The Anatomy of an Apprehension: or. From Person to Perpetrator in 60 Seconds

Living in the city, you have the unfortunate occasion to witness a range of police activity; car stops, car chases, chases on foot and the resulting apprehensions.  I remember one instance from a few years back.  The police had been chasing the suspect, possibly for some low level drug offense.  I’d seen the chase, already in progress, round a corner from a block away.  The man, tired from his running, had given up, gotten on his knees with his hands up.

Now, I’m in a second floor apartment in the front bedroom which overlooked the street below; directly over the kneeling man.  I watched as the police ran up behind him, kicked him in the back of the head, kneed him in the back of the neck as he went down face first into the concrete and proceeded to twist his arms behind his back, cuffing him, before pulling him up by his cuffs to stand and be led away.

I remember thinking then that, damn that has to hurt, being manhandled like that with your limbs moving at angles they weren’t necessarily intended to.  Many will say it’s warranted and if you can’t do “the time” then don’t do the crime.  However, in this current environment of police interventions gone horribly wrong, such a simplistic characterization is misleading; especially as any one of us at any given time could wind up in similar circumstances. 

Don’t laugh or scoff; it could happen.  If you don’t believe then watch the video of Walter Scott’s untimely demise, as painful as doing so will be.  Do it and you’ll get an idea of just how quickly your luck can change when dealing with the police.  Such is the tenuous hold on existence that all people share here in America.  And don’t be fooled.

That these instances of police brutality are ignored by more of the population than is necessary to bring change is due mostly to the fact that they seem to happen to blacks; black males, specifically, in the hood.   Make no mistake though and not to be redundant; we’re only the practice squad.

With each unchallenged whap of the baton against a dark skull, that element that’s said to be in the minority on the force is emboldened to go farther.  And as bullets continue to pierce African-American flesh to the tune of little to no recourse or remorse, those sadistic “few” will eventually take their show on the road.  It’s already happening.  For all of us, it becomes a question of “what if”.

What if you’re stopped for some reason and it’s determined, right or wrong, that you have to be taken into custody?  What if your arms are twisted and you react to the pain?  And what if such a reaction is taken as resistance; what happens then?  Let’s take it up a notch and say that one of those officers arresting you is one of “the sadistic few”, what then?  Or better still, let’s play devil’s advocate.

What if you see the cop getting ready to draw either of his weapons; Taser or pistol?  Unwarranted or not, your mind racing, no time to think, you’re contemplating your survival and you question why; you weren’t doing anything but now, right in front of you, is evidence that this man or woman is taking a major step towards trying to hurt you. At the very least, with a loaded weapon drawn and pointed at you, the situation and stakes change.   Most importantly, you-the guy, or girl, who’s gone from person to perp and doesn’t even know how the hell it happened-you, you’re scared to death.   What do you do?  The human condition of self-preservation being what it is dictates that you try to protect yourself.  And in today’s America, such a basic human reaction will get you killed.

I don’t know; I’ve watched enough of these to know that probably there are almost as many people reacting to the pain or fear of apprehension as there are those resisting apprehension. I used to think that it was mostly a matter of poor judgment on the part of law enforcement; but now, I think it’s more than that.  More than their ability to access us it’s about what we become in their eyes once we cross that line and go from person to perpetrator.   It’s about how they then see us and what that perception allows them to do to us.

Once we’ve crossed over, it’s OK then to soften us up and apprehend us.  Such actions make us pliable and easily manageable, open to questioning.  Add to the equation police training and you’ve produced a person who knows how to inflect pain.  Multiply in a sadist who enjoys doing so and has escaped notice in the department and you have, well, you could have what’s been going on these past months.

It’s the perception of cops that has to change in order to bring reform.  That’s why it’s such an egregious thing when you hear of police range targets depicting black men.  It’s how it all begins.  Dare I say it; it’s something akin to indoctrination.  A cop gets use to putting a black face to his targets.  Now he hits the street, he sees a black face, he sees a thug; he pinpoints his target.  Nice grouping.

Moreover, it’s a value system that says it’s OK to kneel on somebody’s neck, or choke them out, in efforts to subdue them.  It’s a discernment that robs everyone involved of their requisite humanity and places little worth on the human body, especially the one belonging to the perp.

With more than 17 million people over the age of 16 encountering traffic stops by police and with black drivers (12.3%) being three times more likely than white drivers (3.9%) to be stopped by police (two times more likely than Hispanics (5.3%)), it’s a systemic way of thinking that can’t stand as is.

Remember that but for the grace of God, we could all be perps at some time or another.

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Filed under Commentary, Justice, Race

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