What I’ve Learned from Two Years Collecting Data on Police Killings

What I’ve Learned from Two Years Collecting Data on Police Killings (Gawker)

“I started to search in earnest. Nowhere could I find out how many people died during interactions with police in the United States. Try as I might, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that idea. How was it that, in the 21st century, this data wasn’t being tracked, compiled, and made available to the public? How could journalists know if police were killing too many people in their town if they didn’t have a way to compare to other cities? Hell, how could citizens or police? How could cops possibly know ‘best practices’ for dealing with any fluid situation? They couldn’t.

The bottom line was that I found the absence of such a library of police killings offensive. And so I decided to build it. I’m still building it. But I could use some help. You can find my growing database of deadly police violence here, at Fatal Encounters, and I invite you to go here, research one of the listed shootings, fill out the row, and change its background color. It’ll take you about 25 minutes. There are thousands to choose from, and another 2,000 or so on my cloud drive that I haven’t even added yet. After I fact-check and fill in the cracks, your contribution will be added to largest database about police violence in the country. Feel free to check out what has been collected about your locale’s information here.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this project is something I’ll never be able to prove, but I’m convinced to my core: The lack of such a database is intentional. No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people it kills and why.”

I spent some time looking through Fatal Encounters this morning, and I am incredibly impressed by the time and commitment journalist D. Brian Burghart has poured into this website. It deeply disturbs me that no official government database exists. However, this is a perfect example of someone seeing a problem and not just acknowledging it, but working towards a solution. In the wake of Ferguson and the on-going national conversation on race and police violence, the importance of this project cannot be understated.

The racial parenting divide: What Adrian Peterson reveals about black vs. white child-rearing

The racial parenting divide: What Adrian Peterson reveals about black vs. white child-rearing (Salon)

“In college, I once found myself on the D.C. metro with one of my favorite professors. As we were riding, a young white child began to climb on the seats and hang from the bars of the train. His mother never moved to restrain him. But I began to see the very familiar, strained looks of disdain and dismay on the countenances of the mostly black passengers. They exchanged eye contact with one another, dispositions tight with annoyance at the audacity of this white child, but mostly at the refusal of his mother to act as a disciplinarian. I, too, was appalled. I thought, if that were my child, I would snatch him down and tell him to sit his little behind in a seat immediately. My professor took the opportunity to teach: ‘Do you see how this child feels the prerogative to roam freely in this train, unhindered by rules or regulations or propriety?’

‘Yes,’ I nodded. ‘What kinds of messages do you think are being communicated to him right now about how he should move through the world?’

And I began to understand, quite starkly, in that moment, the freedom that white children have to see the world as a place that they can explore, a place in which they can sit, or stand, or climb at will. The world, they are learning, is theirs for the taking.

Then I thought about what it means to parent a black child, any black child, in similar circumstances. I think of the swiftness with which a black mother would have ushered her child into a seat, with firm looks and not a little a scolding, the implied if unspoken threat of either a grounding or a whupping, if her request were not immediately met with compliance. So much is wrapped up in that moment: a desire to demonstrate that one’s black child is well-behaved, non-threatening, well-trained. Disciplined. I think of the centuries of imminent fear that have shaped and contoured African-American working-class cultures of discipline, the sternness of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ looks, the firmness of the belts and switches applied to our hind parts, the rhythmic, loving, painful scoldings accompanying spankings as if the messages could be imprinted on our bodies with a sure and swift and repetitive show of force.”

This essay reveals uncomfortable truths about our culture that we don’t like to acknowledge, making her words all the more powerful and thought-provoking.

Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel [Oct 2013]

Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel [Oct 2013]

“I’m 9 or 10 and my mother and I are on a cross-country road trip when we decide to stop for breakfast at a small diner in Mississippi. I’m too young to be aware of the charged atmosphere of racial tension, but something feels odd. It feels odd when the people in the diner—most of whom are white—turn to look at my white mother and me, her brown son, as we enter and make our way to a table. It feels odd when my mom asks if there are raisins to put in her oatmeal and the waitress irritatedly spits, “No!” It feels so odd, in fact, that my mother asks our server if something is wrong: “No!” she barks again. It feels odd when the woman throws down the bill when we’re done eating. No one calls us names. No one threatens us. The surly waitress has even specifically told us nothing is wrong. But when we return to the car my visibly shaken mom pulls a canister of pepper spray out of the glove compartment and tests it on the ground to make certain it’s functioning properly.

