There was once a time, actually not very long ago, when the United States presidency was reserved for adults, not children. President Barack Obama proved this by remaining positive and decisive in his responses to the multiple virally-visible law enforcement tragedies that disrupted his presidency.
Though he was not able to stop the police abuse that black people complained about throughout his presidency, he did indeed try. Unlike his descendant to the White House, a person who like a bad little boy has demonstrated a proclivity to bully people and stir discord, President Obama sought to unite.
Nevertheless, images and memories of conflicts between law enforcement and black people are attached to Obama’s legacy like bright radioactve moss on a tall defenseless tree. The horrifying, unforgettable pictures of chokings, beatings and killings and the reactionary red hot protests and debates about them are affixed to his legacy forever.
President Obama’s sanguine calls for law enforcement reforms and racial reconciliation echoed throughout his two terms in office. He all but begged people to overcome their racial divisions, which he called “an American problem”—a problem with which he was personally familiar.
Obama denounced all expressions of racial hatred. In contrast, Trump commended white supremacists after they brashly expressed such hatred. After witnessing destruction and death during a Ku Klux Klan-neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, Trump called the racist agitators “good people.”
President Obama took responsibility for creating solutions to racist and abusive law enforcement. “When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem. And,” he proclaimed, “it’s my job as president to help solve it.”
To his credit, President Obama did not just talk the talk. He walked the walked by establishing the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to facilitate black protestors’ demands for reforms. The task force, which reported directly to him, released a hefty report in May 2015 that listed more than 60 solutions to improve police practices and prompt healing in communities ruptured by distrust towards police. The task force report was entitled: The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Prior to that report, the Department of Justice Civil Right Division released a report in March 2015 that condemned Ferguson, Missouri’s police department and court system, which the court revealed, worked in unison to implement a well-honed, diabolical legal process that for years trapped black lives in a web of injustice. For instance, the report, entitled, Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, stated that “This investigation has revealed a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violates the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and federal statutory law.” The report listed more than 30 reform recommendations.
In addition to the numerous law enforcement reform efforts by the federal government, dozens of non-governmental national and local organizations have devised even more proposed solutions. For instance, Black Lives Matter has recommended that special prosecutors review all cases in which someone is killed by the police.
Yet, one crucial element is missing from all of the recommendations. What’s missing is overwhelming and irrefutable first-hand evidence that completely exposes the varied forms of racialized law enforcement and convinces a critical mass of voting Americans police abuse of power is a pervasive threat that unfairly endangers every black person in America.
The logic here is simple: the most effective law enforcement reforms will be enacted through the political process, thus the voting public must be given evidence that will persuade them to support politicians whose agendas include passing new laws, implementing new practices and providing adequate funding for law enforcement reforms.
Government reports and organizational proposals will never be enough without a shit load of supporting evidence.
(Pardon the parlance.)
Where will this evidence come from? It will come from the thousands upon thousands of insightful stories told by black people who have been impacted by racist and abusive law enforcement. Their stories, disseminated throughout society on a continual basis, will provide the facts and context needed to prove that racialized law enforcement is what black people says it is: a real problem that endangers each and every one of them regardless of what they do or don’t do.
– Oprah Winfrey
Is Your Personal Narrative Truly As Powerful As Oprah Says It Is?
Yes, no doubt, Oprah is right and of course she is not the first person to make this observation. Personal narrative has proven to be necessary and potently effective innumerable times—from successful advertising and marketing campaigns that feature testimonials, to successful political campaigns that feature candidates’ impressive and heart-felt personal stories. A poignant historical example of the power of personal narratives was is the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. What would it have been without the compelling stories of John Lewis and others, black and white, who were attacked as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama? Or the story of Rosa Parks’ refusal to vacate her bus seat for a white person on that fateful evening in Montgomery in 1955? Or countless other stories about the ugly oppression that characterized the southern states of America during their blatant racist law enforcement and “No Blacks Allowed/Whites Only” racial segregation?
Those iconic stories of the Civil Rights Movement as well as the hundreds if not thousands of lesser-known narratives propelled the movement and set the stage for the massive and highly impactful March on Washington. The combined force of the stories about black people’s experiences and feelings under the various forms of racist oppression throughout America created the proper context for Martin Luther King’s moving I Have a Dream speech.
The Civil Rights Movement needed an onslaught of personal narratives to make it successful in reforming America’s civil rights laws. Likewise the movement to reform America’s law enforcement rules and practices.
Jennifer McCoy, a white attorney and blogger understands the potency of personal stories. She discusses this topic in blunt terms, arguing that the need to garner more white support for law enforcement reform cannot be overstated. “We will not change the tide for racial equality,” she says, “until white people get behind it.” INSTAGRAM THIS
That is exactly what blacks are asking for. Notice the protest signs. They include such slogans as: “Wake Up White America and Then Show Up.”
