An elementary school teacher was violently arrested in June 2015 during a traffic stop; she was thrown to the ground by a white officer, being screamed at and slammed several times. Breaion King is 26 years old, she’s a woman, and (even though you probably already guessed it) she’s Black.
Unfortunately, police brutality against Black people, even when fatal, is no longer surprising to me. I, like millions of other Black people who have been forced to see hashtag after hashtag and video after graphic video of Black people being shot, killed and brutalized, have become somewhat desensitized to the blatant racism of police officers across the nation. So, when I saw the video of Breaion King’s “arrest,” if the attack even deserves to be called that, it wasn’t what happened to her that surprised me. Sure, even though while seeing the video my facial expression didn’t change and no words came to my mind, it made me angry. But still, that anger—which felt faint after being buried under layers and layers of numbness that I created to protect my own sanity—is not what drove me to write this. I’m writing because of an officer’s words to Breaion King as she sat in the back of a police car.
“Why do you think a lot of people are afraid of black people?” Patrick Spradlin asks her, to which she responds as most of us would: I don’t know; that’s what I want to figure out. Spradlin then answers his own question, saying, “Violent tendencies.”
Entire books can be written on what’s really happening in this conversation.This officer said what most officers, and people, think about black people. He spoke the words that explain why police brutality even exists and has existed for decades; his words explain why racism is still so prevalent and systemic today. It’s his question: Why do you think a lot of people are afraid of black people?
Afraid. That is the key; fear is the driving force behind every hashtag of a murdered Black person’s name and behind the #AllLivesMatter “movement.” The police, trained officials to protect and serve, are so afraid of us that they don’t know how to treat us like human beings. Something about us instills a fear in them that makes them shoot us before asking questions, or in Breaion King’s case, tackle us before allowing us to step out of our cars. The public fears the downfall of this great, mighty system of racism and white supremacy, so any call to evaluate and analyze the way Black people are treated in America and how our lives are not treated like they matter is met with counter-movements made to distract from the real problem and incriminate us for even speaking up about it.
White people have been afraid of black people for too long. They were afraid of what we could become if we actually loved ourselves, so they fed Eurocentric ideals of beauty into our minds since we were born. They were afraid of what we could create if we knew how great our ancestors were, so they wrote farcical history books that taught us little to nothing of Black inventions and progressions and made white people seem like the only race that possessed intelligence. They were afraid of us being able to defend, educate, and support ourselves, so they destroyed the Black Panthers and Black Wall Street and any Black activist who tried to facilitate real change (and actually got close to it).
This fear has been passed down from generation to generation and manifests on several different levels, but it always comes down to Black people as a collective being demonized and misrepresented. Racist stereotypes about Black people (take for example the concept of black-on-black crime) are often the reason why we’re killed and denied opportunities (jobs, school acceptances, loans, etc.). These stereotypes are so ingrained into media and popular culture that they have been subconsciously internalized by the masses, even Black people ourselves. That’s why a police officer can tell a black woman that her people are violent, even when Black people don’t kill a disproportionate number of other Black people and statistically (and historically) white people are more violent than anyone else. The media, our school systems, and the government have promoted false propaganda about black people for so long that we now accept it as truth. It is now in our psyches and influences the way we treat black people. It sure influences the way cops treat us, too.
This is why there’s no such thing as reverse racism. No matter what I say about white people being shooting up schools or having thin lips or not seasoning their food, it will do nothing to impact white supremacy and white privilege. It may hurt some feelings, but it will in no way affect the way white people are treated and perceived around the world. It will not compare to generations’ worth of internalized anti-blackness, mass incarceration of black people, denial of opportunities to black people, and the social, political and economic oppression that black people face. It will never, ever cause a white person to be attacked or murdered by an “officer of the law.”