“Understanding the ghetto kids presents a special problem for the cop. When a riot breaks out in a high school, the damage is already done and there is little the cop can do besides try to contain the violence. But if the cop had been sensitive to the history of the problem, the riot might have been avoided…….. The need to learn to meet ghetto kids on their own level – the “ ‘cause why” level. It is that basic, raw instinctive level of life which seeks honest and open answers to very basic questions. …’Cause why is that the only time the cops are around? (when we have a party)’ ……When cops learn the conditions of the home environment in the ghetto, they will find out why kids act as they do. How many cops on the beat have actually seen their mother have an affair with their own daddy, let alone another man? Or how many cops have seen their mother take a needle and stick it in her arm and get high? The ghetto kid has seen this. He has looked at his own mother have an affair with a stranger. …..He has just seen his mother have an affair with a stranger and the cop is going to tell him to be good? Naturally he will start swinging on the cope because he has to react against something.” – Dick Gregory – The Shadow That Scares Me
Its amazing that a book published in 1968 can still be so relevant today. The proliferation of young people being killed by police or while in police custody is one of many pressing issues in our community. No matter what side of the fence you fall on in the Kimani Gray situation, it highlights the larger issue of race and law enforcement. From hoses and dogs being turned loose on protesters to Rodney King to multiple young men committing “suicide” in handcuffs via re-incarnations of Houdini, there has always been tension between black folks and the law man. There is an obvious rift between the black community and law enforcement and most of it is deserved, on both sides! The violence and low regard for life in our communities erroneously validate the perception law enforcement has about black people. The extensive history of brutality and excessive force used by cops erroneously validates our disdain for them. Every incident that shows up in the media picks a scab on festering sore that never quite starts to heal. Eventually the emotions reach an apex, tension gives and the result is a demonstration of violence and unrest that perpetuates the issues and adversely punishes our community.
The problem is a lack of understanding and training. Earlier in his book, Dick Gregory goes into detail about the failure to properly train and equip law enforcement officer to adequately serve and protect communities that disproportionately affected by low socio-economic standards. If law enforcement took a different approach to the way they interacted with our community, we can begin the healing process. There are fundamental realities that must be accounted for when dealing with
community with whom they share an unfavorable history. When you have been the face of oppression or at least its legal enforcer, for over 60 years, interactions require a certain amount of sensitivity. There is no excuse for the egregious misappropriation of power of police officers towards our community nor is there any justification for the reign of terror young people are subjecting our community to either. What I know is that we are dangerously close to another outburst. We are growing infinitely closer to the breaking point of both sides, the tension grows thicker by the incident. If we don’t start to take a proactive stance to address this issue get ready for us to have more in common with the 60’s than a quote from Dick Gregory.
What do you think the issue is between the black community and law enforcement? Have you had a run in with the law? how was that experience? What do you think can be done to start the healing process between cops and the ghetto kid?