Wednesday morning, I woke to news and video footage of Alton Sterling’s death. Devastated, I watched a brief interview with the victim’s sister, Mignon Chambers, who told a reporter that “something needs to be done and needs to be done quick” about the routine execution of unarmed Black citizens by police.
“I’m not saying all police officers are like that,” she said. “It’s not all, but they do have plenty.”
Perhaps she’s right. Maybe all police officers don’t feel they have carte blanche to end Black lives. There are probably some police officers who are committed to equality and justice for all. Surely there are officers who patrol neighborhoods and treat the citizens with the dignity they deserve. I’m willing to bet that not all officers operate with malice toward Black citizens. I can concede that not all police officers are like that.
Only this morning, I woke to news and video footage of Philando Castile’s death, and against my better judgment, I watched as he died in front of his girlfriend and her child. And I watched a police officer continue to aim a gun at the man he’d just shot multiple times in front of his family. And I watched his coworkers pull up and order a traumatized woman, who’d just watched the man she loved murdered, out of a car. I watched them handcuff that woman and put her and her child in the back of a squad car. So right now, I’m less than concerned with white America, or anybody else invested in this rigged, genocidal, blood thirsty system playing semantics, all too eager to add an asterisked “not all” to our indictments of their henchmen.
When Black blood is staining sidewalks all across the country, we can’t be burdened with ensuring we make the disclaimer “not all.” When film of Black people being shot and killed is looped on every news channel like a trailer for the latest blockbuster, taking care not to offend the “good” ones cannot be of any consequence. When video of an unarmed Black man being choked to death by the NYPD in July 2014 is followed by video of another unarmed Black man being shot in the head by a University of Cincinnati police officer in July 2015, and that video is followed by video of another unarmed Black man being shot multiple times by Baton Rouge police while lying down on the ground in July 2016 and that video is followed by video of a police officer aiming a gun to a dying Black man in front of a four-year-old child and girlfriend the next day, the probability that there are some honorable officers is not a calculation we have time to make.
America has always insisted that Black people massage its conscience, assuring the masses that we still believe there is a commitment to eventually realizing the dream of equality we’ve been sold for centuries, even as we face the demoralizing and fatal consequences of the cultural apathy toward Black suffering. Public declarations that those empowered by the state who view our very existence as a threat, immediately and reasonably punishable by death, acting with utter disregard for our lives are the exception and not carrying out the unofficial mission statement of a system that was designed to prey upon and brutalize Black bodies are demanded of us, lest we be labeled angry and bitter, as if hundreds of years of financial, legal and social exploitation wouldn’t warrant as much. Our well of forgiveness must never run dry, eternally refilled by the hope that one day we’ll be recognized and treated as equal persons deserving of the protections and freedoms afforded our white counterparts. We are applauded – though never rewarded – for showing humanity in the face of savagery. Restraint is a virtue to Blackness.
Even in the very moments when any human’s deafening rage would be rational, Black people are still conditioned to contain it. So long have we been taught, forced and coerced into believing that the white power structure is the lien-holder to our freedom and right to live that we self-police. We choose our words meticulously. We apologize for even the slightest implication that we blame “all.” We stop in the middle of expressions of our grief to reassure our white friends and family that they are the good ones and it’s not their fault.
I remember one summer day when I was child, my mother called home and asked me if the house was decent because she was bringing home company. I didn’t lie and told her it was a mess. “I’ll be home in an hour,” she warned. “I want my house clean.” My sisters and I didn’t waste time asking who used which cup or who left their shoe in the middle of the living room floor. We cleaned that house because we knew that time was of the essence. We knew that unless we were all committed to getting our house in order, we would all suffer.
So in a country built and financed by Black labor, when 40 million Black citizens are at the mercy of a majority largely indifferent to our lives, we don’t have time to ask who did what. We don’t have time to cajole the masses into demolishing the system that draws targets on our backs from the moment we’re born. We don’t owe anyone polite requests for our lives. Our unrequited morality and perceived superhuman threshold for pain are not currency. They will not get us equity and equal personhood. We should be visibly angry and insistent that the imminent threats to our collective safety and liberty be addressed with the immediacy required.
We want our house in order. Now.
LaSha is a writer and blogger who is passionate about Black people. Find her on Twitter @knflkkollective.