A Letter written by Linda O’Sullivan
There’s a phenomenon that I feel doesn’t get enough attention. Since Black History Month wrapped up a few weeks ago, I’d like to share some thoughts on this.
Why is it that the response to Black movements such as BLM takes the form of calls for supporting the police? In case you were not aware, BLM evolved as a movement to, among other things, address extrajudicial killings by police. Calls for police accountability are oddly not met universally with an acknowledgment that extrajudicial killings are tragic and to be avoided. Instead, some respond with a call for honoring and lifting the police.
There are dozens of videos showing excessive use of force by police on Black and Brown people who are unarmed, have committed minor infractions, or have the appearance of being someplace that might make someone uncomfortable. There are also dozens of videos showing white people who are armed and acting erratically, cursing at the police while waving their firearms, and being handled with kid gloves.
Lacking are videos of the opposite – excessive force against a white person who just seemed to be hanging out on the wrong street, or the Black person having a breakdown and being handled gingerly. Why is it that, as a nation, we look not to hold police accountable, but to support them no matter what they do? Could it be some Jungian recognition of how the history of policing in America has its roots in enforcing slavery?
The institution of modern policing was founded to apprehend escaped slaves and protect white slave owners from slave rebellions. In the years since the Civil War, policing continued to be used to enforce Jim Crow laws, Sundown towns, the virtue of vulnerable White women, and access to certain neighborhoods.
White people of my generation knew that there were places where Black people didn’t belong. Golf courses, swimming pools, the street where we live and Starbucks, to name a few. We long depended on our police to ensure these community rules were followed.
The next time you find yourself nodding agreement to a Blue Lives Matter protestor, ask yourself…why? Yes, policing is a difficult job. And there are good, dedicated, community-minded, ethical policemen. They are appreciated, even by proponents of Black Lives Matter. But the institution of policing itself is the legacy of our Original Sin.
Long after slavery ended, the white community continued to depend on the police to control the Black and Brown people in our spaces. Can you imagine a Black person calling the police to remove a white person from a traditionally Black church or a playground in a Black neighborhood? Of course you can’t, because this does not happen the way it does to Black people.
Extrajudicial police killings without meaningful consequences signal to our Black neighbors that this has not changed. The message is that the police are not here to protect and serve them. But instead to protect the rest of us from them. How can anyone in good conscience support that?