From Microaggressions to Legalized Lynching: Weaponizing Police Against Black People

Cherise Charleswell | Race & Ethnicity | Commentary | July 2nd, 2018

Thanks to social media's ability to help news headlines (and those stories that don't even make it out through mainstream media) go viral, Black people and other people of color are beginning to receive some vindication. For many years, our testimonies about our lived experiences with micoaggressions and overt racism have often been dismissed. Yes - too many, we were simply playing "the race card."

We are told that we are being overly sensitive, that white privilege doesn't exist, that we should simply just comply, and oh yes - President Barack Obama's election was proof enough that we now live in a post-racial society. Never mind the fact that the election of 45 was the result of a "white lash," which actually proves that the United States, almost two decades into the 21st century, is anything but post-racial. The deep-seated issues of racism, bigotry, and xenophobia continue to exist, and the election of a President whose entire campaign aligned with those attitudes has literally open the floodgates of hate.

However, those of us with melanin-rich skin know that 45 alone isn't to blame for the rise in hate crimes and white supremacy groups , nor is he solely responsible for the racist vitriol that we have openly seen on display since his election. His blatant (he has moved far past the use of "dog whistles") and continued racism, with stereotypical and hateful language that targets specific groups of people, is a sign or symptom of the prevalence of racism, and the United States has been sick for some time.

Black people and other non-Black People of Color (NBPOC) have spent many years pointing out that racist stereotypes, such as one that claims that we have a predisposition for criminal behavior, have translated to Black people constantly being viewed with suspicion and fear. These viewpoints, steeped in racism, have had dire consequences: From the false accusations launched against Emmet Till that led to his brutal murder, to the 1991 murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins and the 2012 murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, to the removal of a group of Black women on a Napa Valley wine train . There has been a need for white people/dominant society to police Black bodies, and this legacy continues. It is a legacy that is currently manifesting in a rash of publicized incidents, many of which have now gone viral, where white people are calling the police on Black people for simply existing.

These white people are following a long historical tradition of proactively criminalizing Black people. With each incident, they are able to turn mundane interactions into melodramas, and this is all due to their preconceived beliefs about how Black people behave, where they should be allowed access, how they talk, how they dress, and so on. As always, these incidents are initiated and escalated not by the actions of the Black person, but rather by the white person's prejudiced beliefs.

Something that particularly stands out with these calls is that they are overwhelmingly being made by White women, and this is again a continuation of a historical pattern of racism and white supremacy. It is the exact behavior that led to the aforementioned murder of Emmet Till and the lynching of many people of African descent in the United States. It is a notion that Black people/POC present a threat and danger.

All too often, the cruelties of slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, apartheid, and so on are attributed only to white men, letting white women off the hook. However, this tactic of tattling, calling law enforcement, and literally producing physical "white tears" is how white women have engaged in white supremacy for centuries. Worse yet is that this tactic is also utilized due to envy and the need to assert their position in the structure of global patriarchal white supremacy, stemming from slave-plantation dynamics. Forced rapes and sexual relationships between white men and women slaves on plantations often produced children - clear evidence of their infidelity, something the slaveowner's wife could not openly acknowledge. Therefore, many chose to utilize passive-aggressive tactics against the enslaved people on the plantation, including the enslaved mistress and her offspring. More than a century later, the same passive-aggressive tactics are now wielded in the workplace and just about every social setting. This form of white privilege is so powerful when wielded because it the power to direct lynchings and other forms of violence against Black bodies.

During the first half of 2018 there has been many instances of weaponizing the police to carry out "legal lynchings" initiated by white women's tears. A quick review of a few of these incidents include:

- An incident in New York where a former White House staffer was accused of breaking into his own apartment.

- The incident where Donnish Prendgast, daughter of Sharon Marley and granddaughter of Bob Marley, had the police called on her by a white woman, while checking out of an AirBnB in Rialto, California with three other filmmakers. She and her cohorts were stopped by at least seven police cars and a helicopter after the white woman who called claimed that they were "stealing stuff."

- An incident with a contractor in Memphis Tennessee where a White woman calls the police on a Black real estate investor inspecting a house next door.

- The infamous incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia Pennsylvania that led to Starbucks closing thousands of stores for diversity training.

- The incident at Yale University where police were called after a Black Yale student fell asleep in the Common room, while trying to work on a paper. More about the caller and her history of racially-charged statements here .

- The Waffle House incident in Alabama that all began when a Black woman asked for a complimentary (which is standard in most dine-in restaurant) plastic utensil.

- The infamous case of BBQ Becky up in Oakland California who called the police on a family trying to have a Cook out at Lake Merrit.