McCoy adds, “(White) Women didn’t gain suffrage until men joined the cause. Marriage equality didn’t gain traction by staying within the gay community. It took the consciousness of less directly affected people […] for those movements to take hold.”
“Race relations are essentially exercises in imagination … You have to imagine yourself in the skin of the other party. So that means if you’re white, you have to understand certain realities.”
- Bill Bradley
In recent years, the #metoo and gun control movements have proven once again the power of personal testimony. The primary goals of those movements are crystal clear: stop sexual harassment and enact stricter gun laws, respectively. The primary goal of the law enforcement reform movement is clear as well: stop racist and abusive policing. However, while everyone understands sexual harassment and stricter gun laws, most people do not have a clear understanding of what racist and abusive policing is. It may be one of the most misunderstood realities in society today.
With their stories, black people can define racist and abusive policing by providing ample examples from their direct experiences and close observations. Their testimonials can take the white majority into the heart of the matter and reveal why black people say too many police officers are “bad,” “lowdown,” “dirty,” “mean,” “nasty,” “disrespectful,” “petty,” “predatory,” “callous,” “dangerous,” “unfair,” “racist,” and “tyrannical.”
Their narratives will help their fellow Americans see what they have seen and feel what they have felt. I’m not talking about exaggerated “woe-is-me” tales of misery and victimization. And I’m definitely not talking about hate-filled rants, rabble-rousing and diatribe. Black men need not waste time with such non-productive negativity.
No, I’m talking about constructive truths boldly and artfully told by strong clear-minded men seeking their full freedom and offering searing testimonies that can educate educate the American people and prick their conscience. I’m talking about black men who can use their capacity to communicate to blaze through hardened layers of white apathy and denial and touch their hearts and minds.
Maya Angelou, poet and activist, in what many consider is one of her most profound analyses, stated that when telling a story, the facts are important, detail is critical and a good narrative are essential. However, in the final analysis, she said these storytelling elements, though important, are secondary to the real power of the story.
She stated that “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This is the challenge black people face today. Black people cannot depend on lifeless facts, surveys and statistics to win the day for them, for numbers alone cannot convey the full message that needs to be delivered. As the poetic philosopher Khalil Gibran said centuries ago, “Numbers never speak for themselves.” Thus, black people must use narrative to convince the majority that the law enforcement problem black folk complain about so much is real.
Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.
– Ed Sabol
Whites/Blacks: Divided We Fall
Stories can do more than create awareness and generate emotion. They can also bond people together across racial and cultural divides. For more than four hundred years blacks and whites have shared the same country, a country they built together through an imbalanced and symbiotic Black Labor-White Wealth relationship. Yet, there is still no true bond between the black and white races. Black and white connections are as fragile and breakable as wet tissue paper.
They have more in common than not, but they tend not to focus on that fact. Their opinions and experiences are quite disparate.
For example, despite the ugly parade of events that America has witnessed since a police officer choked the life out of Eric Garner on video on July 17, 2014 in New York City, the majority of white Americans remain unconcerned.
At best, most whites believe that what they have seen since the Garner video are isolated cases of weird law enforcement events in which cops were forced to use maximum force after black criminals behaved foolishly and/or resisted lawful arrests.
The Missouri-based Remington Research Group posed this question to more than 600 blacks and whites: “Generally speaking, and in your opinion, are African-Americans unfairly targeted by Law Enforcement because of their race?” About 70 percent of blacks said, “Yes.” Only 40 percent of whites agreed.
The vast majority of whites see Philando Castile as a drugged out man who made the cop who shot him fear for his life by unwisely reaching down towards his right side for what may have been a gun. Most whites see Eric Garner as a criminal who was dutifully subdued by officers and died as a result of a fluke accident. His obesity and poor health contributed to his demise, they believe. Thus, Garner’s death is not evidence of a national law enforcement problem. They see Michael Brown as a thug who got what he deserved. Thus, his death is not evidence of a national law enforcement problem. They see Tamir Rice as a boy who was doomed by his own odd behavior. To them, what happened to that “foolish” boy does not mean there is a national law enforcement problem. They see Walter Scott as an absconder who was shot in the back by a lone, rogue officer. They see Stephon Clarke as a violent, strange-acting young man who should not have run from the cops and should have known better than to hold a cell phone in his hand while police were pointing guns at him. Whites typically will just not accept that his death or the deaths of other black men who have died during odd encounters with police officers are swatches of evidence that prove there is a quilt of racist policing stretching from coast to coast. These are isolated events that oftentimes black people have brought upon themselves, they believe; and they say black people have no business protesting or striking back. So-called racist and abusive law enforcement is a myth, a figment of black people’s minds. The evidence presented thus far, on a national level at least, has been insufficient and unconvincing to 60 percent of all whites, the Remington Research Group study seems to indicate.
