It’s late at night, and a couple drives home from a party, decked out in their party finery. The wife, in the passenger seat, goes from flirtatious talk to a normal sexual act between husband and wife. In the meantime, a police officer and his partner watch the vehicle driving by and the senior officer follows and then pulls over the vehicle. In a prejudiced act, the officer claims the couple fits the description of a carjacker. While the husband remains silent and cooperative, the wife appears agitated and argumentative. In response, the senior officer orders the couple out of the vehicle and pats down both, violating the wife by groping and caressing her private areas.
It would be nice if this scene from the movie Crash was just a work of fiction. A string of public encounters between black suspects and white officers suggests that this happens more often than it should. Granted, we tend to see what hits the news cycle, so we don’t often hear about the killings of unarmed Latinos like Oscar Ramirez Jr. or even of whites such as Zachary Hammond of North Carolina. Sandra Bland’s encounter was public, eye opening, and revealing.
One common response you see from people is that Sandra got what she deserved. They usually say, “If you would just cooperate with the police, these kinds of things won’t happen to you.” Its variant goes something like, “If you mess with the police, don’t be surprised when they mess back.”
Reconsider Crash for a moment. Do we really want to make the argument that Thandie Newton’s character (Christine) deserves her sexual assault because she mouthed off to the police officer? That Cristine brought the gross violation of her personhood, her womanhood, upon herself? Isn’t this what we used to tell women when they showed up to church with a black eye? “You know how he is, Christine. If you don’t make him angry, he won’t hurt you.”
Is that what I should tell my daughter when I give her “the talk” that all responsible black parents give to their children? “Sweetie, don’t argue with the police officer when he pulls you over, or else he’s going to fondle your privates. If that happens, it’s your fault.”
Why, then, do we make the same argument when talking about Sandra Bland, Samuel Dubose, Eric Harris, or Walter Scott, to name four? When did the response to government abuse become, “Take the abuse and sort it out later.”? We have the right not to be violated by the police, regardless of our doing or wrong-doing. There is never, under any circumstances, an excuse for a police officer to treat Christine of Crash the way she was treated. Why then, do we offer excuses for the daily, common, violations blacks (and other races) experience on a daily basis? Life and liberty count among many unalienable rights common to all of humanity. Let’s remember that when we hear about the Sandra Blands of the world.