Blackness and the Law

I’ve never had a real run in with the law, and don’t expect to – ever:

  1. My Caribbean family’s ‘central planning’ saw me grow up, go to school, and habituate in/to white American middle class spaces/ways;
  2. Blackness marks, but so does whiteness. Thus, even at Howard, surrounded by what was at that time the sketchiest neighborhood I’d ever been in, my classmates and I, protected by the college’s step-closer-to-whiteness aura, were generally safe from crime or unwarranted policing;
  3. Now, only in my professional capacities as artist/teacher do I frequent spaces that *might* code my Blackness as a criminal threat; I teach in “urban” schools, work with “urban” youth, and drive through “urban” neighborhoods to get to art, but I live in the ‘burbs.

Some people, like my male Black/Latino/Muslim students, expect run ins with the law at all times in all places. I imagine poor people of color do, too. But, like all Blacks in the United States – regardless of class – I have a. plan in the event of a run in with the law, and b. an acute awareness of where such an encounter might take place.

Which is the problem I have with some of Occupy Our Homes’ tactics. I went to see a play, and as part of the play, a white-appearing woman demonstrated ways that activists could keep homeowners in their homes while they fight bank foreclosure/evictions. These strategies put activists’ bodies in direct contact with law enforcement. Red flag! Red flag! Dealing with the law is an entirely different reality for people of color when compared to the reality for white activists.

Over the next 24 hours, I watched as men and women came and went, many with cuts, bruises, and welts. I asked several of them how they’d been injured, and they described fierce struggles with the police. One young man cradled what he reported was a broken wrist. Another pulled up his shirt and revealed three Taser burns. Yet another removed his fitted cap and pointed to a swollen knot on his head. I exchanged uncomfortable glances with the few other white men in the cellblock.

“Did they treat you like that?” I whispered.

“No, you?”

“No.” We held out our wrists to compare.

I won’t be putting my body in front of law enforcement as a part of weekend grassroots actions anytime soon.

See the rest of the article (an interesting read in its entirety) here.