NOTE (added after writing but before posting): I talk about race and Ferguson and police brutality in this post, but if you’ve not been reading about these things already, then please: don’t read this. Read something else. My voice is not an important one here -I’m white, British, and have never been on the receiving end of structurally racist state violence. Go read what American people of colour have to say about Ferguson and other instances of racist police brutality – there’s a lot at The Root, Racialicious, and Colorlines; if you’re a Twitter person then look at #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe, #ThisMustStop. They’re the voices that need to be heard, over and above those of white people. But I’m adding my voice on here because – per these two articles about white allyship – silence can be oppressive too. White voices absolutely should not be central to this discourse, but they should be raised in support and solidarity. We should be angry. We should be upset. We should be viscerally horrified by, and ashamed to be benefiting from, a system that is shot through with such prejudice and violence. The post that follows is kind of rambling and written on less than five hours sleep; it is mostly about the internal landscape of me-the-white-narrator and as such is really really not something that should be at all centred in this discourse; but I’m posting it with this caveat because ultimately I think I’d rather say to the world “here are some of my feelings about the police and racist violence” than say nothing at all and be another silent white person awkwardly not posting about this at all. (POC: If I have still screwed up in so doing, please tell me and I will listen.)
I saw three mounted police officers in a built-up area of London today, and my first feeling was one of terror for the people who lived in the neighbourhood.
This was kinda new to me. In the village where I grew up, police on horseback were not an uncommon sight – and indeed, there were generally quite a few people (civilians!) on horseback knocking around the village, so the sound of hoofbeats could just as well mean Farmer Jones or little Jemima’s riding lesson as it could mean Bobbies on Dobbin. (Bobbies. Tommies. Isn’t it funny how we’ve given cute friendly names to the perpetrators of state-sanctioned violence and murder? Names that make them sound like adorable little boys playing dress-up and starry-eyed over Glory and Honour and Serving Their Country?) So – clip-clop cops are things I do not find strange. But in the past few weeks there has been this… relentless dizzying focus on the police as agents of violence, in both broad structural ways and in bone-crunchingly immediate ways. (Mostly the American police, although seriously let’s not kid ourselves that the UK police are saintly – they may not make such liberal use of guns, but political demonstrators are still routinely met with violence, and I hope nobody’s forgotten about Jean Charles de Menezes.)
Ferguson is dominating my newsfeed right now, and on top of that there seems to be a new story every other day displaying the same pattern of police violence against black people going unpunished, unacknowledged, inadmissible. I’m told by American friends that this is the status quo – but the focus on Ferguson means that racist police violence is getting reported more often and disseminated more widely. White officers killing black members of the public with no fucking repercussions, even when they’re unarmed, even when they’re holding their hands above their heads, even when there are multiple witnesses, even when it’s caught on film, even when the coroner literally fucking rules it a homicide. So I see three white police officers clip-clopping about on their immense draft horses, and all I can think is: oh shit. This neighbourhood is somewhere a hell of a lot of economically-disadvantaged people of colour live, and there are mounted police riding around and talking on their radios. Something awful is about to kick off, someone is going to get their head smashed in by a truncheon, someone is going to have their child or partner or parent not come home tonight and not know what’s happened until they see their loved one’s face on the news alongside justifications about why they deserved to die. Shit. It’s going to happen, here, now, and I have no idea what to do or how to help when it does.
And that sense of dread – it’s nothing, compared to what so many people of colour are constantly forced to deal with. It was small, it was fleeting, and it was fear for the lives and safety of other people rather than for myself. It was a glimpse of a very mild version of something terrible that I can’t imagine the extent of. It was a single moment of my evening rather than a constant presence in my life. And I’m still shaken enough to vomit out a blog post about this. It’s not news to me, on an intellectual level, that the police frequently enact structural violence – racism, sexism, queerphobia – but I’ve never really felt it before, an instinctive shudder at the sight of hi-vis vests over dark uniforms, and glossy muscular horses that could run people down easy as breathing.
I hung around and watched them for a while, worried. Eventually I asked an officer what was happening – apparently “there was an incident”, that’s all I got told. There were parents with children wanting to pat the nice horsies – and other adults hanging back, nervous. I hope like hell that nothing happened after I left.
I don’t know how to end this post in a coherent way. So I’ll just say I’m horrified by everything I’ve heard and seen about what’s been happening in and around Ferguson. The white-supremacist world we’ve built and maintained is toxic and violent and none of this bullshit is even slightly okay. I want us to keep waking up to it, to keep listening to those who know what it is like to live under its shadow, to understand even a fraction of the rage and fear and horror that this systemic brutality necessarily merits, and to join the fight against it.