Trust the System Part 2: Police

I love comedy. Especially stand up comedy, that is a classic one-person show where great story tellers entertain the masses based on their life experiences and their unique perspective on the world. My favorite comedians are male, whether this is a function of the industry being male dominated is not the topic of this discussion, but there was a time I was interested in the works of Amy Schumer. She had a show on Comedy Central and had the leather special on Netflix. She is funny. Then I saw a stream of articles and videos accusing her of joke stealing. Some of the videos were very well made in which they played the “original” joke and then showed the Amy clip where she stole the joke. The similarities were obvious, I was devasted; but nah, I will wait for my girl Amy to respond…her response was, “I did not steal any jokes” …ok, to the point I guess; I am not sure what I was expecting her to say. I then watched a video on this matter in which the vlogger was defending Amy saying it is possible for two people to come up with the same joke. Very suspicious I thought but possible. Then I remembered the South Park episode; The Simpsons did it. Basically, the premise of the episode is showing how the Simpsons have been on air for so long that it is inevitable to have similar concepts as them and it is not that big a deal. Well, this is not directly applicable to the joke-stealing case but it does paint a different picture on the matter.

Fast forward a couple of months and I decide that I would try my hand at writing. My first project, a book, was a bit ambitious. It was going to be part biographical and basically documenting my journey in life with an interesting story in the background to give meaning to the various changes in my life. My opening was along the lines of a video game and how being born in Africa I chose a more challenging difficulty level in this game of life. My day job eventually got in the way of my writing and needing to fulfil bread and butter issues I decided to put a pin on my writing career. Life being funny as it is, I ran into a video on YouTube by Casually Explained named Evolution III: Life as a Video Game. Basically, it was the opening to my book but in this case, he was white and lived in Canada and thus set his difficulty level lower than mine. Shenanigans I thought, he stole my joke…but how? I had never been public with it, is it actually possible that two people can come up with the same joke without one of them stealing it?

The above is a long and convoluted way for me to mention that I was born in Africa, Zimbabwe to be exact. Zimbabwe is a southern African country with a population of 14 million of which approximately 90% are black…yes, I am black. Growing up I was surrounded by people who looked like me and thus I never had that feeling of being a minority.  When I was 9, my parents decided to send me to the best school system in the country. This was a private school and thus was more expensive than the average school and it was located closer to the northern suburbs where the wealthier citizens lived. Owing to the inequalities brought about through colonization the minorities generally had more resources thus they could afford these private schools. Thus, my first exposure to white people (other than TV and the resident priest at our local church) was at the age of 9 when I started going to this school. Zimbabwe got independence from minority white-rule in 1980, I was born after that and was dubbed a born-free. This was 1995 when I started going to this school thus, the wounds of oppression were still fresh in the minds of those born before 1980. My father being one of them, unfortunately he passed away young and thus I never got a chance to talk to him and understand his animosity towards white people. To his credit, he never tried to pass his prejudice down to me or any of my siblings. In 2000, the government decided to embark on controversial land reform program, where they took land from the minority white farmers in attempt to redistribute the land to the landless black majority. On paper it sounds like a noble cause but in execution it was heavily politicized and corruption raised its ugly head that in the end the land redistribution exercise was just a mess and started the free fall of the Zimbabwean economy. Some of the pupils at my school were sons (I went to an all-boys school) of the white farmers that lost some or all of their farmland. To them, justifiably so, the land redistribution seemed racially motivated, and this made racial tensions at school rise. It was not as open, but you could sense it. During open play on the sports field, no matter what sport we were playing it somehow ended up being black versus white with those with various shades in between left to choose a side based on where they best felt most comfortable. I paint a bleak picture here but I get it. If I was in their shoes, I would be pissed off too. Directing their anger towards any black person (kinda reminds me of a young Liam Neeson) however is where I differ with them.

