This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself writing about police brutality. At a rally that took place shortly after Shane Tasi was killed in Mountain View, I begged the Polynesian community to become vigilant. The alternative is a steady stream of body bags.
Terrance “Mookie” Franklin
On May 10, a 22-year-old American citizen named Terrance “Mookie” Franklin interacted with the police here in Minneapolis. The interaction occurred inside a basement. Terrance became another victim of the “us versus them” struggle between citizens and police departments.
I’m struggling to find the appropriate words for how I feel whenever I see, let alone interact with, a police officer. A palpable wave of fear could be used to describe my emotions. However, that doesn’t capture the experience fully.
As the Occupy movement most recently demonstrated, racial caste is only apart of the complex relationship Americans have with the police. Police departments don’t care what you look like. They care about their paychecks and those mandate officers follow orders. If that means certain citizens are targeted, so be it.
If I google “police brutality,” I am left with the impression that “national orders” are to “detain and arrest” young black males on sight. Nor am I alone in this impression. It could be confirmation bias, as many of those whom I discuss the police with are people of color. A sense of urgency to figure out “why” focuses our attention. If we are unable to understand the obsession of police presence in African-American communities, it could mean our own death.
However, police departments don’t use the language of emotional reactions. They speak of the bureaucratic language of criminal statistics and public policy.
At the Franklin family press conference, the Minnesota CBS affiliate reported, “the [Minneapolis police] department responds to 400,000 calls each year involving people of color. And that this incident [Mookie’s death], as well as every other incident that officers respond to, are based on public safety needs.”
Such bureaucratic language doesn’t go over well to citizens in the ghetto.
At a June 1 membership meeting for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), Rekoe Howard (who played a minor role in the hip-hop movie Belly) stated that the Minneapolis police department consistently ranks number one for racial profiling.
That’s a subjective claim, so I looked it up.
In June 2000, in response to the national racial profiling buzz initiated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the State of Minneapolis conducted a three year study on racial profiling, with a cost of $3 million. The results were conclusive enough for the issue to resonate politically, and in 2002 it was determined that racial profiling was indeed happening. The Minnesota ACLU followed up on the report making claims against specific officers, like Eric Boon.
“They [Minnesota ACLU] say he camps in front of the Michael’s Foods egg-processing plant and runs the license plates of Latinos who work there, among other tactics.”
Officer Boon admitted to the Mankato Free Press that he knows “the houses of people who don’t have driver’s licenses. And if Latinos tend to be the people without valid licenses, [he] said that’s not his fault.”
I’m left questioning what to do with this information. Questions fire off inside my head. Do I internalize my fear of some prominent police departments, like Los Angeles and New York, and extend that fear to every police department? Is that fair? Prejudiced? But, more importantly, with the life and death nature of the issue: Do I have the time to think through these questions?
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder columnist and community organizer Mel Reeves held a rally on May 31 for Mookie Franklin. According to a flier Reeves gave me, five bullets were fired into the back of that citizen’s head. Four more bullets were fired. Two bullets entered the young man’s back and – it is still unknown how – two into arresting officers.
Because this kind of situation happens so frequently, Mookie’s death was met with a certain air of apathy. It wasn’t until the police chief, Janee Harteau, abandoned her public relations training that community anger made a rally possible. Although she previously assured the public a more transparent administration, Harteau refused to answer basic questions about the incident at a recent news conference.
Again, this is nothing new, which is the problem.
This lack of transparency infuriated seven of Mookie Franklin’s friends, who organized two protests without any media fanfare before the May 31 protest led by Reeves.
Ceara Hinton-Strickland, one of those seven friends and a young mother, explained her reasons for taking action.
“I’ve know a lot of people that were brutalized by the MPD but this incident took the cake. They executed Terrance, then dragged his name through the dirt. The police constantly changed their story so we knew something didn’t add up . My friends and I helped get justice for Trayvon Martin. There was a seven thousand strong rally at the college. So why not do it for one of our own? Terrance is our Trayvon. His family deserves answers. His 5 year old son will never see his Dad again. He also deserves to know the truth.”
On the promotional flier, Reeves cites a statistic generated by the New York-based Malcolm X Grassroots Movement: every 36 hours a young Black man is killed by the police department. Unfortunately, that stat is old. With all the data in, the group revised it and determined that eight hours needed to be shaved off, making it one young black male every 28 hours or 313 men killed in 2012.
Where are these numbers coming from? The same place the NAACP in the early 1900s got their info for lynching records: the news. Official reporting. Not the Internet.
Now, in defense of the police, the job isn’t easy. Chicago is dealing with record-breaking inner city violence as the Great Recession makes securing resources a ever more violent affair. PBS Newshour did a report about Chicago’s Third District’s efforts to provide a solution.
Watch Community Steps Up to Halt Crime in Chicago’s South Side on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
This provides evidence that all police are not bad, which is a frame of thought that polarizing news reports can create. When and where police “brutality” occurs, it is in part a response to the stress of the job.
Despite decent pay, the fact that we are asking men and women to risk their lives to protect us takes its toll on their psychological make-up. After a while, it’s possible to assume even the most idealistic person could succumb to the “us versus them” paradigm.
But police brutality does happen, and because it happens so frequently, the African-American community is confused. Which issue do you tackle first? The lack of economic opportunity inspiring crime or the mentality which is building the prison industrial complex?
Either cause is daunting and beyond the immediate resources of our heavily patrolled, impoverished American neighborhoods. This is a problem affecting the friends I have at home in Anchorage and my new friends in Minneapolis.
Still, I make the choice to be a community activist. I’m going to continue to work with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. I’m going to continue accepting fliers from Mel Reeves. I going to continue asking myself and others the difficult questions. Why? Because we shouldn’t be shooting at each other. This has to stop. I believe that acting like an American is better than burying another American citizen.
Especially one that looks like me.