By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@afro.com

Trauma from the effects of watching the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta has local Black male college students coming to grips with their mortality after being bombarded with images of those who look like them being killed on social media.

Recent Bowie State graduate Brandon Williams and Marshawn Powers, a junior at the University of Maryland College Park, represent the generation who wants to see law enforcement reforms, but aren’t willing to paint all police officers with a sweeping brush.  However, they would like to see a change in perception by patrol officers that could de-escalate the attacks that cost Floyd and Brooks their lives.

“I’ve had a couple of overbearing experiences with police,” said Powers, 30, a native of Cleveland, Ohio. Powers studies journalism after serving five years in the U.S. Navy and then earning an Associate’s degree from Prince George’s Community College.  

“It’s like you’re guilty until proven innocent and it takes a lot to prove you’re innocent when they roll up on you with a pre-judgement that you’re doing something wrong at that moment.”

Powers recalls the night he was arrested, but not charged during an incident while working on an oil field in Midland, Odessa, Texas in 2013 after retiring from the Navy.  He admits that he and a group of friends were loud while “having a good time,” but they were never out of hand. Powers said that one of the officers on the scene shoved his head into a concrete wall prior to his arrest.

“I felt like I was being singled out for nothing,” Powers added.  “Another man was in the restaurant wrestling with his wife, and I was the one who got arrested. I’m not saying all White cops are bad, but some have definitely got to be trained on how to stop situations from going over the top before they get there.”

Williams, 24, also remembers several uneasy interactions that have taken place near his home in Prince George’s County, which never rose to the level of confrontational. He was able to diffuse those previous situations by remembering the conversations that his father had with him about how to interact with officers if he was ever stopped. He admits to uneasiness when driving after the vision and repeated images of Floyd and Brooks deaths. 

“Comply with everything is what my dad told me then come straight home,” said Williams.  

Powers never had a formal conversation with his mother about dealing with police in the event of a traffic stop. The former naval serviceman relies on common sense and capitulation to diffuse any potential circumstance that may arise if pulled over. “It was one of those things I learned to deal with on my own,” Powers said.

Both say they have altered the way they socialize with their friends after recent incidents and are reluctant to venture into public places as frequently after dark.  Electronic communication such as Facetime, Zoom and Google Hangouts have replaced meetings at bars and restaurants.  They are more inclined to enjoy gatherings closer to home with fewer people.

Powers and Williams agree that defunding police departments isn’t the answer. However, they acknowledge the sense of deja vu each time another Black person is killed by police, and have added their voices to those who are calling for policy changes and new training techniques in law enforcement.

“We want to see a change in how Black men and women are treated by cops,” Williams said.  “After seeing what happened in Atlanta there was the sense that here we go again. If had been White and told officers he could’ve left his car in the parking lot, and come back to get it the next morning, then they would’ve probably brought him a sandwich and sent him on his way.”