Outspoken white commentators and so-called law enforcement experts claim that there can never be a bond between whites and blacks on the issue of widespread racist/abusive law enforcement, since to whites there is no such thing. For example, Harry Houck, a retired New York cop, asserted during an interview on CNN that the uneven string of police-involved deaths of black men over the years, which started long before 2014, does not evidence a pattern of excessive policing. In his opinion, he says, incidents of racist law enforcement are isolated and rare. They simply do “not happen all the time … Alright? These are very few incidents for the millions and millions of police officers that interact with people every day, alright? This is not epidemic proportions.”
(For the record: There are about 770,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers in the United States, not “millions and millions,” according to the Department of Justice, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008.)
By and large, like Houck, most Americans see no reason to support black people’s demands for equal justice, because they very adamantly believe police departments already practice equal justice. As one white woman told the New Republic magazine when asked about what she thought about black protestors in Ferguson, Missouri: “I don’t even know what they’re fighting for.”
In his book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Michael Eric Dyson explains: “Black and white people don’t merely have different experiences; we seem to occupy different universes, with worldviews that are fatally opposed to one another.”
According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in December 2014, a sizeable majority of whites, 63 percent, believe that police treat all Americans equally. In addition, 75 percent of all whites live in a racially homogenous world, lacking any black friends they can talk to about social issues, according to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. This would suggest that three out of every four white persons don’t really know much about black people at all on a human-to-human level.
Occasionally, news of a white person being killed in a mysterious police shooting will claim the nation’s attention and typically white Americans will show a level of concern towards the white victim that they do not show towards blacks who are mysteriously killed by police. To a certain extent, according to New York Daily News columnist Shaun King, this can be attributed to the notion that human brains “mirror” or naturally relate more to people who look like them. The white victim seems more real to white people—more important, and perhaps even more human. As Paul K. Piff, an assistant professor psychology and social behavior at the University of California, told the New York Times: “People empathize with the people they want to.”
On July 17, 2017, following widespread white empathy towards Justine Diamond, an unarmed white woman who was outside in her pajamas late at night in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when she was killed by a police officer. The columnist Shaun King told his readers: “I don’t know how familiar you are with the concept of ‘mirror neurons’ … Simply put, it’s the concept of how when you see something happening to someone who looks like you, or reminds you of yourself, you have neurons in your brain that fire off almost like you yourself are experiencing the thing you are watching. For the past three years, African Americans across the country have been watching the horrors of police brutality and internalizing so much of the pain as those mirror neurons fire off. The pain and the plight are personal.”
King suggested that perhaps with the mysterious killing of a white woman, “maybe, just maybe … millions of white people, for the very first time, will now see a victim of police brutality, and see themselves.”
King’s observation was on target. Nonetheless, Black folk cannot wait for more white bodies to start dropping all over the country from mysterious police shootings. Blacks have to take it upon themselves to move white folks to understand that when it comes to being shot, human beings are all the same. We all bleed red. We all grieve and we all need answers after tragedies occur. The emotional response a white person feels towards a white victim should be the exact same as what he or she feels towards a black victim, and vice versa. That is the level of unity and humanity all Americans should be striving to achieve.
The incomprehensible death of Justine Damond offers a unique story that black people can use to initiate a conversation about police violence. A simple, question, such as “What do you think about what happened to the white lady who was killed by a cop in Minneapolis?” might start a profound discussion about police shootings and possible ways to prevent them.
Given that police officer Mohamed Noor, who according to the Minneapolis, Minnesota prosecutor “recklessly” killed Damond, was charged with murdering her, her case also offers a chance for blacks and whites to talk about why the Damond case resulted in a cop being held accountable for murdering an unarmed person whereas so many cases involving unarmed black people do not. The reason or reasons may be pretty cut and dry, but then again, maybe not.
Additional ways to initiated interesting conversations about race and law enforcement are included in the Solutions section at the end of this book.
(ASK DR. NICHOLS TO HELP ME WITH THIS PIECE)
It’s Impossible to Make Whites …
Getting white people to talk about race is very challenging. I say this based on my own experiences and from the experiences that other black people have shared with me. In addition, studies such as XXXXX have confirmed that whites are much more reluctant to engage in open conversations about race and racial conflict.
While black people talk about race, write about race, sing about race and perform dramas or comedies about race quite frequently, with a focus on how terrible and ridiculous racism is, it is rare to hear whites do the same. For all practical purposes, the only time black people hear white people discuss race is when they have something negative to say about black behavior and attitudes.
