By Uchechi Eke
581 people have been killed by the police in 2017 so far.
25% (a quarter) or 145 of those killed in 2017, are Black. African-Americans make up just 13% of the population.
309 Black people were killed by the police in 2016.
Black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.
Black people are 7 times more likely to be killed in Oklahoma than Georgia.
19 of the 100 largest U.S. city police departments kill Black men at higher rates than the U.S murder rate.
99% of police involved shootings in 2015 did NOT result in any officer being convicted.
To coincide with MOBB United’s 1-year anniversary, I was asked to compile a list of unarmed Black boys/men killed by police between July 2016 and July 2017.
I knew the data existed.
I knew it would be a daunting and cumbersome task.
I knew it would resurrect painful memories.
I never expected my role as a mother to be questioned: “Am I really in a position to protect my son?”
The Washington Post began tracking all fatal shootings by on-duty police in 2015, in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Since Brown’s killing, other fatal shootings by police, many captured on video, have fuelled protests and calls for reform. Some police chiefs have taken steps in their departments to address and reduce the number of fatal encounters, yet the overall numbers compared to 2016 remain unchanged.
I have highlighted a few cases that occurred in the last 12 months below:
Nothing prepares you for the emotional trauma you experience every time you read the details of a new case. I find myself always caught off guard by the images of the deceased. I am always haunted by the pain that lies behind the eyes of the mother.
As mothers of Black boys, there should be a limit to our pain. There should come a time when extrajudicial killings are a thing of the past. There should be an upper ceiling, where the number of extrajudicial killings should never reach. But there is no limit. Black bodies are slain almost weekly. And every time we witness a murder, we re-live the trauma.
The images of unarmed Black boys/men being brutalized by police has become inescapable. The cases above highlight this pandemic. We visualise the victim as being our son(s). Viewing videos of people being gunned down by police is not psychologically healthy. The mental scars that result from witnessing excessive force against Black people creates a form of collective trauma. Police brutality then becomes part of our daily consciousness -- our lived experience -- causing anger, fear, frustration and a sense of hopelessness.
African-Americans experience Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) at a higher rate than any other ethnic group, according to a study published in 2010 by PubMed. Repeatedly viewing physical trauma can have other adverse effects often associated with post-traumatic stress, including jumpiness, anxiety and paranoia.
Another worrying trend, is that almost all victims noted above were unarmed or had a toy weapon. Implicit bias leads many officers to possess an irrational and heightened sense of fear. They see Black males and automatically ‘fear for their lives’. Cops are trained to be calm in hostile environments. As part of their training, de-escalation is the first priority. But in recent incidents, ‘shoot on sight’ seems to be the modus operandi. Even when officers carry militarized weapons, or are accompanied by a SWAT, they still are incapable of controlling the situation without resorting to deadly force.
But the question still remains: “How can I protect my son?”
Am I complicit in de-humanising our boys by sharing these graphic images and by researching their deaths?
Does the utility of these images, circulated on social media and via news channels actually inspire shame, outrage and activism?
Or do they just desensitize us, exacerbating our pain and further contributing to our psychological trauma?
Have we become too ‘numb’ to act?
Whether we see these killings as being state sanctioned, racially motivated or part of the wider system of white supremacy, the discourse must change -- from a discussion about criminal justice reform, to a debate that results in society viewing this problem as a national health crisis.
With nominal charges being brought, and without convictions that stick, justice seems out of our reach. Thus, if there is a cultural shift, and the death toll is regarded as a public health issue, affecting not only the immediate family, then maybe we would see a reduction in race-based police violence.
Our boys must be seen as human first. Not as criminals. Not as a menacing threat. In a significant number of the cases, the victim struggled with a mental illness. They needed medical assistance, not a death sentence.
The trauma faced by mothers, members of the family and the wider community must be taken into account. Departments cannot continue to use our tax dollars on settlements. They cannot afford to recurrently restore communities after protests and riots. If departmental budgets are reduced, or pensions affected, salaries capped, steep penalties applied (including a rise in insurance premiums for fatal force), or higher conviction rates, then maybe, just maybe, we will begin to see less of our sons dying before our very eyes.
We know ‘respectability politics’ is flawed and biased. More white boys use drugs, but are not profiled or arrested at higher rates. White boys also wear hoodies and low-slung jeans, but they are not stopped, searched and beaten.
So what do we tell our sons, and as mothers, what can we do? Here are some solutions:
Education & Awareness – Our boys need to be more vigilant, go out in ‘groups’. Many of the cases involved a single boy or man. It is more likely that police would shoot a lone individual, than a group of boys or men. Our sons also need to ‘know their rights’ when confronted with police. They need to know what to ask and how to respond.
Community Policing – More Black men and black women need to work on the police forces. Officers should reside in the areas they police. It is less likely that a cop who is acquainted with his neighbours would harm them. We must also make an effort to engage with officers, attend meetings and hold them accountable.
Advocacy & Action – More moms need to campaign, fundraise and take part in demonstrations -- from writing letters and signing petitions, to calling local police departments and attending rallies, to being visible at public consultations, meetings and hearings – it all helps the cause!
Political Engagement -– Representation matters -- from the cop on the street to the judge in the courtroom. We need to be occupying all positions. We also need to vote during all local, state and presidential elections. We need to canvass on behalf of fair officials and chiefs, and root out and vote against the corrupt and indifferent ones.
Let me know what you think. What else can we do? How do you protect your peace and protect your son?
Join us on the front lines. We can no longer be witnesses to murder. Silence is complicity. Get involved and register at www.mobbunited.org/join.