As a licensed psychotherapist and mental health professional, I shared a post recently on social media outlining my frustration at having called for the use of mandatory psychological testing tools to identify potential racial bias in law enforcement – tools we have at our disposal – and being met, time and again, administration after administration, with dismissal and indifference by various Attorneys General, Police Commissioners, Governors and Mayors. These tools have the potential to identify racist and raging officers who might weaponize their authority. Why aren’t we using them?
There were three types of responses to my post yesterday – all of them revealing in their own way.
The first type of response gives me hope for better days… People of all races – across the political divide – heartbroken and horrified – vowing to take up this mantle… to fight this fight. Unsure as to how – unsteady in action – but determined in purpose.
The second would have been more upsetting had it not been so predictable. Violent threats, homophobic insults and disparaging racial characterizations – people emboldened in their hatred – and greedily clinging to the footholds they have gained in American culture.
The third response, while in some ways the most troubling, is also a place where we might find the possibility of change:
White Americans – quick to say they are “not racist” – and “of course the killing was a tragedy” – but – and here is where it gets problematic – asking me to remember that “other races are racist too” and “there were other officers of color there as well who stood by – who did nothing.” And “there are incidences of non-white officers – Asian and Latino and Black officers – who have also used excessive force.” And, of course, the toothless “All Lives Matter” response – which gives the illusion of acknowledging – but then dismisses – this moment… the tragedy of this ‘here and now.’ This man. This black man – who was brutally killed.
What is this compulsion so many of us have in moments like this to deflect… to excuse… to look away… to find co-conspirators… Why do we avoid looking at the evidence in front of us – the dead bodies in front of us – and continue to find ways to say “Yes, yes, it’s awful – but THEY….” “Yes, yes it’s awful – but I…” “Yes, yes it’s awful – but let’s not…”
‘Yes, but’ – is our shame.
‘Yes, but’ – is our fear.
‘Yes, but’ – is our hiding.
‘Yes, but’ … is killing people.
There is no ‘Yes, but’ here.
Stay with this murder.
Not the protests. Not the riots. Not the looting. Not the property damage.
Stay with the murder.
Stay with George Floyd.
Stay with that video.
And then watch it again.
There is a white police officer suffocating an unarmed black man.
A white police officer who feels entitled to kill a non-violent, unarmed black man.
As if the man – were nothing.
As if George Floyd was – debris – detritus – disposable – discardable. A slug. A fly. Something we swat, squish, kill – with hardly a thought – and move on with our day. As if no one in the world would care if this man’s life were snuffed out.
Sit with that.
Stay with that.
We have to own that.
It is here.
Staring us in the face.
We need to stare back.
Unflinching. Unblinking. Courageous.
And we need to kill this ugliness at its core.
Which means not only a full routing of the justice department and a dismantling of the system of law enforcement that allows these abuses to flourish – we need to incorporate full psychological screenings for every officer – as I mentioned in my prior post – and develop protocols on isolating and removing these officers when they are identified. These are initiatives that can be, should be, and I believe must be, embraced by the majority of our honorable and ethical law enforcement community.
It also means attending, each of us, to our immediate community – our personal world – and refusing to allow the casual racist seeds that drop into our lives every day to take root.
It means having the courage to look at our own racist thoughts – and drag them out into the light.
It means pushing back against our impulse to say ‘Yes, but’ when we are confronted by these atrocities – when we are overwhelmed by the evidence before us.
It also means having the courage – when people in your life – cherished loved ones – family- friends – acquaintances – share their racism – casually – tribally: a slur, a dismissal, a “making small” of a life… The “I’m not racist but”…
Call it out.
Racist seeds yield racist violence and racist ideologies that thrive on our fear of conflict. On our desire to “let it slide.” On the “I was just kidding” and the “don’t be so sensitive.” On our acceptance of the “yes, but.”
We will not be free – until we take these moments in – as they come – and own them. And commit to stopping them.
We will not be free until we make ourselves accountable for the things we don’t say – and the actions we don’t take on behalf of others. I feel the weight of that – myself – for all the times I did nothing – and said nothing. And through my silence – with my family – with my friends – in my government – in my privilege – let the seeds of hatred grow.
We need to validate for ourselves as a civilized society, and for people of color, that we all see – and know – and acknowledge – that George Floyd was murdered by a racist police officer because he was black.
We need to validate for ourselves as a civilized society, and for people of color, that we all see – and know – and acknowledge – that George Floyd is the latest, in a long line of black men and women, killed by racist police officers.
We need to tell them we see this – not for their sake – but for our own.
We need to tell them we see them – not for their liberation – but for our own.
Yes – we need to kill this ugliness at its core.
And its core lives in us.
We allow it to thrive by our refusal to acknowledge it – and condemn it – without disclaimers.
We have the power to stop it.
But not in the ‘Yes but’.
Only in the claiming.
Only in the truth-telling.
Only in the “Yes.”
No one is exempt from this fight.