The year was 2010, and my career was leading to the United States of America, Houston to be exact (throw your H’s up) #iwasnotbornintexasbuticameasquicklyasicould (am I doing this hash-tag thing right?). I was working in corporate America, mama I have arrived. Never being a minority and I guess going to school in a multi-race environment I had become blind to color so the fact that I was a minority never popped into my head. I still am like that, I remember having a discussion with a friend of mine about a situation with coworker and my friends first thought was, “do you think it was because you are black?” That question irritated me…it was not the case and the fact that that is the first thing he jumped to I felt was more disruptive than good.

I did, however, realize though that I am a minority. This came about in the weirdest of ways…I was walking in the downtown tunnels during my lunch break foraging for some sustenance that will take me through to the end of the day. I noticed that every time I passed a black male dressed for the corporate environment, they would nod at me. Initially I thought I had imagined it, then I thought may be the guy was gay (flattered), it bugged me enough to the point I asked another black person about it. The answer I got, whether it is true or not, I liked, and I will keep it as my truth. The reason was that it was an acknowledgement between historically oppressed individuals that have “beat the odds” and are carving a way for themselves and future generations…I like that… That resonated with me that I became a fan of the “black nod”. As a result, my identity as a black man started to grow within me. Whether it was true or not I started seeing what I perceived to be racial discrimination more and more. Then it happened; 2016. The year that gave the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement the prominence it has now. This happened after a slew of alleged police use of excessive force that resulted in the death of several African Americans… Actually, I stand corrected, BLM is 6 years old (born in 2013), I just learnt about them in 2016. Regardless, I was all about this movement; so much so that I posted on Facebook that African American athletes should boycott the 2016 Olympics. Americans love their sports, but do you know what they love more than their sports? Winning! Approximately 22% of the US Olympic Team was African American, this compared to the fact that African Americans make up 12% of the population shows the contribution this demographic group makes to sports in America. Thus, if society cannot accept African Americans at their low then they should not accept them at their high. This led to a spirited discussion with a former friend of mine on Facebook. He is not black (is black a derogatory term?). My emotions did not allow me to look at his argument from a neutral point of view. This may have been a cause to him unfriending me and us not being friends anymore. Why were my emotions high? Well considering the stats mentioned above, out of all the police killings in 2016 27% of them related to African Americans; double the African American proportion of the US population. As such, this statistic is an evidence of police bias towards African Americans.

Later in 2016, as if on cue, I then experienced real discrimination at work. I missed out on a promotion that I deserved because, well, because I was listening to music while working…right. To put this in perspective, majority of people at this company listen to music while working, it is nothing unusual, but I was singled out for it. The decision was not based on my work. I was upset to say the least. I looked at all the facts and determined that it was not racially motivated. Other black people were getting promoted… Could it be that I actually suck at my job? No way, I am pretty confident in my skills, plus the reasons I was given were stupid, for lack of a better word. To make matters worse, the following year I was not promoted again. The reason I was given, “I am not the type of person you can have in front of the big clients” … Basis for this conclusion? Nothing, just someone’s hunch feeling. Still, other minorities were promoted ahead of me. To make matters worse, usually people who miss promotion are fired, but I was not, TWICE! This made me rethink everything. Was I discriminated against? Definitely!! Was it because of my race? … I do not know. I started looking at the world differently. Maybe what I saw was not the truth? Maybe my bias had closed my mind to other factors about the matter. We are all biased; it is natural. The first step of recovery is acceptance and I accept that I have a problem. The problem is not supporting BLM but rather blindly supporting BLM. Because the movement had “black” (something I identify as) in its name I impulsively supported it.

In order to be objective, the first thing I looked at was my life. I am black, I drive a high-end German car, when I drive I play my music (mainly hip hop) loud, and I usually drive above the speed limit. I have been in Houston for 8 years now and I have only been pulled over once by the police. The reason? Racial targeting? No, my registration was 3 months overdue. Justifiable stop. All my other experiences with the cops have been pleasant…well the underlying matter was not pleasant but the outcome was. Without snitching on myself there have been times where a police officer could have easily sided against me (because my story was just so crazy that if I had not experienced it I would not believe it myself) but the police officer, who was not black, was very open minded listened to both sides of the story and a decision that was neutral was made. The other party was white and female! Hmmm, maybe Houston is just that progressive. Let me dive deeper into some of the cases of police brutality against minorities.

