By Dr. T
“Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality.”
– James Baldwin, link The Fire Next Time
Again, we are dealing with the death of another unarmed Black male shot in the back by a police officer. This time in Chicago where the officers on the scene were wearing body cameras and recorded the event, there were over 15 shots fired. However, the officer responsible for shooting Paul O’Neal in the back and killing him at the scene had his body camera turned off. No matter how many times these encounters with our police officers happen and result in the death of another unarmed Black man, we hold our breath and then we exhale and wait for the inevitable barrage of denials, rationales and rallying behind law enforcement as the unwitting victims, falsely accused and in fear of their lives, doing a dangerous job while attempting to keep our communities safe. How many times do we engage in this re-telling of the same old story over and over again? How many black bodies have to be sacrificed on the altar of a social order created by systemic and institutional racial realities that diminish and devalue the lives of black and brown people as a function of an entrenched and accepted political reality?
No matter that the police in Chicago were chasing down 18 year-old Paul O’Neal for suspicion of car theft. No matter that young O’Neal actually side-swiped a police car as he attempted to evade the police. No matter that this teenager then fled the vehicle and was attempting to escape capture. Paul O’Neal was not threatening the life of the police officer who fired the fatal shot that struck unarmed O’Neal in the back bringing him to the ground where he bled and died before any medical attention could be rendered. What happened to tactics of de-escalation? What has happened to the use of non-lethal force? When the police immediately assume that blackness is inherently dangerous and the singular response to that danger is to effectively neutralize the threat, which translated means termination, Black men become targets in the killing fields; they are not suspects or citizens who deserve the right to be charged with a crime and brought to trial where they can have an opportunity to face the charges and present evidence and then, ultimately, be judged as guilty or not.
Equal access to the system of justice is more of a dream deferred for Black people in America than an actual reality. For many Black males, the system of justice in America is not much different now than it was during periods in our country when there were slave patrols, bounties that yielded financial gain when those bodies were brought in Dead or Alive. This current “open season” on Black people gunned down, especially males, is reminiscent of the historic period where state sanctioned terrorism allowed Black people to be beaten, chased by dogs, water hoses turned on them and their bodies and physical personage denigrated for attempting to exercise their rights as citizens and human beings. When these men run from law enforcement, it “seems” irrational to many people. Why not just comply with the police officers? In response, it’s not simplistic to say HISTORY. Many of these young men feel a “fight or flight” impulse when encountering law enforcement. In this country, Black people have been traumatized by our lived experience as Black people. Over and over again, the color of our skin has proven itself to be not only an existential threat to our health and well-being but also an absolute political reality.