I awoke this morning in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, to the sight of police officers shoving a 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the ground. I saw a police force quitting their jobs in protest as the assaulting officers were charged for that horrific act. And I wonder, how did we get here? How did we get to the point where “some” of the people we have entrusted with the power of the badge, could act so recklessly with life and feel nothing?
Then I remember a segment of our population have been witness to this violence for far too long. If we all look closely enough, we can see how this attitude developed, and how it now permeates law enforcement. Think about it. We have been constantly told some of our citizens are especially violent and dangerous. They are somehow superhuman. We are told to be wary, afraid even, of those with dark skin. They are a threat.
These ideas were planted and spread, in the not so distant past, by the powers-that-be. The ideas were reinforced by overseers to ensure the survival of a system that relied on a free workforce. Once the conditions changed and the majority of the white community would no longer tolerate forced free Labor, some of those very same catchers would become cops and prison guards.
Some would go on to become police chiefs. Others would become prosecutors. A select few would become judges and politicians. Their ideas, sanctioning free forced labor and violent oppression, would become intertwined and ingrained in the American psyche. So much so that today if we use words like violent, dangerous, predator or criminal there is no need to identify to whom we are referring. With these words a vast majority of Americans will picture images of the darkest of our citizens.
These words we hear everyday, push us into a state of fear and, in this state, we are willing to do and say anything to be and remain safe. Even irrational things, which we know will do harm to others. These words preceded the passage of the Three Strikes Law, which decimated black and brown communities all across the US. These words preceded the passage of Marsy’s Law, which now allows prison authorities to arbitrarily increase an incarcerated person’s sentence, under the guise of public safety.
We often hear the spirit of these words in the statement “I fear(ed) for my life/safety” after every killing of an unarmed man. Now here we sit in the aftermath of George Floyd and Martin Gugino. We have witnessed the murder of an unarmed man and the vicious attack on another.
Even while I ponder these words and their effect, I see the process of events which led to this moment. I see the high-speed chase playing out on TV. It ends with the police roughing up the perp. We laugh, excusing the conduct as justified, because the perp ran. We tolerate officers stretching the truth to get their man. We look the other way when the most vulnerable communities among us have pleaded for justice. We tell ourselves that they must have done something wrong to incur such treatment. For, after all, they are all violent and dangerous criminals, aren’t they?
Now right before our eyes we see those we have entrusted with our safety, act with incredible cruelty without provocation or justification, and suddenly it hits us with a resounding rebuke. Our fears and passions have betrayed us. We have accepted the fear-rhetoric without question, and now we mourn Floyd and are angered at the treatment of Gugino.
After all that we have witnessed, we can no longer accept these words of fear at face value. We must question what is said by those in positions of trust. They must be questioned and held to account. They must be called to task for every action and decision. We must leave no stone unturned. From the cop on the street, to the judge on the bench, to the politician in their office, to the guards on the prison yard. Everyone must be held responsible for the state of this system. Including ourselves.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.