Generally, black people say white people are not concerned about black people’s concerns, especially regarding how the police treat them. An elderly black man, Butch XXX, a lifelong resident of Washington, DC, who once worked as a XXX at the White House, once told me, “It’s impossible to make most whites accept our truth and care about the realities we face. Impossible!”
I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard a black person say something like that to me. All I can say to such pessimism is this: Nothing worth doing is impossible.
The good news is that throughout history Americans have proven to be willing to change their minds when presented with enough evidence.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
In other words, I suggest that black adults practice what they preach to their children: “You can do it … You can do anything.”
My friend, hear this: You may not be Jewish, but I am sure you know what it means to be a Holocaust survivor. Why? Because the Jewish people have told their story thousands of times in hundreds of ways. They never stop telling their stories, because if they stop, the world will indeed forget. People easily forget things that they do not directly affect them—hell, people forget things that do directly affect them. Thus, reminders and retelling of stories are essential human activities. They are the screws that connect the past to the present. Over time, the screws must be retightened, lest we forget.
People have a good idea of what it means to have cancer. Why, because the stories of individuals who have endured cancer have been told incessantly, and for good reason. Their tales of struggle and triumph are like a steady drumbeat. You probably have never been to outer space, but you can imagine what it would be like. Because you know the story. The drumbeat about space travel and the marvels of the universe have made you aware and have drawn you in emotionally and intellectually.
Whites know about slavery. The story has been told for hundreds of years, but white people do not understand how the vestiges of slavery continue to impact black people’s lives or why black people continue to link their enslavement and Jim Crow experiences of the past to their modern-day law enforcement experiences.
Why? Because black people have not clearly identified those links. They have not defined those vestiges. Their drumbeats have mostly been too faint, sporadic and inconsistent.
I would like to think that the remarkable success of the Black Panther movie, which was released with much fanfare in 2018 and seen by millions of people of all races worldwide, proves that whites and others are interested in black stories that are well-told, relevant and compelling. Perhaps it proves that those outside black culture actually do want to see and understand black culture. Still, Black Panther is just one rare story written, directed and performed by black people that non-blacks feel compelled to learn from and experience for themselves.
The fact remains that most stories about black people are controlled by non-blacks who use their power and resources to define black people in any way they so choose. Black people do not tell enough of their own stories.
In a discussion I had with Cornell William Brooks, former president and CEO of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), he disagreed that there is a dearth of black-on-black storytelling. Black people have indeed been beating their drums for a very long time, he said. The problem is that most white people have turned deaf ears to black stories. “For years, black Americans have clearly articulated the various ways their lives historically have been and continue to be impacted by enslavement and white supremacy, but white leaders and institutions need to do a better job of listening.” Brooks, now a senior fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice, added: “They also need to stop being closed-minded. We need them to do a better job of joining with us to overcome the injustices and the racialized obstacles that continue to exist in society.”
Newt Gingrich, a white former congressman from Georgia who is infamous for his staunch opposition to any political ideas that are not rooted in conservative ideology, is a good example of how a closed mind can open when the truth is presented in the right way and at the right time for the hearer to accept it. Once an acerbic Speaker of the House who blacks accused of being racist, Gingrich said that he used to consider blacks as “the other.” However, he says he has since mellowed and his mind has expanded a bit since leaving elective office more than a decade ago.
In a revealing interview with Van Jones on CNN, Gingrich softly stated that white Americans “don’t understand being black in America … It took me a long time and a number of people talking to me (telling their stories) over the years to begin to get a sense of this: If you are a normal, white American, the truth is, you don’t understand being black in America and you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk.”
“White people don’t know what it’s like to be a black man, especially a black man in situations with the police,” said Patricia Wudell, the white executive director of Joseph’s House, a hospice located in Washington, DC. “But a lot of us want to know.”
The Danger of Black Silence
Those people who don’t speak up give silent consent to all of the police officers who are engaged in these illegal acts.
- Joseph Proteus
If you are black, you cannot afford to be silent. It’s too dangerous. Especially, if you are a black man. Every black man who has encountered some type of racists or abusive policing must tell their story. They’re duty-bound to tell their story. They are required to tell their story. And if they do not tell their story, they should stop complaining about the way police treat them.
The doubts about whether whites care about or are willing to listen to black people’s stories, as mentioned earlier, are valid, true. Nevertheless, blacks must reach as many as they can. The goal is to reach the critical white mass. They’re out there. Go find them.
