“We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” – EL Hajj Malik Shabazz
By now, we have all seen the video of Eric Garner’s murder at the hands of the NYPD. As we are still trying to make sense of his killing, we receive the news of two more murders of unarmed Black men by law enforcement. Twenty-two-year old John Crawford, shot and killed in Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio for holding in his hand a BB gun that was being sold in the store. Unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
I avoided watching the video of Garner’s death until I couldn’t any longer. I avoided it, because every encounter I’ve had with NYPD resulted in physical confrontation. For many people of color this isn’t a surprise. NYPD culture authorizes the police to escalate the encounter to secure physical control and dominance. This dominance comes in many forms but often includes being ‘roughed up’ by police. It isn’t uncommon for this roughing up to include the now-infamous chokehold. This deadly maneuver is not new and came under scrutiny in 1994 with the killing of Anthony Baez and before that with Arthur Miller.
Miller, a popular figure in Brooklyn’s Crown Height’s neighborhood, was choked to death by members of the NYPD in 1978. His murder ignited a community response led by two organizations-the Black United Front and the East, who organized a people’s patrol against local police. As a form of resistance dozens of disciplined members from the organizations stood outside of the 77th Precinct for weeks to simply say “No more!” One of the demands by organizers was the elimination of the chokehold responsible for Arthur Miller’s death.
Over 40 years later, the struggle to fight police violence continues in New York, Missouri, Ohio and all across these United States.
Those who have never had to deal firsthand with the reality of police violence often ask, why not just cooperate? Why resist? Why did he run? A long and recent history tells us any encounter with the police is typically just the beginning of a series of dehumanizing and probably violent experiences. We should not be surprised when victims of police violence “resist” not arrest, but consistent police misconduct. That resisting may come in many forms. For Eric Gardner it was a simple statement – “This stops today.”
Although the murder was captured on videotape, an indictment of the police officer weeks later has not happened and we have already heard the extremely far-fetched analysis of the footage by NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association claiming he did not die due to the chokehold, to make us believe we did not see what we saw. Adding insult to injury is the idea that re-training of the NYPD is a meaningful remedy to decreasing unnecessary violence in general and the use of the chokehold specifically. Training is not enough and can’t be taken seriously when only three years ago, NYPD counterterrorism officers were required to watch The Third Jihad, an anti-Muslim film depicting worshipers of Islam as extremists and terrorists. This was their “training” and it is consistent with failed attempts at training/re-training police officers across the country.
Instead of facing this issue with the intentionality it deserves, cities like New York would rather payout large settlements than make policy changes to prevent deaths/lawsuits in the first place. The nation’s largest police department has paid over a billion dollars in the past decade to victims/victims families for wrongful deaths, beatings and false convictions.
The violent history of the NYPD is not different than that of police departments across the country and without community accountability, these killings will continue. Traditional methods of fighting police brutality must be updated. “Know Your Rights” workshops are necessary, but many leave our young people feeling demoralized. These workshops usually detail the specific parameters in which police officers are supposed to operate, unfortunately young people are also told these laws are frequently broken and offer no real recourse to remedy it. We can not escape the necessity of our communities to organize. As we discuss our rights and painfully detail the contradicting realities, we must recognize our responsibility to make resist by organizing. This organizing can be as simple as creating a culture of police observation. This means whether we have cameras, cell phones or other technology, we must make it clear, we are watching!
What are a people who experience consistent systemic forms of violence at the hands of law enforcement and are just as consistently denied any justice expected to do? Nearly 49 years ago to this day, Watts, California went up in flames in response to police terror. As America turns it attention to the rage in and around Ferguson, Missouri this week, rest assured that unless this pattern of police killing stops, there are sure to be other cities in line for similar uprisings. If we are concerned about the possibility of similar uprisings, we have a responsibility to make sure the overpolicing, brutality and killings in our communities end.
How will you resist?