80% severed, but, undisputedly, it happened when he was handcuffed and under the control of “the authorities.”
As egregious as these events are, our challenge as a community is to look forward. We must proactively address policing methods that ripen the potential for police misconduct. In my own home of Washington, DC, police are using a tactic called the “Jump-Out.” This tactic appears to be paramilitaristic in nature as groups of police officers, not wearing uniforms and in unmarked cars, swarm unsuspecting individuals who “appear” to be engaged in criminal activity. It’s been alleged that in the process of this type of event, police conduct illegal searches and other varying departures of standardized policing procedures.
If our goal is to prevent future crimes upon our community by police, we must proactively address irregular police procedures and demand proper training of police personnel to reinforce the ethic of “protect and serve.” Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren said, “The police must obey the law while enforcing the law.”
Dr. E. Faye Williams is at www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788