Let’s give whites the benefit of the doubt. We can handle that. Let’s posit that a critical mass of whites are searching for a clearer understanding of what blacks experience vis a vis blacks’ interactions with law enforcers. It may be true that whites are not feigning ignorance and they actually do not really “get” what they see in videos that display strained or violent interactions between police and black people. There’s a solution for that: Black people, lend them your eyes, your hearts, even your bodies. Yes, make them see what you see and feel what you feel—by telling your stories.
The fact is, if you are a black person living in America, not telling your story is not an option. You must tell your fellow white Americans your story not only to enlighten them, but to protect yourself from them, because their ignorance threatens your life.
Butch is one of the oldest and wisest men in the nation’s capital. He says, “If we do not tell our stories, they will make up their own story for us, and we have seen how that has turned out far too many times.”
Black people, not telling your story gives whites power over you and places you in danger, for white ignorance leads to white arrogance and white ignorance and arrogance foster a culture of insensitivity and abuse among law enforcers. White ignorance and arrogance justify police officers’ overly aggressive actions towards all black people and enables all whites in general to feel OK about it.
If you don’t tell your story, you’re doomed.
[T]he lack of communication … leads to … tragedies.
– Elysa Gardner of USA Today
Several months after Muhammad Ali passed June 2016, an electrifying new era of black athletic political activism emerged, creating fresh opportunities for black people to make their stories heard. Colin Kaepernick and the dozens of other National Football League players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem helped usher in this new era. Their humble action, physically quiet but psychologically loud, focused the nation’s attention on the primary goals of law enforcement reform, where are to: 1) give black Americans the certainty that they will be treated with respect regardless of their race; 2) ensure equal access to justice; and 3) hold racist and abusive law enforcers accountable.
For these athletes, their activism was not only political, it was personal as well. For instance, Malcolm Jenkins, a standout safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, appeared in a video in which he said his brother “made a mistake as a young kid and was charged with a felony for marijuana possession and years later still cannot get a job.” He said the cousin of another league player was “killed by an off-duty officer after his car broke down on the side of the road and was on the phone with AAA. And so, when we speak about this … it’s because it’s personal.”
Jenkins’s video was interesting, but it leaves people wanting to learn more about the brother who cannot get a job and the cousin who was shot by the off-duty cop. What were their stories? In the video there were no links to use to learn more.
To help people to better understand the situation and help conceive solutions for preventing such tragedies from happening again and again, they need to know the stories—the backstories, if you will.
For, the solutions are in the stories.
LAW ENFORCEMENT WAR STORY OUTLINE
OVERVIEW & INTRODUCTION
Everyone has a story. The question is whether they want to share it or not. Perhaps a more important question is do they know how to share it or not. Storytelling can be easy breezy sometimes and at other times it can be excruciating. But if done well, it is always worth the effort.
The following are some of the principles and observations about how writers and other professionals are helping individuals and organizations to tell stories for the purpose of creating positive changes in society.
Storytelling Principle No. 1: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, Repetition, Repetition: Repetition is key to the success of marketing campaigns, political campaigns, and social movements. Kathi Kruse, a social media expert and blogger, emphasizes this maxim. She wrote in one of her blogs in March 2018 that consumers need to hear an advertiser’s story or message “at least seven times before they’ll take action to buy that product or service. It’s a marketing maxim developed by the movie industry in the 1930s. Studio bosses discovered that a certain amount of advertising and promotion was required to compel someone to see one of their movies.” Kruse, president of Kruse Control, Inc., krusecontrolinc.com, says the multiple messaging tactic is officially called the Marketing Rule of 7. In this age of information overload, “you might need more than those seven times just to be heard above all the clutter that’s in people’s news feeds on fields of vision,” she says.
Chiming in on this topic is Tom Brassard, president of Catamount Marketing, catamountmarketing.com, says: “The important thing in the rule of seven is not the number, but the message. This simply tells you that you need to let the prospect hear and see your marketing message at least so many times before they buy it. There are many reasons for the need of repetition. Generally, buyers just can’t trust you and make the buying decision the first time they see your message.”
He adds, “So, this simply means that your marketing message should be repetitive and consistent. You cannot just run a couple of advertisements one time and expect the customers to buy the product. The hidden message of rule of seven is the continuous and repetitive effort that should be put in for marketing.”
Remember, the sale is in the advertisement and the solution is in the story.
Storytelling Principle No. 2: Here, There and Everywhere: Our stories must be ubiquitous and non-stop—like well-funded Breast Cancer Awareness public service announcements and other methods used major public awareness campaigns. Law enforcement reform messages should be financially supported not only by grassroots people and small businesses but also by large corporations. Some of the dissemination of our stories can be done very cheaply. For instance, black people can send their stories to their elected officials with affirmative requests to add them into the official registries and public comment reports when various related laws and regulations are created or revised. In addition, stories can be printed on flyers and posted in grocery stores and other places were people congregate, shop or worship. Obviously, the flyers should be uniform and succinct. A template is available for your use on TheWarInAmerica.com. There you will find other suggestions as well as case studies to guide your message dissemination efforts. Remember: the original viral messages were not via the Internet and are not limited to the Internet. A single person in a single neighborhood or community can create a viral message by posting flyers. Let’s keep this simple as much as possible, people.
