9 Excuses People Are No Longer Allowed to Make About Police Violence
As footage of both Walter Scott and Eric Harris being gunned down by police continues to circulate online, some skeptics can't help but to roll out the same excuses for such brutality.
Although many have watched videos of police kill unarmed black people, have read multiple news stories about police harassment, have seen parents and family members cry over caskets and have heard the results of the Department of Justice's recent investigation into police activity, the evidence that this is an epidemic seems not to matter.
Whether they know the facts, some people won't stop making blanket excuses for police officers who kill unarmed black people. But none of those excuses hold water. Here are some of the examples of the excuses we can all do without.
1. Why don't you focus on black-on-black crime instead?
Actually, the focus is right where it belongs: on police brutality.
Trumpeting "black-on-black" crime doesn't address how unarmed black people have been disproportionately brutalized by police. And the general homicide rate doesn't justify police violence against black people. Railing against "black-on-black" crime diverts attention from the issue of police brutality, while reinforcing the idea that black people are hopelessly criminal by nature.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on NBC's Meet the Press used this language last November. "White police officers won't be there if you weren't killing each other 70% of the time," Giuliani said.
In reality, when homicides are broken down by race, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, white people kill other white people just as much as black people kill other black people. Meanwhile, as the Huffington Post noted, analysis from ProPublica shows that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than their white counterparts.
2. These victims definitely were not angels.
Select moments may require that police officers use considerable force to subdue or pursue an assailant. But even if the police gunned down someone with a criminal background made mistakes in their past, that information doesn't justify the brutality of an unarmed person during a routine stop.
As MSNBC host Touré wrote for the Washington Post in August 2014 shortly after the Michael Brown shooting: "It's as if a black person must be a perfect victim to escape being thuggified, an angel with an unblemished history in order to warrant justice. The burden of the perfect victim suggests that only impeccable résumés may qualify for protection under the law and the support of the community."
"Michael Brown was not perfect. But few of us are. And that does not speak to whether we deserve to die."
3. If black people respected themselves, they wouldn't get in these situations.
Being a human should demand respect from other humans. That includes armed police officers, who we expect not to kill unarmed civilians. Still, when black people are on the receiving end of such violence, they're often told it's because they, as a whole, don't exhibit enough self-respect.
But was self-respect a factor when a police officer arrived to a scene and almost instantly shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice dead, as the child held a toy gun? Or when Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill 37-year-old woman, was reportedly killed following a takedown move, after family members called for police help and agreed that she should be treated at a hospital? With these and several other circumstances, it really didn't matter how respectable these victims were.
Regardless of a black individual's educational attainment, the type of music they enjoy or even their propensity to speak "proper" English, exhibiting these attributes won't protect them from implicit bias or brutality from law enforcement.
4. The police won't stop these people if they just change their appearance.
Police stop black and brown drivers and pedestrians more than white drivers and pedestrians, according to a 2011 Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights report, Mic recently noted. But when incidents like these happen, some suggest cosmetic changes — such as pulling up sagging pants or driving a less flashy vehicle — will magically solve the problem. Sorry, but it's not that easy.
Chris Rock's recent string of traffic stops exemplifies the reality of racial profiling. Rock was pulled over three times by police within a span of seven weeks and marked each occasion with a selfie. It doesn't matter how much money, power, fame, education or positive public regard a black person commands — in the eyes of law enforcement, they're still black.
As Ebony's Goldie Taylor wrote, this approach blames victims while forgetting that black people already proved it did not work. "A stiff upper lip and freshly polished shoes did not save our sons from extrajudicial murder," Taylor wrote. "Young women were beaten while wearing skirts three inches below their knees. It mattered not what we were wearing, but the skin we were in."
5. Hip-hop culture encourages violence.
Some rappers have been mired in illicit activity, including violent and non-violent offenses, but the same could be said for many other actors, musicians and entertainers from various artforms. When pop stars like Justin Bieber face arrest warrants and charges for alleged criminal behavior — and the list of names goes on and on — barely anyone uses those incidents to charge that pop music needs a cultural upheaval.
Indeed, it's a combination of many distinct issues with a variety of intersections, which instead requires keen analysis and attention to nuance. But blaming hip-hop music for the conditions that lead to state-sanctioned violence against black people seems like a lazy explanation.
6. The police pulled a potential thug off the street — good for them.
Who's to say that the life trajectory of a unarmed person beaten or killed by police would've been one mired by violent crime? Not only does this assume black people are inherently criminal — which is a pervasive racial stereotype — it denies them any chance at due process under the law.
7. Not all police officers behave this way.
Of course, not every cop beats or kills unarmed people of color. But the idea that it's just a few "bad apples" diminishes the issue.
As Bonnie Kristian noted in the American Conservative, "a Department of Justice study revealed that a whopping 84% of police officers report that they've seen colleagues use excessive force on civilians, and 61% admit they don't always report 'even serious criminal violations that involve abuse of authority by fellow officers.'"
Kristian added that data proves "police brutality is a pervasive problem, exacerbated by systemic failures to curb it. That's not to say that every officer is ill-intentioned or abusive, but it is to suggest that the common assumption that police are generally using their authority in a trustworthy manner merits serious reconsideration."
8. This is all just race baiting.
Discussing a trend with racial implications isn't an act of manufacturing controversy — it's calling the issue for what it is, especially when images in mainstream media and various accounts illustrate that black people across the country have a tenuous relationship with police.
Although it may be tempting to avoid confronting racism as a factor in policing, such brutality won't be solved by ignoring it.
9. The police are doing what's necessary to keep us safe.
Who really counts as "us"?
Historically, the guarantee of safety and protection under the police has largely not counted for black and brown people. This might be why, as research shows, white people have more trusting attitudes toward the criminal justice system than their black counterparts. With a steady stream of reports — and yes, videos — of unarmed black people being killed by police officers, the levels of distrust surely continue running deeper. And that distrust directly relates to the lasting legacy of institutional racism within the nation's police forces.
Instead of trotting out these tired excuses for state-sanctioned police violence, focus less on the tropes and move toward actual solutions.