It is the routine and casualness of it all that frustrates me. I can’t believe how well-armed White men point guns at unarmed Blacks. It’s all banal. It all seems so commonplace.
Police officials in Wyoming, Michigan said that they had conducted an internal review and found that race did not play a role in their decision to handcuff two Black men, one of whom was a realtor who showed the other two homes for sale. Race played a part in the incident. It always does.
It is unlikely that any US policing experts could look at the dashboard camera video and conclude that the officers committed any crime. They quickly positioned themselves around the house and behind the squad cars, before asking the men to get out of the way for what they believed was a crime in process.
They did not break through the front door with guns blazing, the kind of tactic that left Breonna Taylor dead in Louisville. Derek Chauvin did not kneel on George Floyd’s neck again for almost ten minutes. No one was hurt, there were no shots fired, and no police brutality. Nobody was called the “n-word.” Police officers responded to a call from a neighbor, saying they had seen a suspect in breaking into their house and car. They specifically identified the suspect as Black. After determining that there was no crime being committed, the officers let the men go and took responsibility for any inconvenience caused.
Case closed. It would also be in a country that doesn’t have the United States’ racial past — or present — and the distrust between police officers and many of the Black neighbors they’ve sworn protection.
It is easy to see the situation from the perspective of the officers, which is often what the general public does, and what journalists are encouraged to do, according to my experience as a journalist. The actions of those officers seem to have been taken according to the law, and in support of the public good. That’s the problem. Public trust is being undermined by their everyday responses to these situations.
Many police advocates and trainers don’t understand the power of their uniforms, batons, and badges. They don’t seem to understand the Black culture and are forced to look into the barrels of guns aimed at the center mass. This is all because they have to wear Black skin when touring houses for sale. It’s not possible to undo that with a quick apology and a handshake. It leaves a mark that is difficult to erase and reopens with unhealed wounds for decades.
If the officers and those men and that teenager met again, a possibility that was mentioned during a Daily Reuters interview with the two men and teenager handcuffed, I’m sure those officers might want to explain that such tactics are designed for officer safety. They don’t know what they can expect to find at the scene of a crime-in-progress. They need to ask: Are they armed? Are they armed? As much as the officers, the handcuffs and barked commands are for the protection of suspects as they are for their safety. Because that’s what their officers always say, they will say it. It’s something I’ve heard countless times over the last two decades of reporting on these issues.
Think of it like the boys and men who luckily spotted officers surrounding the house slowly. This gave them the time to comprehend what was going on and did everything they could to deescalate a potentially fatal situation. What if the officers hadn’t noticed and were instead frightened by gun barrels? This rash, automatic actions would have been seen as threats by officers, who would have been justified in many eyes, including the criminal justice system.
While we are not supposed to question an officer’s decision-making in stressful moments, we can blame the officers on the other side of the barrel for making split-second decisions if they don’t see them as well or compliant. Is it too much to expect officers to find a better method to detain men under such circumstances? To see a man’s real-estate license and determine if they are not a threat, did it take to realize that handcuffs and unholstered guns were unnecessary?
This should not be overlooked as these men were trying to purchase a home. Real estate has been used as one of the primary tools to keep segregation alive in the US, as well as the echoes of Jim Crow. This is why the wealth gap between Blacks & Whites is so wide and why Black children are more likely to be sent to schools with poor performance than White kids. While some of these policies have been explicitly approved by all levels of government, others are engrained by social pressure. Even though they didn’t fully understand the implications, that’s part of what those cops were doing.
Even if the story ends in a handshake, an apology, and a handshake, the distrust between police officers and the community continues to grow. Even after almost 34 years of driving, and never being pounded by a police officer late at night, it’s still a fear I can’t shake. It’s almost as if I fear not being afraid.
The familiar fear arose again as I saw the unarmed Black teenagers and men being casually handcuffed. It doesn’t make sense on one level. I have never been forced to do this. On so many levels, however, it is obvious why an incident that may seem relatively benign could cause me such grief.