Last month, a trip from Virginia to North Carolina to visit an aunt in intensive care did not go at all as planned, though it was something as an African-American male I was forced to rehearse.
I witnessed an officer from the Roxboro Police Department attempting to respond to what I perceived to be an emergency, exiting a parking lot to travel northbound on 15-501. I was driving below the posted speed limit of 45 mph. I made a valiant effort to stop but could not do so without potentially causing an accident.
Moments later I noticed another officer was trailing directly behind me. I switched lanes because that is proper protocol, allowing emergency vehicles to safely pass. I was a law-abiding citizen, so surely I was not being pulled over. Seconds later, I realized I was being pursued.
What unfolded in the next minutes was honestly not my worst or first traumatic experience with law enforcement. A few years ago, an officer pulled a gun on me during a routine traffic stop after I allegedly drove through a yellow light. Yes, you read that correctly, a yellow light.
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Now here I was in Roxboro, experiencing palpitations, clammy hands and weakness. I feared that I would become the next hashtag. I was very deliberate and warned the officer of my every movement. I was informed by the officer I was pulled over “to check” and that I should “pay more attention next time.”
My questions to the chief about the encounter have yet to be answered.
I once heard an old saying: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing.”
Tired of tweeting
Are you tired of doing nothing? Are you tired of holding up signs and T-shirts demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling or Philando Castile? Are you tired of tweeting, praying for America, or Baltimore, or Chicago? Are you tired of evil triumphing? Are you tired of things not changing? Are you tired of changing while things remain the same?
It has been documented that contemporary American police departments are derivatives of slave patrols and night watches. Even though Sir Robert Peel’s police reform tactics of more than 100 years ago encouraged community relations and proactive patrolling, American police departments have always been reactionary. The “first” American police departments were created to ensure that slave revolts like the ones that transpired in Southampton, Virginia, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, were anomalies. They also wanted to keep boundaries between the settlers, Native Americans and immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. They did not want the “Wild Wild West” to become the norm in the United States.
With the turn of the century, the role of law enforcement officers evolved as the disparities in America became more ubiquitous. After the New Deal introduced Aid to Dependent Children (welfare) in 1935, police officers were used in welfare raids to guarantee compliance of the Social Security Act. Welfare benefits were limited to children of unemployed mothers; men were not allowed to live with women receiving benefits. During these raids, if one article of male clothing was found in the home, the police and social workers concluded that a man lived in the residence. One article was just cause to eliminate welfare benefits to that unemployed mother.
Much like the previous two centuries, 21st century policing has been synonymous with disparate enforcement against disenfranchised and marginalized populations. The end result has often led to the death of citizens.
I have a great appreciation for the role that police officers could and should play in American society. However, I have disdain for the culture that exists and is perpetuated by many of these departments around the country. I do not believe that law enforcement officers wake up and decide to shoot minorities or individuals in crisis in this country, but I do believe that their implicit biases contribute to their doing so.
Implicit biases can be developed from past experiences, stereotypes and generalizations. Law enforcement officers are genuinely fearful of people who look like me. That is why simple interactions often escalate. The culture of policing in America must change before we can truly move forward as a nation.
Protesting, voting, posing solutions, tweeting and debating are all needed, though these things alone cannot bring forth sound change. Citizens being killed extra-judicially by police in America has become the new normal – and that is not OK.
My fear in regards to police officers is based on an evidence-based approach. I have always heard fear defined as ‘false-evidence-appearing-real.’ Let us do something to change the culture of policing. Push your local departments to participate in implicit bias training, role reversals and cultural awareness events.
I recommended these same things to the Roxboro Police Department, but they seemed resistant. My parents helped me overcome claustrophobia, cynophobia and mysophobia. I am ready to address my policophobia. What will you do about it?
Taikein Cooper, a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, lives in Farmville, Va. He is a community servant, educational speaker, entrepreneur and the co-host of the podcast, Ain’t No Free Lunch.