Storytelling Principle No. 3: Creativity Is Essential: I bought a small toolbox during the summer of 2016 in Washington, D.C. When I got home, I unwrapped and opened the box. An attractive-looking, pink, laminated bookmark dropped out. The message on it called attention to breast cancer. Wow, I thought, how clever! Clearly intended to reach a male audience, since it was in an item typically purchased by men, this type of outreach had the element of a pleasant surprise that instantly broadened my awareness about cancer.
I am unaware of the details of cancer. But the little pink message was not trying to teach me about cancer. The overall message was that we are all in this fight against cancer together and everyone should care about the problem, because it affects so many. Law enforcement reformers can model this approach in order to broaden awareness of excessive law enforcement, and appeal to people to see the problem of excessive law enforcement as an American problem, not just a problem that affects “the other.” The overall message would be that we are all in this together. Everyone should care.
Another creative communications project focused on fighting racism with succinct messages is being spearheaded by a former colleague of mine from the Post, Michel Norris, who is the curator of TheRaceCardProject.com is an online forum where people of all races share their ideas and comments on race. The project has attracted more than 30,000 participants. Norris, whose father, a navy veteran, was shot by a white Birmingham police officer in 1946, said the value of the site is that it gives a “peek at America’s honest views about Race.” (sic) The project fosters mutual understanding because it lets people use it to share their “experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity.” They accept the challenge to “take those thoughts and distill them to just one sentence that had only six words.”
There should be consistency when black people discuss their interactions with cops. To that end, I have developed a 10-step outline that can enable us to tell our stories in a consistent, structured and linear fashion. The “War Story Outline” is presented as a series of questions.
I have termed the outline “War Story Outline” because in essence the horrible physical and psychological encounters that I and far too many other black men have experienced with “warrior” cops constitute episodes of war.
It may be tempting to conclude that I am using the term “war” metaphorically or as an attempt at cheap hyperbole. However, before one comes to that conclusion, I would advise that he or she read The War in America Volume 2: Abuse Black People at Your Own Risk – A Warning to Racist and Abusive Police and Politicians, in which I share evidence and analysis that validates my assessment that as a matter of law, the decades-long conflicts between law enforcement and black men must be defined as war.
>> Add a title to your story, if you wish <<
You give a man some meaning if you listen to his story.
- Barack Obama
Welcome to the Law Enforcement War Story Outline, a new tool to help black people tell their stories about their experiences with law enforcement in a consistent and fluid manner that others can easily understand. Using the 10-step outline, people who have had encounters with law enforcement, whether positively or negatively, can document their experiences so that others can better understand their reality. First-person narratives enable others to see beyond the protests and headlines, beyond the statistics, reports and controversial videos, and connect with black people as individual human beings.
All black people, especially black men, should use this outline to provide evidence that the fates of Eric Garner and others represent a national problem that constantly troubles black people’s minds and threatens their lives. Only through their law enforcement war stories will black people be able to provide framework and context to the law enforcement reform solutions proposed by government agencies, justice advocates and civil rights organizations.
Every black person has a law enforcement war story. What’s yours?
- Who are you? (Include age, gender, race and residency city/state. Name is optional.) Where did your encounter with the law enforcer(s) occur?
- What date did encounter occur and what were you doing 30 minutes before the encounter began?
- What were you doing right before the encounter?
- Tell me about the encounter itself. (What was said? What happened? Chronological order is great, but not required.)
- What were you thinking and how did you feel while the encounter was occurring?
- What were you thinking immediately after the encounter?
- What were you thinking an hour after the encounter?
- The next day what were your thoughts and encounter?
- What, if anything, would you do differently? What, if anything, should the law enforcer have done differently?
- Today, looking back at the encounter, what would you recommend the law enforcement system should do to prevent such an incident from ever occurring again? (Note: We may post your solution to: TheWarInAmerica.com. Visit the site often to check.)
Rules of the Road: Four Key Points
- John Dickinson, “Penman of the (American) Revolution”
Letters of Fabius
Categories: Public Opinion
As you write your stories using the outline above keep these four key points in mind:
- Relax: This is your story, your truth. No one else can talk about your experiences the way you can. There is no pressure here, except that which you might force upon yourself. Just keep it real and let the truth lead you.
