Colors are not just for art work, or fashion, or decor. Colors are specific strata in the visible light spectrum, and enables the human eye to differentiate between like objects. Red differs from blue in their wavelengths, and how each reflects and emits light. White is the relative absence of other colors, while black includes most of the rest of the colors.

The visible light spectrum is also a part of the full eletromagnetic spectrum, which also contains sound and radiation. It’s all connected, but we cannot differentiate every stratum of that enormous range. As I continue to assert, we’re somewhat puny as a species, although our brains have developed to compensate for our physical deficits. We’re big-headed, is all.

White is the particular frequency that repels most other wavelengths, while black is the frequency that attracts most others. Somehow, Europeans and European-descended Americans have engineered a social system of advantage based on this innocuous and naturally occurring fact of nature, as it corresponds to human skin color.

The system developed in this country is commonly known as racism, or sometimes white supremacy. It is the misguided notion that human beings with melanin content in the skin that renders it “white” are far superior intellectually, morally, ethically, and attractively to other humans with higher melanin content. There is no significant difference in the genetic expression of human bodies solely on the basis of melanin.

Culturally, however, European cultures rendered themselves, and those bearing genetic resemblance to them, as superior in every way to all other members of the genome, and we’ve now de-evolved into a strict caste based entirely on skin color in this country. I was raised with “The closer you are to white, the closer you are to right, but if you black, get back.” That’s a hell of an outlook if you happen to have darker skin.

The only reason darker skin exists is due to climactic realities of the parts of the globe certain genetic patterns originated. Western Europeans and Nordics did not endure direct sunlight for large portions of the year, so had no need to aggregate large stores of melanin. Africans and those closer to the Equator did have the need to produce more melanin, which protects the skin from damage, and so genetically evolved as darker-skinned people. As land bridges were crossed and migration ensued eons ago, those genetic patterns began to merge and blend, but the sun is where it all started.

When Europeans first traveled to Africa, they were impressed with the color of the Africans’ skin, as well as what they considered less sophisticated culture. That first impression never faded, and many European-descended Americans remain convinced that African-descended Americans are less intelligent, less cultured, less refined (whatever the hell that means). People of African descent in the United States have a bad reputation, collecctively, from birth. A theologian I heard a while back said the Black body is wrong, has done something wrong, is guilty. From the start.

I was reading a Washington Post article earlier today that said:

“Although half of the people shot and killed by police are White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.”

That’s the reason for all the protesting, for the outrage, for the rage. We make up less than 1/4 of the population, but are killed by police twice as frequently as the majority population. How, exactly, is that explained? It’s not.

Right after I read the Washington Post article, I surfed to another article, about a police officer who killed himself over a year after he was involved in a “critical incident”, a fatal shooting. His bullet was not the one that killed the victim. The victim was armed, and was firing toward the responding officers despite numerous orders to drop the gun and come out with his hands raised. The man was schizophrenic, according to sources, and had recently stopped taking his prescribed medication in favor of methamphetamine. He had spoke shortly before the incident about committing suicide by police. From his perspective, he was successful. He died at the hands of several police officers.

The officer who committed suicide was quite shaken by the events of that incident. He was one of eleven children, and was always seen as the more sober, thoughtful one of the lot. It was proven in the investigation that followed the fatal shooting incident that his bullet did not kill the man. He did his job. Nobody blamed him for death of that man. But it stayed with this officer, that incident and others that yielded similar outcomes.

I’m not a police officer, I have never served in the military, I have never had to fight for my life in any situation. Long ago, when I was more daring and foolish, I wanted badly to become a police officer. I thought it would be the most exciting and attention-getting job on the planet. Wearing a gun belt, and leather thingies, and a uniform that commanded respect. I couldn’t wait to get on board. I would be the talk of the town.

Fortunately, though, I ran into a couple of obstacles in my short-lived quest to be the new sheriff in town. First, I knew I wasn’t physically fit enough to pass the agility test. There was some nonsense about being able to jump over a 5-foot fence and run a mile nonstop, and I knew that was not going to happen. I was in much better shape then, but still knew that I couldn’t hope a 5-foot fence. On a good day, I would have gotten the seat of my pants caught on the fence post or something and wound up with my foot quite literally in my mouth. Um, no. Let’s just not and say we did. Next.

The next thing I had to admit was…I didn’t have the personality to command respect from people I didn’t even know, from people who were possibly in the wrong but trying to convince me otherwise. I knew that I would SUCK at that…first good story would get them a soft heart and me a bullet in that same heart. I knew that instinctively. I could feel it. So, as much as I though I’d be hot stuff in a police uniform, I couldn’t go there.

This sad story about the officer who committed suicide says he wasn’t truly cut out for the job. His mother said he called her once sobbing because he’d been called to the scene of a bicycle accident. The cyclist, a woman, was killed. He said she had done everything correctly, was wearing a helmet and reflective clothing, had a light, was on the far side of the road…and still, she got hit. Still she died. That would have been me. Not cut out for it.

I say all that, to say that, as we are going through all of this angst and rage and despair over the killing of unarmed Black and brown folks by police, we can rarely get down to the individual level of one officer. We almost have no choice but to see them all as a group, as a collective, as nearly inhuman objects. We are so angry, and we are so hurt, and I’m willing to bet many of “them” are as well.

Some of the inability of average folks to see law enforcement personnel as individuals is also due to the paramilitary, and increasingly militaristic, culture that has been established for law enforcement. There are lots of reasons for this, but at this point, police officers and sheriff’s deputies, marshals, FBI and CIA agents, all stand at a distance from everyone else. They have become a separate caste, an archetype. We expect them to be super human, because they have been removed and excepted from normal human status. That’s a double-edged sword, and it’s gotten dull.