Keith Lamont Scott

According to reports, Scott was armed and did not listen to police when they tried instructed him to drop his weapon. Scott’s family said that he had a communication problem and insisted that he did not have a gun but rather a book. Unfortunately, no further detail was provided as it relates to the communication problem… rather I did not look further into the nature of the communication problems. Background on the matter, the police were actually looking for someone else when they encountered Scott. The call to the police had mentioned that the person that they were looking for was carrying a gun. It is important to note that the officer who shot Scott was black, but I believe it is not a black vs. white thing but rather a black vs. blue thing. In addition, the officer was in plain clothes hence he did not have a body cam on but three other officers on the scene had body cams; as well as dash cam footage. The investigation, which also included an independent investigation done by federal authorities, took about 2 months to complete. The conclusion of the investigations is that no charges will be filed against the officer as the shooting was deemed to be justified. 15 prosecutors also came to the same conclusion. The weapon that was recovered had Scott’s DNA on the handle. Part of the evidence collected included a surveillance video from a convenience store that Scott had visited shortly before the incidence. From the video it is evident that a bulge, which was believed to be the weapon, can be seen underneath Scott’s clothes. I watched the video and I did see a bulge. In addition, a certain witness had said that a white officer had shot Scott. Later, the witness recanted her statement noting that she did not see the shooting. Analysis of the weapons that were issued to the officers on the scene showed that only the black officer had fired his weapon because the other weapons had all their bullets. At this point I decided to watch the police footage of the shooting for myself. I will admit, the video did not give a clear view of what happened. In the video I do hear police telling Scott to drop his weapon. In the same video his wife is saying, “Keith, Keith, don’t do it”. The latter could not be heard clearly but it was subtitled in the video so take that with a grain of salt. From my own look at the footage and from reading the various coverages of the case I think the authorities investigated the matter accordingly. In addition, I feel the shooting was justified.

Terrence Crutcher

Initial reports of this case indicate that Crutcher was shot with his hands in the air while walking towards his car. Federal, state, and local authorities investigated the case. Crutcher’s vehicle had broken down as such he was waiting for assistance. Two 911 calls were made which brought the police to the scene. According to the first officer on the scene, Crutcher was avoiding her questions and walking with his hands in his pockets. The officer then called dispatch with intent of arresting Crutcher as the officer believed he was under the influence of something. Before Crutcher was shot, the officer said she had told him to stop but he did not and he started to bring his hands down. As such the officer thought he was reaching for a weapon and thus shot at him. The officer did not have her taser out as she was the only officer on the scene and she was fearing for her life. The second officer that arrived at the scene had a taser out as it is policy that a second officer have a less lethal weapon drawn. Crutcher’s car window was rolled up when he was shot so saying he was reaching for a weapon does not justify the use of deadly force as the effort to get the weapon out of his car would have been impossible without the police reacting in a non-lethal manner. In addition, no gun was found and PCP was found in his system. The officer was charged, but was acquitted of the charges. A juror stated that the decision was based on the fact that the prosecution did not do a thorough enough job. I watched the video of the shooting. From the video you can see that Crutcher was not obeying the police and was walking to his car acting “shady”. However, shooting Crutcher to me was excessive force. There was no gun or fear from him reaching for a weapon. As much as I say this though, this is what happens when you do not obey police officers, maybe the PCP had a part to play in this. Putting myself in the shoes of the officer, I probably would have made the same decision. Once someone starts disobeying police one has to think what are they trying to hide and how far will they go to hide it. I will not wait for a police officer to be shot before I react.

