The Way We Think of the "Black Body" and Police Brutality

Police Line-HazMat
Police Line-HazMat

The idea that the black body is inherently barbaric is one that is found all throughout history and one that has leaked into our modern discussion regarding police brutality. Maybe she did something to deserve it. We don't know the full details of this story. There may be more to this than we see. These words surfaced all throughout the news, journal articles, and the internet last week as the country went into yet another conversation regarding police brutality because of the assault at Spring Valley. "I agree the officer took things too far." I heard as I listened in on yet another argument. "But the girl was disturbing the class. She needed to addressed."

What many fail to realize is that this way of speaking has it's roots in an old idea that the black body is in need of control and authority because naturally we do not know how to behave accordingly. In fact, this mentality is the very fabric of years of oppression and racism and it's safe to assume that if someone uses this rhetoric they probably hold some strong racial biases and misconceptions, often without even realizing it. Maybe she did something to deserve it. Let me break this down a little more.

This mentality of "needing discipline" is clearly found in slavery. So very clearly, in fact, that it pains to constantly have to explain this to my white peers who do not understand my annoyance at their use of words. Think about why the institution of slavery persisted for so long. Among other things there was a long held belief that stripping the afro-people from their land was doing them a favor because it was taking them from their animalistic ways of living and bringing them into a "proper society". Further, because these darker skinned people were inferior and were naturally prone to behaving senselessly and like animals, it was important that they were constantly disciplined and controlled even if this meant violence beyond belief and ultimately death. It was the white man's job to enforce this discipline. And do not forget that this was not something created by man, but instead the natural way as the Lord intended.

When the institution of slavery came to end in America this way of thinking of the black body, one that regards it as barbaric, did not immediately disappear. In fact there are mounds of research (that I will not cite here. Please just go to your local library) that support the argument that the policing of the black body only transferred itself from the cotton field to the jail.

So it pains me when people say maybe she deserved it because if we're thinking critically here, at what point does any student deserve to be treated in a way that would be deemed abuse if anyone else had done it? If a young girl's mother was caught on camera grabbing her daughter, flipping her over, and dragging for chewing gum or being on the phone, that mother would very clearly be in jail. And yet, many turn their gaze and say "He took it too far but she must have been doing something to deserve it."

At what point does force of this extreme need to be used when a student is not carrying a gun and ready to kill? At what point is a school, which is supposed to be a safe haven for inspiration, imagination, and learning, become a place of force and violence? Does it strike anyone else ironic that this force was used because the girl would not leave class? A place where all students should be encouraged to be?

Also at what point do we start disregarding the humanity of others for our false perceptions of bad behavior? Even if the girl had been behaving rowdy and cursing and screaming (which she wasn't) why did not we not stop to ask what is this child's situation at home? Why is she behaving the way she is? Is she hurt, hungry, afraid? A good deal of us fail to realize that our way of thinking is in fact dictated by racial basis. Police brutality exists in all forms with all colors but if you ever take a look at the phrase maybe she deserved it it is almost never visible when regarding police brutality towards young white citizens. We can not use rhetoric that is structured in racism and then claim that racism does not exists and that police brutality is not a colored situation. We need to examine the ways in which police brutality takes place in all races but also we need to examine the way we ourselves are thinking about authoritative structure.