In the wake of several high-profile cases of excessive police force and a damning CIA torture report, we in the U.S. are reminded that the instruments of government policing are often times no better than the criminals we indict. And while those criminals are typically of Black and Brown descent, we are juxtaposed by the notion of a Black President who exclaims that “we are a nation of laws.” But what happens when those laws are disregarded and/or broken by members of the same government that are sworn to uphold them? We the people are labeled with negativity, while the hypocrisy of American democracy stains the flag.
Because whenever something occurs to or with a Black or Brown person, it’s just different. Consider the following examples: when White people speak in a standard American English vernacular, they are heralded as educated. If Black or Brown people speak in the same dialect, they are considered “not Black enough” or a coconut. When White people get into Harvard University, they earned it. When Black or Brown people are admitted, it’s because of affirmative action or cheating. When White people join the Republican Party, it’s normal. When Black or Brown people join, they’re sellouts. If White people knock at your door, it’s people knocking at your door. If a Black or Brown people knock at your door, it’s Black or Brown people knocking at your door.
These rules that Black and Brown folks are subjected to govern our lives. If you don’t believe it, just ask one. The rules for us are just different. This is part of our collective experience.
I wish these double standards didn’t exist. I do not talk about the current conditions to bring up hard feelings with anyone, because yesteryear was a much more disdainful and trying time. However, in order for us to progress as a nation, we need to be comfortable confronting inequalities at every level. I cringe when I hear people say, “things aren’t that bad.” As a Brown man, I am not angry, I’m not asking for any handouts, nor am I asking for special treatment. I just want equitable and fair treatment.
Which is why I am so disheartened by several government officials that have egregiously decided to break the law, violate standard protocol, and/or ignored laws altogether. These government officials range from police officers, judges and the Central Intelligence Agency. If we truly are a nation of laws, no one is above them.
When our government abuses their authority and commits crimes against humanity, we the people will hold them accountable to the oaths they have been sworn by. The standard of government officials is greater than that of petty criminals. Meanwhile the media helps dictate the narrative to aide the government’s actions. When the police kill a Hispanic man, we are reminded of his criminal record and previous offenses. When the police kill a Black man by a chokehold, we are reminded that the choke maneuver is banned but not “illegal.” When the government utilizes “enhanced interrogation techniques,” it’s held in secrecy and deemed justified.
Before we go any further, let’s clarify: torture is illegal. Choking someone to death is illegal. Shooting someone to death is illegal.
That is, unless you have a badge.
Further clarification: when the government breaks the law, it’s deemed acceptable based on political rhetoric and nuanced legal buffers. When we the people break the law, we go to prison. How else would you explain a prison population that has exploded by 900% since 1970? We have the highest incarceration rate in the world and the prisons are full of Blacks and Latinos. Are we just naturally criminals? (Perhaps you may look into the Labelling Theory of Crime.) How long before we accept negative stereotypes?
And yes, we have issues in our own communities that we need to address: domestic violence, addiction and “Black on Black” crime are all real problems. But these are problems that everyone has. I don’t hear reports on “White on White” crime. I don’t hear about drug and alcohol addiction in the “White community” although we know it’s there. Moreover, Blacks & Browns have a long history of being victimized by government violence, which at the time was considered legal and right by the same language that deems today’s violence appropriate. Slavery was legal. Exterminating the indigenous was legal. Lynching Mexicans in the Southwest was legal. All of which occurred under an American and democratic nation. This is why Black on Black or Brown on Brown crime cannot be viewed in the same light as police killing us. Might does not make right. Furthermore, “the rules” as to who can break the law and when are unequal.
If we’re going to torture people and flagrantly disobey the law, let’s apply this to other aspects of society as well. People need to be held accountable.
And while Attorney General Eric Holder has unveiled updated guidelines prohibiting racial profiling, two thousand years of programming is not going to make me any less Brown. Racial profiling will never cease.
We are a nation of laws. Laws that are created by people to cover their asses.
And until a law is created to stop me from speaking these truths, I might as well.