On one side, people chant while toting signs and bullhorns. On the other, officers line up in riot gear, smacking batons onto their palms with a threatening thwack. At too many protests, the contrast is stark—a visualization of oppressor lording over the oppressed.
At too many protests, police respond not as peacekeepers but armed-to-the-hilt storm troopers. We see this from Ferguson to Oakland.
Thankfully, we saw something different in the wake of the tragedy that killed five officers in Dallas. The Dallas Police Department and Dallas Area Rapid Transit made a point to wear their regular uniforms and march with protesters last night. They tweeted pictures with participants. Seeing the lack of conflict in those demonstrations did my heart good.
Clearly, Dallas police get it—unlike the San Jose Police Department. In San Jose, police responded to people protesting the Donald Trump rally last month with full-on riot gear. They reacted like a military from the start, and it charged the already fraught atmosphere in downtown. MSNBC has repeatedly mentioned SJPD’s response to the Trump debacle in the wake of the deadly Dallas protests.
I’m sorry to say, however, that SJPD blew it again Sunday. Officers stayed low key during a calm protest against police brutality co-organized by loved ones of 18-year-old Adrian Nunez, who was shot and killed by SJPD on July 4. As demonstrators marched up Santa Clara Street, things turned predictably confrontational when they were met with an overabundance of officers in riot shields.
The murder of these Dallas officers is a tragedy and will obviously garner a great deal of media coverage. But their deaths cannot eclipse the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. There is no justification for any of the murders, but there is a connection. Just as U.S. military intervention in the Middle East has fomented extremism abroad, the assiduous killing of unarmed minorities by police has incited terrorism at home.
Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, whose district encompasses Dallas, said the incidents of this past week should lend a sense of urgency to conversations about police violence and the way we train law enforcement.
“Well, obviously, we need to have a great deal more conversation,” Johnson said. “There is no way that I could possibly think it’s not related to what is going on with the fear that many people have for police throughout the country. And frankly, I think the training has to begin with the academies. I’ve had hearings all of my career, back from the ’70s forward, on police relationships … I can’t fathom that this will continue in this country. We just cannot do it. We must examine the situation more closely, more training, attitudes must change some, the understanding between the peace officers and the citizens, just have to come together. We cannot continue to think that each of us are enemies.”
The Occupy movement mastered social media to broadcast the events as they happened, without police or media spin. Police no longer controlled the narrative. We had our own cameras, cellphones, iPads and other recording devices.
Now, Facebook has introduced Facebook Live—a powerful social justice tool—along with Periscope and others like it. In short order, we heard the first few shots pierce the revelry of Orlando.
On our Facebook feeds, we watched Philando Castile die in Minnesota. We watched as his shock-stricken girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, documented the killing with the kind of institutionalized poise of a black mother fearful for her life and her daughter’s. Hours later, this past Thursday through early Friday morning, we saw graphic footage of the Dallas shootings.
The Republican Party has congealed behind a xenophobic megalomaniac endorsed by white supremacists. Hate groups have gleefully leaped from the shadows and into the spotlight, making both people of color and police less safe. Republicans and those who have endorsed the bigoted leader—whether overtly or with their complicit silence—have to accept some responsibility for where we are today.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings spoke at a prayer vigil Friday morning. In it, he offered a truthful assessment rarely found in politics.
“We are here to face our challenges head on … we will not shy away from the very real fact that we as a city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues—they continue to divide us,” he said. “Yes, it’s that word ‘race’ and we’ve got to attack it head on. I will tell you, this is on my generation of leaders. It is on our watch that we have allowed this to continue to fester. That we have led the next generation down a vicious path of rhetoric and actions that pit one against the other.”
I keep hearing phrases like “assassination,” “target,” “open season” and “no justification” used by major media in reference to the murders of the officers. These are the same phrases that have been used by advocates, community members and family each time a person of color has been murdered by police. Blue murder is not worse than the black. Black should not overshadow blue.
Unless we change the system that engenders violence by police and against them, if the people who are oppressed and sick of being targeted and killed start to target and kill their oppressors, we will find ourselves caught in a never-ending cycle of bloodshed.
Until then, Facebook Live will help capture it—in all its ugliness—until we choose to break the cycle.
Shaunn Cartwright is an activist, housing rights advocate and co-founder of South Bay Tenants Union. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.