Police unions have a part in the establishment of this caste as well. They have graduated from mere collective bargaining agents to political organizers and lobbying entities. They are intent on establishing a veritable universality of policy and procedure that protects the officers, whether right or wrong, while rejecting federal oversight and common standards. This is a problem.

The other problem I see with these unions is the perceived racism and racial inequity. Many of the larger police agencies in the country have a patrol officer’s association, and then a separate but equal BLACK patrol officer’s association. That’s never a good sign. From what I have heard from the Black officer’s association in my home town, it came into being when the Black officers felt their particular needs were not represented by the larger group. They didn’t feel they were supported, promotional opportunities were not encouraged for them, and they didn’t feel they were getting the same level of legal defense as the white officers. Also not a good sign.

We almost have no choice but to see people as members of groups by skin color at this point as well. The human brain is constructed to categorize and assess what the eyes see almost instantaneously. So, while walking on a lonely street at night, you instantly size up another person walking toward you. We are conditioned to determine whether or not a threat is offered, and most of the time, that is what we see.

Because of a variety of factors, not the least of which is rhetoric from public figures and the media, we expect a threat. Depending on which narrative you’ve accepted as true, an approaching figure in any situation could give you a jolt of fear. For me, it’s crowds of white frat boys, drinking, shouting as they might after a sporting event or when leaving a club or a concert. I am afraid of them. I have seen what they do. I don’t mess around – I cross the street, I go back the way I came, I duck into a well lit place if I can.

For others, it’s a single Black or brown man, coming toward them, or walking behind them. They see inevitable confrontation, a purse stolen, a wallet stolen, bodlily harm. If only they had a gun, that would help. That would save them, even though nothing has happened. This is when women automatically clutch their purses, men clench their hands in their pants pockets, everyone walks just a little faster.

In either case, whoever you see as a threat could very well be exactly that. Or they could be someone just like you, trying to get to their car, or the bus stop, or home. What will you do? Some of us will make a pre-emptive strike, and if there is a gun available, will use it. That is the beginning of the end – there’s not turning back.

We all agree this is no way to live, in fear and constantly on guard for whoever is coming to get us, to cause us harm. We don’t want to live like that.

So, at this point, I’m thinking we’re painted into a corner. Arrest the criminals! Make our cities safe! OK, well, we’ll get right on that…but you also want us to give you a break when you’re speeding ’cause your mama knows my mama and you been knowin’ me since I was a shorty. But, more importantly, let’s look at how officers are trained these days. It’s not all that exemplary of a course of study.

There have been reports of officers doing target shooting with mug shots of criminals of color as targets, or caricatures of racial stereotypes. There are are simulations that are designed to get the adrenalin pumping and guage the ability to differentiate between friend and foe, but I’ve heard some of those make it easy to confuse things like cell phones and office supplies with guns. A friend of mine, who is a miinster, went through one and said she shot a guy with a stapler. If you’re in a real-life situation, you already know that you can shoot first and ask questions later, with no consequence, because it’s probably not real.

The upshot of our whole experience, at this point, is that a separate caste has been established that values the lives of the group members as greater value than anyone else’s. I think that’s a problem. I don’t expect sworn law enforcement officers to volunteer to be killed, but the rigidity of brain washing them to believe that every situation is life or death, and in every life and death scenario, they are more valuable than anyone else, is problematic. They will not look for a win-win solution, but only I win and you lose. Zero-sum games are generally not productive for society at large, and this one is true to form.

We have to start over with this stuff. I’m not sure we can “build back better” or “build back” at all. I think it has to be obliterated, town down, the debris hauled away, the ground cleared. We have to create something new, and build from the ground up, the way we want it to be. We have to start with bringing in people who are reasonable, rational, anti-racist, anti-abusive, stable, equitably trained, pro-community. And this. This may be the most important. Well paid. Nobody running into the disaster while everybody else is running out should be on welfare or trying to figure out how to feed their kids. Some of these officers are hustling every paid detail they can get because they need the money. Ridiculous.

Policing in the 21st century should ot be about policing in the 19th century. It should not be solely abut protecting property, or exerting control over people we feel can’t be trusted to conduct themselves reasonably. Laws have to be changed to support that – we all know the death penalty isn’t a deterrent to anything, neither is jail time for lesser crimes.

While we’re at it, let’s give people a fighting chance to be decent by allowing them to have a chance at employment, housing, health care. We set them up to fail quite regularly at this point, so let’s cut that out. Desperate people do desperate things, so let’s put a little more distance between them and desperation.

If we don’t change anything about policing, we’re going to have a keep building prisons and we’re going to be spending a lot more time in cemeteries. We’re going to be spending all our money on alarm systems, panic buttons, and big guns. Coming from a high crime city, I can confidently say that none of that is going to make one bit of difference in the long run – if somebody wants to get into your house, they’re going to do it, no matter how many alarms and guns you have. How are you ever going to enjoy what you’ve got if you spend all your time worrying about who’s coming to take it from you? Hell of a way to live.

My strategy at this point is…I don’t have much to be worried about losing. Things I’ve lost that have meant the most to me were not worth anything to anyone else, and they are irreplaceable. And they are gone, by acts of God, as the insurance company terms it. No amount of money can bring those back, and I’m just eternally grateful that all I lost were things and not people.

If someone breaks into your home, and you shoot them to protect yourself, your loved ones, your property…that will be with you for the rest of your life. You may be legally upheld for taking that action, but no amount of exoneration or high-fives will take away reliving that incident, that momentary flick of a finger on a trigger, that knowing in the pit of your stomach that you’ve ended someone’s life. It’s the gift that keeps giving, unless you don’t accept it to begin with.

Yeah, sometimes it be like this.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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