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'They Think We Are Animals': How America's Police State Controls Black People

Racism in America's police force is linked to cops' role as keepers of the status quo in an unequal society.

“Get out of the fucking car,” he yelled. I dashed to my apartment window, looked down and saw a cop aiming his gun at a car. Slowly, hands trembling above his head, a black man stepped out and kneeled on the road.  Is he going to kill him?  I wondered. If he so much as twitches the cop will blast his brains out .

As the afternoon mist thickened into rain, I saw the officer blinking droplets from his eyes. His face was a knot of rage and fear. Thankfully the young man being arrested didn’t twitch as he was handcuffed. After they left and my panic ebbed, I knew it wouldn't be long until someone somewhere was blown into oblivion by the police. 

It wasn’t a knee-jerk anti-authority reaction but a heavy feeling based on history. Months later I read of the NYPD killing 18-year-old Ramarley Graham and 68-year-old Vietnam veteran Kenneth Chamberlain. They join Duane Brown, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Patrick Dorismond, Michael Stewart and others on the growing roster of black men killed by the police.

Once the smoking guns cool and the body is buried, mainstream media repeat the same words, “accident” or “tragic.” But we, who are black or Latino or politicized, hear the slurs and threats shouted in the background. Progressive news show  Democracy Now  reported that when cops banged on Chamberlain’s door and he told them he was fine, one shouted, “I don’t give a fuck nigger!” In 2011, cops created a Facebook page to complain about working the West Indian Day Parade, on it they called the black partiers “animals” and “savages,” and one wrote, “Drop a bomb and wipe them all out.” Repeatedly, journalists or lawyers smuggle out of the Blue Code of Silence evidence of police using racist, animal imagery to describe the very people they are supposed to serve.        

Racism in America's police force is linked to their role as keepers of the status quo in an unequal society. They enforce laws written by politicians on behalf of the wealthy -- laws that end up trapping poor and working-class people in desperate lives. Racial and sexual minorities, legal and illegal immigrants are seen as threats to the social order. When we protest the law and “occupy” a space we are beaten and arrested. When we commit a crime to “get some” we are beaten and arrested. And when we do neither but simply live we’re busted to make a cop’s stop-and-frisk quota. 

Language plays an essential role here. It starts with a defensive joke, a “perp” profile that becomes so blurred it encompasses nearly everyone on the street and a constant sense of danger. Each builds on the other until the change is complete and one day, they casually listen to NYPD Capt. James Coan give a racist hurrah speech to detectives executing warrants in Brooklyn. “They’re fucking animals," he repeatedly said of black people from 2008 to 2010, “If you have to shoot, you shoot them in the head.”

A Shot in the Dark

“He was obliged to keep watch all night long with his guns at hand,” wrote slave trader Robert Durand in 1733. “The negroes were continuously ready to force open his hut to rob him…as they were only looking to avenge the kidnapping of their friends.” During the Atlantic slave trade, 12 million people were stolen from Africa and shipped to the Americas. Slave traders herded them from ship plank to the market, where once bought, they shuffled in chains to plantations. And with each jangling step, slaves were circled by men with guns and whips who did not see them as human beings but as dangerous dark animals.

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