- Honest structured stories—written, videotaped or audiotaped—may create empathy among whites and others who read or hear them, which are qualities that scholars and spiritual leaders like Michael Eric Dyson say are necessary to break through walls of racial division. In his book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Dyson tells white America: “Empathy must be cultivated. Empathy means taking a moment to imagine how you might behave if you were in our positions … imagine how you would act if you were us. Imagine living in a society where your white skin marks you for disgust, hate, and fear.” Your story will help inform white people’s imaginations.
- Along with consistency in sharing our stories, there must also be persistence. Eric Reid, one of the first professional football players to kneel during the National Anthem, has said, “I will continue to say and encourage people to educate themselves on how we got to where we are today because it didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to happen overnight to fix these issues. So, we’re going to keep talking about it. I know that I will keep doing what I feel is necessary to use the platform I have to make those changes.”
- Think of your story as “public narrative” that empowers you to lead. Marshall Ganz, a senior lecturer in public policy, says public narrative is “not primarily a form of self-expression. It is an exercise of leadership by motivating others to join you in action on behalf of a shared purpose.” Creating interesting public narratives is potent because they can give the law enforcement reform movement greater traction. Stories can move people to do things they would not otherwise do. As Ganz says, “Stories are how we learn to make choices. Stories are how we learn to access the moral and emotional resources we need to face the uncertain, the unknown, and the unexpected mindfully. Because stories speak the language of emotion, the language of the heart, they teach us not only how we “ought to” act, but can inspire us with the “courage to” act.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
As every good soldier knows, even in the midst of war one can find some bright spots. So, as black men tell their war stories, they should not leave out the good parts. Certainly, most black men have encountered well-behaved cops in their lives. They should show good cops some love by letting the world know that they definitely know a good cop when they see one and that this is why they so detest a bad one. The War Story Outline I share earlier can also be used, with small modifications, for telling stories about good cops.
Here’s a short but fascinating story about one very good cop—a brave officer who actually jumped into a Virginia lake to save the life of a criminal he was trying to arrest. The criminal led the cop on a wild car chase and the car ended up in the water. The criminal was trapped inside. After the life-endangering incident was over, Matt Leimer, a low-key WVEC-TV news reporter in LaSalle, VA, stood near the lake and issued his report:
[A] lot of lives were needlessly put at risk because a couple of suspects were trying to get away from police. Fortunately, everyone survived, but one state trooper deserves a lot of credit. He went into this dark, black, murky water, to save a suspect who was trapped in a car and couldn’t swim … (As part of his report, Leimer interviewed a police spokesman, who told him that the police chase was reminiscent of a scene from the old sit-com, “Dukes of Hazard,” as the fleeing driver drove his car wildly, crashing it through a construction site. The car then “went airborne and came down” in the lake and then quickly started sinking.) […] A trooper dove into the water, broke out a window and pulled the driver to safety, cutting his hand in the process […] Police say […] what was supposed to be a traffic stop turned into a wild ride through two cities and down Interstate-64, the driver weaving in and out of traffic, knocking down barrels of construction zone as he tried to get away… By the time it was over, the driver of the car was lucky to be alive and fortunate that one of the men pursuing him got there just in time.
Talk about a good cop!
Jumping into deep, black, murky water and risking his life to save a guy who was trying to evade arrest? Now, that’s truly amazing, but amazing is what good cops do.
Now check this out: Here’s the tricky thing about police officers. Black men know this all too well. You see, a cop can be good or he can be bad, but he can also be both good AND bad. As David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says, good cops often “do bad things for what they believe to be the right reasons.” Thus, a good cop and a bad cop are often one in the same. This is a crucial point to make because it can explain why whites and blacks can look at the same law enforcement system and see two very different things.
Far too many police officers have two faces—one that they show the white majority and the other that they racialize and reveal only to black men, law enforcement’s perennial “suspects.” In this sense, law enforcement’s racial problem is not necessarily a good-cop-versus-bad-cop situation. It’s the phenomenon of good/bad cops, i.e., two-faced cops.
Saying that a lot of cops are two-faced is not intended to insult our nation’s law enforcers. Actually, it’s an acknowledgment of the complexity of human personality. Cops aren’t the only ones who have the ability to express two distinctly different personas. The philosopher George Herbert Mead aptly described the phenomenon of dual personality. According to his research and analysis, human beings have multiple selves and have varying ways of interacting with others. (DID PAUL BUTLER SPEAK TO THIS AS WELL?)
Dual personality may be an integral part of the human psyche, however when it surfaces in those who are charged with enforcing the law, it can have very harsh consequences.
Nearly five decades ago, in an essay entitled, My Negro Problem—And Ours, a white writer, Norman Podhoretz, examined the good/bad cop duality and observed emerging repeatedly as he witnessed police officers alternately interface with whites and blacks. Podhoretz wrote: “… [P]ower is on my side … the police are working for me and not for them (blacks).”
