As the nation came to a standstill when unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was murdered in cold blood by a police officer in 2014, much of the country had no idea what was to come in regards to the issue of police brutality following that fateful day.
Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile.
These names sound familiar because they are taken from some of the more prominent headlines we can all recall from over the past few years.
Tamir Rice was an unarmed 12-year-old little boy who was playing at the park with a toy pellet gun when he was shot and killed in 2014.
Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes when he was murdered in the same year.
Freddie Gray died in police custody after six officers injured his spinal cord and sent him into a coma in 2015.
Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell three days after a traffic stop in the same year.
Philando Castile was shot while sitting in his car with his child in the back seat in 2016. Those officers got paid leave, much like the plethora of officers who receive absolutely no consequence for their blatant disregard of human life.
Most recently, Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed by a police officer while in her own bedroom on Oct. 12. What led the officers to her home was a concerned neighbor who called in for a welfare check, something the neighbor specified was done through the non-emergency line. The neighbor expressed that he had never once implied any kind of danger, such as domestic violence or arguing.
With the number of names and stories similar in end result to the ones mentioned above, it is far too easy to disconnect yourself from the issue. Television screens and news segments may feed you information from all over the world, but that can be shut off and placed out of mind with the push of a button. After all, this kind of thing does not actually happen, right? We live in California – this does not happen here, not to you. You never imagine it happening to you until it does.
I saw the headlines and I heard the news segments. I was very much aware of the discussion surrounding racial injustice and police brutality in 2013, albeit much of it had only been the beginning to what became a much heavier, much more frequent conversation in the following years.
However, the disconnect between the physical world and the one you see on television is damning. You never realize it can happen to you until you see your father’s name on a local news station that the channel was turned to, emblazoned with the words “police shooting” as you get home from school that day.
To this day, I can tell you exactly the way my living room looked as light from the window fell past the television screen warmly onto the beige couches. I can tell you the way my mom reacted, like a scared child, anxiously ushering me away from the television screen and into my room so I would not see what was happening. I can tell you the way she led me from my room into hers and expressed to me that, well, my father was shot and killed by a police officer while unarmed and compliant. I can also tell you the way in which I did not really understand, not at first.
What I can also tell you is that moment altered the rest of my life. As the days pass and another name gets added to the list of those slain by officers in law enforcement, the hidden wound I was left with as a replacement for my father back in 2013 is only reopened.
When news segments show video footage of another unarmed person of color being killed at the hands of those meant to protect, I’m forced to leave the room or shut the screen off completely. The sight of a police car behind my own causes my hands to tremble to this day, and I end up taking the longer way home just to lose sight. Discomfort courses through me as I’m forced to occasionally step through the front doors of a police station in the off chance my job as a journalist may call for it. As I try to rationalize the idea of “not all cops,” it gets a bit more difficult with each new headline highlighting a newly lost life at the hand of society’s “protectors.”
I wish I still held the privilege of feeling safe around police officers.
The emotions had always been there, it wasn’t the loss of my dad that “opened my eyes” to the injustices of our country. However, it was the loss of my father that has barred me from ever disconnecting myself from the issue again. Following that day, those same emotions forever rise into my throat at any mention of police brutality, only now the disconnect never comes.
It is extremely easy to disconnect yourself from the mess that is going on in the world, and it is almost easier to dismiss the issue as something that is out of our reach. But these issues can fall into your hands at any moment, like when I was 14 years old and never in my life imagined losing my father to murder.
Police brutality has not ended. Cops are still escaping consequence free. Even those found guilty are still getting off with compassion. Such as former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger who was found guilty of second-degree murder earlier this year in the death of Botham Jean and received a hug in response from her judge. At what point do we stop pushing the issue into the hands of those dying, and start pushing the issue into the hands of those in power?
There is a serious problem when it comes to accountability within our law enforcement that needs to be addressed. Stop disconnecting from these issues that plague the lives of so many and start trying to understand that compliancy in a world of such injustice will never be the answer.