Alton Sterlin

Police were responding to a report of a man selling CDs who threatened someone with a gun. Store owner of the establishment where the incidence occurred mentioned that Sterlin had started carrying a gun a few days back as people who were selling CDs started getting robbed. The matter that makes this a contentious issue was than Sterlin was not the guy that the officers were called for. No charges were brought against the officers as it was determined that they acted in a reasonable and justifiable manner. Sterlin resisted police and in the altercation, he was shot 6 times. A loaded gun was retrieved from Sterlin which was in his pocket. Witnesses said that Sterlin never wielded his weapon nor did he threaten the police. I watched the video and it is evident that Sterlin did resist. From the video the police did approach him in a manner that showed that they suspected him of something. This may have caused his apprehension to the situation leading to his reaction…or it could be the loaded gun in his possession. Either way, the police were investigating an incidence where the culprit was said to have a gun and using it to threaten people. I do not blame the police for approaching him in the manner that they did. In addition, Sterlin did have a gun on him and in the struggle, it is said he was reaching for his pockets.

Michael Brown

This is a case of he said he said. One account mentioned that Brown had attacked the officer and tried to get his weapon; another says Brown had his hands up and was surrendering. Background: Brown and a friend were walking [to a friend’s house] when they were confronted by a police officer. The friend said the officer asked them to walk on the side of the road as they were walking in the middle of the road. They told the officer they were close to their destination and thus would be off the road soon [I guess they refused to walk on the side of the road, a reasonable request from the officer if you ask me]. According to the friend, this did not go well with the officer and he grabbed Brown by the neck telling him he would shoot him. They started to run away at which point the police officer started shooting. Brown was hit so he put his hands in the air and told the officer he was unarmed. He was shot again and died. Other witnesses said they saw Brown and the officer struggling through the car window; Brown’s hands were on the police car and not inside. Brown then broke free and started running, the officer got out of his car and fired again resulting in Brown raising his hands. He was shot again. Police say the officer was trying to get out of his car when Brown closed the door on him and that is how the struggle started. Brown is said to have been reaching for the officer’s weapon which resulted in the officer using deadly force. Various investigations were held, including the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Forensic evidence obtained supported the officer’s account of the event. In addition, witnesses supporting the officer’s account were deemed more credible as some of the witnesses that contradicted the officer admitted that they had not seen the events directly. Forensic evidence showed that Brown was shot in the front (not back) and he was moving forward towards the officer when he was shot. Brown’s DNA was found on the officer’s gun and thigh. The officer’s DNA was found on Brown’s left thigh. Unfortunately, I could not find any cam footage of the incidence so I have to go by the forensic evidence that was identified. The fact that the DNA evidence was obtained on the officer’s gun and inner thigh does support that he was reaching for the officer’s gun. Thus, I cannot blame the officer for protecting his life.

I once read that if you identify as something you are automatically prejudice towards it. Had I become prejudice in favor of black people? Going into this exercise I was certain that foul play was at hand in these cases. When I look deeper into them, I realize that there is more to it than what meets the eye. Same can be said for life in general. My prejudice got the better of me and I took a side without exercising appropriate skepticism. I will not lie to you, racism in America is real. It is the type however where a black person is not allowed into a night club because they are not dressed according to dress code (their favorite is your jeans are too baggy, even if you are wearing skinny jeans), or the security guard follows in you a store. As mentioned earlier, I have experienced prejudice at work. The main type is where someone doubts my capabilities but once they realized my skillset, they usually start to warm up to me. For my other incident, I do not think the prejudice is racially motivated, that still does not make it right. I am choosing to trust the system and that the appropriate investigations will be done and the correct outcome will be reached. Trust the system.

With that being said, here is another stat that you should bear in mind. African Americans make up 37% of the prison population in the US. This stat does not make any sense. What is it about African Americans that make them more prone to go to prison? Could it be some form of prejudice, whether justified or not? Maybe. But looking at my life, my mother and father’s life, and even my grand parents’ lives; I should not be here. The reason my parents and myself were able to break the bonds of poverty is through education. Thus, to better understand this stat, I will look at the school systems to see if there is a difference between the quality of education that African Americans receive that would lead to such a statistic.

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