The complex behavior of the good/bad cop forces whites and blacks to have divergent relationships with the law enforcement system. With white men, the good/bad cop tends to be a friendly professional—i.e., a good cop. With black men, the same officer tends to be nothing less than a brute—i.e., a bad cop. As a show of respect, the officer is careful not to touch white men or encroach upon their personal space. As a show of outright disrespect, the same officer is quick to get in black men’s faces, and poke them with his index finger.
The only way white men are going to learn about this racialized, dual law enforcement phenomenon is for black men to tell them in every which way they can. Otherwise, white men will remain oblivious to what black men are complaining about.
If white men never learn the black man’s truth, it won’t be his fault. Of course, if white men refuse to do their best to disrupt racism everywhere it has been proven to exist, then that’s on them. Regardless of their actions or inactions, Storytelling gives black men power. If they don’t use their power, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Storytellers can be profoundly impacted by their own storytelling. Black men, hear this: You may get beaten, thrown in jail, falsely arrested, convicted and incarcerated, and that Godforsaken avalanche of excessive law enforcement may make you feel that there is nothing you can do to help yourself. You want to sue the police, but perhaps you cannot afford a lawyer. You do not want to risk losing thousands of dollars on a case that holds no guarantee that you will win. I know this, because I have been there. Most often, the men who receive the highest payout are dead. Others who win big have eyewitnesses and to the police abuse they suffered.
And so, for the vast majority of aggrieved black men, the pain and anguish borne of injustice may remain inside of them forever, like scars that will not heal. Then again, maybe not. If you look at the bigger picture, you will see there is something you can do. You can seek catharsis—the catharsis of storytelling. Catharsis is a good thing; its healthy for you, for it releases pressure. It makes the scars go away. That in itself is a good reason to tell your story. Do it for your health!
Jay-Z promoted the idea of the power of self-disclosure in poetic terms when he said, “What you reveal, you heal.” V2
Despite the various good reasons to do so, many black men do not want to tell their story publicly. They believe that they would put their jobs and public image at risk if they openly engage in controversial personal or political topics like police brutality. In other words, they know that it can be dangerous and costly for a black man to speak his mind.
David Chappelle touched upon this at the 2018 Grammy Awards show when he opened the program by telling a television audience of about 25 million people: “Hi. I’m Dave Chappelle, and I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.”
More often than not black men who have tasted the bitterness of police brutality are reluctant to open up and freely talk about their experiences, because ugly encounters with cops are embarrassing episodes in their lives, episodes in which they have been harassed, pushed around, abused, demeaned and disgusted; episodes that have left them believing they will always have to live with America’s twisted version of “law and order.” So, with resignation they whisper to themselves and to each other: “Why should I even try to solve this problem? … It will never end … What can I do?”
If black men do not believe that their stories or complaints can stop police from attacking them, then what do they think can stop police from attacking them?
I met an 18-year-old black man named Komi while riding the 52 bus in midtown Washington, DC in February 2015. We both boarded the bus at the bustling corner of 14th and U streets in D.C. Striking up a conversation, I asked him whether he believed that law enforcement was at war against him and if so, what would it take to make them stop. He took a few moments to think about the question. Then he replied, “Yeah … and I hate to say it, but there is only one thing that might make it stop: A lot more killing. More black guys are going to have to die, get shot by the police and more police are going to have to get killed, too. Then maybe—maybe—people will say, ‘OK, enough is enough! We have to do something.’”
Talk about pessimism. Apparently, in Komi’slogic, violence is as much a problem solver as it is a problem maker.
Komi’s thinking is tragic, because many more alternatives are available than just more killing. Violence can’t be the only solution he sees, can it?
Clearly, America’s parents, teachers and community leaders have a lot of work to do to convince young men like Komi that there is a better way, that there are viable solutions, even solutions in which they can actively get engaged. America owes Komi and others like him a role to play in the effort to rid society of racialized law enforcement. At minimum, leaders, activists and educators must make it clear to America’s Komies that their role is to share their war stories so others can learn from them. The only way their truth can make a difference is to share it.
The solution is in the story and the right stories can end the war.
Well, I have talked the talk and now it is time for me to walk the walk. Thus far, I have urged and damn near begged black men to tell their war stories; to tell it like it is (good, bad, or ugly); to share their opinions and analyses about what they have experienced and provide insights that can lead to solutions. In essence what I am saying to black men is simply this: Brother, what’s your story? Don’t just tell another brother. Tell the whole wide world.
Your story will not make a difference, unless you tell it.
Allow me to demonstrate what I am talking about by sharing some of my war stories.