- One carried out by White men against Black women at a golf course in Pennsylvania . Where police were called on the group of 5 because they were apparently golfing "too slow."

- And the most recent case of a white woman, now referred to as " Permit Patty ," threatening to call the police on a Black girl who was selling bottled water outside her apartment building.

Note that a number of these incidents occurred in States and cities that are considered to be more "liberal."

By the time BBQ Becky made yet another false and unwarranted call to the police we had become oversaturated with these stories, and Black people have had to lean on one of our traditional strategies for survival - Laugh Rather Than Cry - because the constant barrage of microaggressions and racism can take its toll. How this stress impacts the health outcomes of Black people and other minority groups is well documented (see here ) and is actually linked to health disparities . This is why laughter as a coping mechanism is necessary. This is something that Black Twitter carries out so well. And when it came to BBQ Becky, the proliferation of memes on social media ( see here) shows why Black Twitter remains undefeated when it comes to producing poignant, thought-provoking, honest, informative, and truthful commentary in a biting, sarcastic, blunt, humorous, and unapologetic manner.

However, after we laugh and cry, we truly need to consider how we will finally deal with this issue, because the problem is far more than implicit bias - which helps to reassure these white callers that the police will most likely side with them in interactions with Black people and other minority groups. It is as if they are certain of this outcome, and that is why they make these calls so quickly. Then there is the fact that minority communities have not had great interactions with law enforcement historically, and are thus less likely to call them for minor disputes, especially when a white person is the aggressor. Just consider the incident that occurred in a Santa Monica California parking lot. Santa Monica is a place which many are led to believe is liberal, "open-minded," "tolerant," etc. The incident involved was a parking lot dispute which quickly elevated when an White man hurled racial slurs against a Black woman, followed by physical violence, where he attempted to kick her.

Then there was an elderly white woman who attacked a pregnant Black US veteran . In both cases, despite being the actual victims, the Black person did not call law enforcement.

Why didn't they call?

Because, they knew that they would most likely be seen as the aggressor, not the victim. And this means that they could be arrested, assaulted, or even murdered.

That is just it - it is the threat of bodily harm and/or lethal force carried out by law enforcement that makes these calls so problematic and sinister (these callers have to know what they are doing!). Despite the consequences, which can include the state-sanctioned murder of Black people and other minority groups, white people continue to make these calls. Thus, it is not only a misuse of law enforcement, it is a matter of using white privilege - and weaponizing law enforcement to carry out "legal" lynchings.

Further, these calls make it difficult for Black people to exist, go on with our lives, and live carefree, simply because of the color of our skin. Even while minding our business, we are being criminalized. We can't barbecue, we can't golf, we can't sit at restaurants, we can't carry out our jobs in peace, we can't go golfing, and we can't even request utensils at a restaurant without a racist making an unjustified call to law enforcement.

It is time to "Strip the power of the White aggressor away"

Knowing that there are dire and legal consequences to these false/unwarranted calls. They need to be treated like a public-health problem. Research is needed, as well as interventions and changes in protocols, as well as policy/legislation.

1. Intermediate interventions that will act as a deterrent for these false calls should involve implementing fines or arrests/charges on these callers, due to misuse of the emergency call system and tax-payer funded law enforcement resources.

2. Changes in policy or protocols should be mandated for 911 operators who receive these calls. They should be trained to quickly assess the legitimacy of these calls - and whether there is an actual emergency occurring. Or whether there is just a racist/bigot on the other end of the phone. In the vast majority of these calls, there was no threat of danger that even mandated officers being deployed.

3. Responding officers need to also be held accountable for their role, particularly when it comes to false arrests and imprisonment, which is what occurred when two African American men were arrested and incarcerated after sitting at a Pennsylvania Starbucks restaurant, for a timespan of two minutes, while waiting for a colleague. Many witnesses came forth to attest to the fact that the men had done nothing wrong, yet they were still arrested by police. Many may argue that more training is needed for law enforcement, but they already receive extensive training. And no one should have to be trained to acknowledge other's humanity. So, a different approach is needed. Something more must be done to assist officers in choosing to use discernment if they respond to one of these calls. Alternative strategies can include: subjecting officers with personal fines, responding with lawsuits regarding false imprisonment against police officers and personally against arresting officers, formally defining these incidents as misconduct and making the necessary documentation on the arresting officers personnel file, etc.

In the end, one truly has to ask, is it really that hard to NOT be an asshole?

Here is a flow chart to assist you with determining when it is the appropriate time to call the police.

Try to Live and Let Live and realize that Black people and PoC have a right to exist. In closing, a message to BBQ Becky: instead of calling the police, all you had to do was ask for some food, and understand that we simply do not want to eat your potato salad.