Although the police pointed the guns that killed
Sean Bell and wounded two of his companions, it is the society
that put the bullets in the guns.
It is a society that believes young African
descendant men are inherently dangerous; that their fathers
abandon them and don't care; that their mothers are punitive.
In other words, the society learns that African American families
are violence prone - that it is in the DNA. Daniel Moynihan,
in his famous Report on the Negro Family as pathological unit,
gave ammunition to all manner of public entities to do what
they will to our families.
We live in a violent society, born of violence,
which makes the victim of violence the enemy. Witness how
the indigenous peoples who were invaded by foreigners, were
portrayed in our school books and TV shows, when they fought
back against their removal and the destruction of their culture.
This violent society conversely sees itself as kind and benevolent,
spreading human rights around the world. The most brutal of
acts, the death penalty, is now delivered in what is considered
a kinder, gently method, lethal injection, rather than electrocution.
We named our invasion into Iraq, a people who
have done nothing to us, as “Shock and Awe”, believing they
would be grateful to us, even though they never asked us,
for getting rid of their leader even if we had to kill tens
of thousands of their people to do it. The belief that we
could perpetrate violence and would be thanked for it, speaks
to the duality of the American mindset.
The New York City Police Department is the
oldest (1841) and the largest (over 30,000), in the nation.
Marilynn S. Johnson, in her book, Street
Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City,
states that the objects of such violence were those who were
perceived (and usually are) powerless: the poor, new immigrants,
the working class, and always and continuously, because of
and despite of class, African American males. Who was poor
or immigrant or working class could and did change, but African
descendants were always in their sightlines.
police are neither the lawmakers nor the lawgivers but the
law enforcers. They enforce what we tell them to enforce.
They are the employees of the society - its security guards.
The police do not prevent crime, as we would like to believe.
They investigate crimes already committed. The instructions
they have are explicit and implicit. It is understood (and
implied) that law and order means keeping certain neighborhoods
under surveillance. Police, in some areas, are given arrest
quotas, which means to go look for wrongdoing. It is about
the quantity not the quality of the arrests. In NYC it is
prohibited to smoke in the subways, but many smokers light
up as soon as they come out of the station. Many
young African descendant men have received tickets for lighting
up near the top of the stairs leading to the street (but not
others). Almost all African and Hispanic men, and some women
(myself included), can tell a story of being harassed for
no other reason than walking down the street (or driving a
car; or doing their job; or walking in a neighborhood that
is considered not their own).
some of the conversations around the acquittal of the three
detectives who fired off fifty shots, killing one and wounding
two, when no crime was being committed, and with no provocation,
many people have said that they think African descendant men
are seen as expendable. Yes and no. Yes, in that in our society
young African descendant men are seen as a threat, but it
is not a physical threat (or not only), but, let me go ahead
and say it - a sexual threat. And no, because the society
depends on the image of the “black sheep.” We live in a society
that has to have at all times an enemy as a way of identifying
itself. A “black sheep”, (scapegoat), at-large, as in a family,
plays the role of the one who is the placeholder of the unit’s
pathology. A designated “black sheep” (one is always designated-there
is not an evil gene), allows the rest of the family, the community,
the country, to feel that if not for that one, we would be
happy, wealthy, satisfied, and have whatever it is we think
we are lacking. In this country it is almost literal that
the “black sheep” is called Black and the ones who consider
themselves good call themselves white.
The shooting of Sean Bell and his companions,
and the acquittal of the police department, needs to be laid
directly at the feet of the Mayor. It is the Mayor who appoints
the Police Commissioner and from whom the Commissioner gets
his marching orders. The city and the country need to be put
on notice that we are not having it. We have to take charge
of what is happening and going to happen to us. We cannot
wait for the courts to decide what is best for us. They have
shown what they think is in our best interests and the society's
best interests, and they are not the same thing.
Commentator, Jessica Watson-Crosby, is a writer and activist
and the Co-Chair of the Black Radical Congress, New
here to contact Ms. Watson-Crosby.