Saturday, December 27, 2014


A week ago today, my daughter and I were just finishing up a charmed lunch on a balcony overlooking the vineyards of Napa Valley when the news came across the wire that two police officers had been shot execution style in New York City. My daughter and I had excused ourselves at the end of the meal to use the restroom. While waiting for me my daughter checked her phone. "Oh no," she said as I was rubbing divine-smelling lotion luxuriously set out onto my just-washed hands. "Two cops assassinated in Brooklyn while sitting in their squad car." My heart sank. This is a war, I remember thinking, whether or not it was the right response to have. I was saddened beyond belief, and sickened at the news that was being delivered to these two men's families that day. "The shooter was mentally ill," my daughter went on, reading from her phone. "He shot his girlfriend in Baltimore earlier in the day and posted threats to kill cops on social media. And after he shot the cops he killed himself." So fucking senseless, I thought. My daughter and I just looked at each other and went to rejoin our lunch companions.

In New York at the same hour, my son's friend O, who is Black, called him on his cell. My son was at a track meet watching his athletes compete. O told him what had happened and then said, "You and I had best move to another country, my friend, because it's a fucking war out here." My son told me this later, on Christmas eve when he was driving me around to get last minute gifts. He also told me that he had made a conscious decision not to march, not to get snared by the anger and sorrow over the grand jury decision not to indict the cop who choked the life out of a Black Staten Island man last July. "I just can't walk around angry," he said. "I just need to live my life." I don't fault him. We do what works. I don't want him marinating in anger either.

Today, one of the officers is being laid to rest and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is there, despite NYPD officers blasting him for contributing to the atmosphere of distrust of cops by admitting that he had counseled his Black son on how to conduct himself in interactions with cops. The cops said de Blasio had those two dead cops' blood on his hands. When the mayor walked into the room to give a press conference the night after the shooting, the cops present turned their backs on him. My son has chosen not to dance with anger and I admire him for it, but the photo of that Klingon-like repudiation of a White father trying to protect his Black son enraged me. Of course Di Blasio counseled his son. The numbers of unarmed Black men killed by White police officers don't lie. Even Black police officers in New York City admit they fear for their lives when out of uniform. Black cops give their sons "The Talk" too. 

In a Reuters news interview, 25 African-American cops, some active, some retired, revealed that all but one of them had been racially profiled by White cops when out of uniform, most of them multiple times. It often made no difference that they immediately identified themselves as police officers when stopped, the cops told them the badge was fake, that they were lying or in some cases, said they didn't care who the fuck they were. The Black cops had their faces slammed into cars and concrete sidewalks, were kicked and punched, despite the fact that they all knew better than to "resist arrest." One Black cop who took his complaint to Internal Affairs, eventually left the department, disillusioned when no action was taken against the White cops who assaulted him. He had been doing nothing more than walking to his car in a parking lot at night. Another off duty Black cop was jogging when accosted. "What's suspicious about a jogger? In jogging clothes?" he asked rhetorically. Two-thirds of the Black cops interviewed said they never bothered to report or pursue justice in connection with the incidents, aware that they would be harassed and worse if they did. 

I worry for de Blasio. If the cops are against him, who is going to protect him and his family? I know his wife, who is Black, is losing sleep at night. 

My cousin in San Francisco, a social worker, had an interesting take on the whole harrowing interaction between White cops and Black citizens, especially those in poor and disenfranchised neighborhoods. She said that you take the cops, who have a tough and dangerous job, who have seen true horrors in the line of duty, and who are probably suffering from PTSD. Then you take Black men from neighborhoods fractured by poverty, who are most likely also suffering from PTSD and who have an ingrained distrust of cops based on a violent history. Then you add the overlay of conscious and unconscious racism, the fact of the proliferation of guns, and the relative powerlessness of Blacks in general in the society, and you have an incendiary mix. Some White cops have been reported to joke that if they kill a Black man in dubious circumstances, they'll likely get an unscheduled paid vacation, and that's not so bad. They have also admitted that they avoid the same overreaching behavior with White suspects, because too much heat rains down on them. 

So where do we start in healing this ongoing nightmare? There are so many threads to pick apart I have no clue. Never wonder why I pray.


  1. May and I were talking about this the other night. I am so out of the reality loop when it comes to actual real attitudes that I was completely shocked when she said that I would probably not be welcomed into one of the neighborhood jukes where we used to hang out, years ago, no problems at all. We lived in a Black neighborhood and so it went. This breaks my damn heart. Really?
    I think your cousin in San Francisco is right. There are far more reasons this is all happening than can be summed up in a tidy sentence. And those people who are blaming the protesters for the killing of the two cops in NYC are either being idiots or disingenuous. First off, the guy was crazy. Secondly, the protesters are protesting a reality which is that white cops can and do kill Black men all the time without punishment. They are not causing violence. They are protesting it.
    I don't know, Angella. I am here in my little world of Lloyd where we are many shades of color. I know that I have more in common with some of my Black neighbors than I do with plenty of ecru people but I am NOT stupid enough to say that I know what they are going through, have gone through, will go through. No way I can know that. I just know that slaves were already here on this continent before the Mayflower arrived and that the time between the Civil War and now is obviously not long enough for us to work through our guilt and resentments and prejudices and attitudes and I keep thinking about what Chris Rock said about how Obama's election was not about how far Black people have come but how far white people have come. He is right but we have so far yet to go.
    I am sorrowful.

  2. Thank you for writing this and hitting post. This kind of writing and thinking is crucial to the process of change. I agree with your friends thoughts about PTSD, I have the same thoughts myself.

  3. Thank you for writing this. Yes. Please keep praying. The PTSD is so deep.

    And I'm very glad that the initial news was wrong and that the man did not kill but only shot his ex-girlfriend (or girlfriend?) and she is recovering. And that as painful as these conversations are, we have to have them and so I'm glad that we're starting more.

  4. The clear and succinct energy of this post is so important. I hope it will gain readership beyond your blog. Thank you for adding to the discussion in such a strong way.

  5. I am glad you wrote this. The situation with White cops killing Black men sickens me. Your cousin has an interesting hypothesis. What it is going to take to stop this scares me but it has to stop. You are a great Mom. Sweet Jo

  6. I completely understand your son's remark. And in fact living his life, as he does, contributes I think to general sanity, not just his, but society's.

  7. What Elizabeth said. To the one millionth power.

  8. Great post. While I know that the (mainly white) police treat African Americans very differently from how they treat most whites, I question a lot of them in general. They seem to think they answer to no one, and we put up with it. My son, 6'4" and, until recently, possessed of a bright pink, red, blue or green mohawk, was constantly stopped walking through our neighborhood and has, more than once, had to pull out his license to show that the house he was standing in front of was actually where he lived. Where do the police get off making these assumptions - and worse, acting on them.
    The fact is, that while we all know decent, upstanding police officers who really do want to "serve and protect" there are far too many of them who bring their biases, insecurities and power trips to the job.