Michael Brown, the African-American young man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has been laid to rest. His homegoing celebration was at once a period to his earthly life and the blank space before the next chapter of activism that his family and a variety of communities promise to write.
After peaceful protests, marching in the street, chants of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice no peace”, after fires, looting, a militarized police force aiming weapons of war on its own citizenry, smoke, tear gas, and national and international news coverage, the question now is: what is next? Some commentators have suggested that President Obama come to Ferguson and give another speech on race. Others have suggested that we as a nation engage in another conversation on race, this time with different contours.
I say, what this country does not need is yet another presidential speech on race. Is there anything new to say? And I am too tired of the conversation on race. I have been having this conversation my entire life, and I am weary of it. I remember watching Martin Luther King, Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech at the first March on Washington. I was a little girl watching with my parents. Twenty years later, I was in Washington DC for the anniversary march. In the 1990s, I taught race and racism at Temple University. In the first decade of the 21st century I taught courses on the civil rights movement and on “The Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Since the election of President Obama, I have written about race within the context of birther madness, and after the George Zimmerman verdict, I wrote about the myth of the super-physical black man that explains why so many people see the African-American male body as at once less than human and more than human that requires extraordinary force to subdue.
I have made my contribution to that conversation, and I am done with it.
Let us talk instead about cop psychology. What kind of psychological screening must one pass before we hand him or her a badge and a gun and give them the power to administer lethal force in the name of the state? What is the level of education required of police officers? How are they trained? Does this training include diversity and racial sensitivity training? Do they learn to subdue a suspect without illegal choke holds or gun fire? What goes through the mind of an officer when he is beating an unarmed woman by the side of the road, or when he is choking an unarmed man to death while the man says over and over and over again that he cannot breathe? What goes through the minds of the other officers on the scene who are pressing the man’s head into the pavement as if the man were not human? What is an officer thinking when he shoots six shots into an unarmed young black man and kills him? What police procedures allow for a body to lie in the streets for hours?