Your Paranoia Is Not Their Crime

A little over a year ago, in a Facebook status about Trayvon Martin, I wrote "Your paranoia is not their crime." I was reminded again of what I had written when I heard conservative commentator Ben Stein say Michael Brown "was armed with his incredibly strong, scary self."

Was that also the case with Eric Garner, who was choked in New York? Does that explain why John Crawford was shot while standing in an aisle in a Walmart, or why Chris Lollie was tasered by police while waiting for his children in St. Paul? Were all of these men armed with their incredibly strong, incredibly scary, incredibly BLACK, selves?

Since the Ferguson story broke, the right wing version of the killing of Michael Brown has been that Officer Darren Wilson was defending himself against an aggressive, cigar stealing criminal who may or may not have been under the influence of marijuana and who ignored the officer's appropriate entreaties to cease and desist. The only missing element in this Male Black Assailant narrative has been a weapon in the hands of Michael Brown. Thanks to Ben Stein, we now know that the weapon was Michael himself, a threat so menacing that it continued even as the young man held his hands in the air and said, "Don't shoot."

Ben Stein, who respects the cultural values of African Americans so much that he compares Michael Brown to "Cassius Clay" instead of Mohammed Ali, is expressing the paranoia that many white people feel but rarely admit. White paranoia explains why white drivers suddenly lock the doors of their cars when they drive into black neighborhoods and why white women and many white men will wait for the next elevator instead of sharing an elevator with a black man. Once again, your paranoia is not their crime.

Paranoia -- whether it is referred to as reasonable suspicion, officer intuition, or gut instinct -- is probably a factor in many unfortunate interactions between law enforcement and black civilians. But an individual officer's fear for his own personal safety does not adequately explain every case of Cop On Black assault. There is no apparent reason to believe that Eric Garner or Chris Lollie posed a life or death threat to the officers who respectively choked and tased them. These attacks reflect a larger cultural paranoia in which black men and minorities in general threaten the legitimacy of white authorities and their enforcers. Evidence of this cultural paranoia may be seen in racially motivated stop and frisk policies, in demographically targeted voter registration laws, and in other ways, large and small, in which a shrinking yet still politically powerful group continues to impose its will on the rest of the country.

Congressional defiance of a black president and open disdain for his black attorney general trickle down to an already existing pool of contempt and disrespect for the average Black Man on The Street, especially if that black man happens to be armed with his incredibly strong, scary self. All of this is amplified by a for-profit prison system with guaranteed occupancy rates, a weapons industry that markets military grade weapons to municipal police departments, and the increased aggression of highly weaponized police officers. The result is more black bodies face down in the street.

Your paranoia is not their crime.

But it has become their death sentence.

Bob Seay is the Editor of