I think one of the most damaging effects America’s omnipresent racism has on a person’s psyche isn’t the brief pang of hurt that comes from being called a slur, or seeing a picture of Barack Obama portrayed by a chimpanzee. Those things are common and old-fashioned, and when they happen I tend to feel sadder than angry, because I’m seeing someone who engages with the world like a wall instead of a human being. Rather, I think what’s far more corrosive and insidious, the thing that lingers in the back of my mind the most, is the framework of plausible deniability built up around racism, and how insane that plausible deniability can make a person feel when wielded. How unsure of oneself. How worried that you might be overreacting, oversensitive, irrational.

There’s a form of mental torture called “gaslighting,” its name taken from a play in which a man convinces his wife that the gas lights in their home she sees brightening and dimming are, in fact, maintaining a steady glow. His ultimate goal is to drive her into a mental institution and take all her money, and soon the woman ends up in an argument with herself about whether she’s losing her mind. American race relations have a similar narrative: An entire set of minorities confident that the everyday slights they’re seeing are real and hurtful, and an entire set of other people assuring them that they’re wrong.

In response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and the rioting that has followed in Ferguson, Missouri, I wanted to share one of the best essays about racism in America I’ve ever read. I read a wonderful article in the New York Times today about how white people are uncomfortable and confused; they don’t see that the world they live in is different than other people’s, even when they’re living in the same county. They don’t see their privilege. And I think this essay really speaks to that so well; it really breaks down the wall between perception and reality.

Let’s keep having this conversation, even after the headlines change.

Possibly the most widely held sentiment among whites is the hope that it all simply goes away. “I feel for everyone involved,” said Shannon Shaw, a jeweler in Mehlville. But, she added, “I think the protesters just need to go home.”

Even when they do finally go home, this all isn’t just going to go away for the protesters. They don’t have the privilege of going home to safe neighborhoods, where this is all only happening on the screens of their smart phones.

America Is Not For Black People

America Is Not For Black People

“The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.

If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown.

********

By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn’t deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him.”

Absolutely devastating read. Every word is like a punch in the gut. Don’t just read the paragraphs I’ve highlighted here, please: read the whole article.

My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant [June 2011]

My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant [June 2011]

“I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.”

I was looking for something appropriate to post for today, the day of America’s independence, and when I found this in my old links, I knew this was the piece I needed to share. Because we still haven’t passed comprehensive immigration reform, let alone The DREAM Act. We’re doing a disservice to the millions of men and women who could be making this country even better. They should not have to hide in the shadows; they deserve to shine.

Powerful Images That Shatter the Stereotype of the Absent Black Father

Powerful Images That Shatter the Stereotype of the Absent Black Father

Zun Lee said he is not only trying to shatter the stereotype of black men not being good fathers, but also the idea that black men are people to fear, something Lee said is obviously connected to racial profiling.

“Basically, the statement I’m making is the reasons people assume black fathers are absent are the same reasons people assume black men are threatening,” Lee said. “People say [when looking at his work] ‘These are not the men I thought would be affectionate,’ and it confuses them to see these men with tattoos and muscles as being nonmenacing.”

“I wanted to invite people in, to get curious about what’s going on and not hit them over the head with something overly political,” he added about his work. “At the same time, the very fact that I’m photographing black fathers in this manner is by its nature very political.”

Photography is such an amazing tool, as I’ve posted before. It breaks down barriers and forces people to see past preconceived notions. I was incredibly moved by these images, and I am so pleased to share them with you.

Not Your “Fashion Dots”: The Continuous Appropriation of Bindis [July 2013]

Not Your “Fashion Dots”: The Continuous Appropriation of Bindis [July 2013]

When a non-South Asian person wears the bindi, it is generally seen as edgy and cute. Fans and music media alike praise these celebrities for their bold “fashion” choices. But when someone like me or my mom wears the bindi out in public, we are either stared down with dirty looks, told to go back to where we came from, or exotified as having magical qualities.

For my mom and me, it’s a mark of our otherness, a reminder that we don’t belong in this country and never will — unless, of course, we assimilate and leave our cultural symbols behind. Now that is what the dream of becoming a Canadian citizen is supposed to mean: having your culture sold as fashion statements and themes for dinner parties.

Cultural appropriation is a difficult subject to discuss. I already know some people will read this and their response will be, “they should get over it.” If that is your response, fine. I’m just here to remind you that getting over it is easier said than done, and whatever feelings you might have about this issue don’t invalidate someone else’s.

And in case you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up now (which is a valid question – the article is almost a year old), the answer is Coachella. Luckily, it seems that the Hipster Headdress is out of style, but that just means more bindis.

For more reading, check out Beyond Bindis: Why Cultural Appropriation Matters. (Her response to your get over it attitude is perfect, because she acknowledges that there are many bigger problems, but that doesn’t negate the fact that

a pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were  to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead. On her, it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls. If the use of the bindi by mainstream pop stars made it easier for South Asian women to wear it, I’d be all for its proliferation — but it doesn’t.

Think about it.