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Monday, April 13, 2015

Living Life Like Its Golden: Danger, Endangerment and Police Killings

I'm taking my freedom
Pulling it off the shelf
Putting it on my chain
Wearing it 'round my neck
I'm taking my freedom
Putting it in my car
Wherever I choose to go
It will take me far
I'm living my life like it's golden

Jill Scott, “Living My Life Like It’s Golden”

With Walter Scott comes another police killing of an unarmed black person. Another set of lamentations. And another set of mournful, appalling silences from much of society at large.

There are rarely indictments and even more rarely convictions in these police killings, some of which are outrageous in their simple, clear, brutal, murderous intentionality.  Thanks to the sousveillant videotaping of bystanders (I wrote about this in another blog post, Video Surveillance as White Whiteness), we see these killings over and over again. And still, very often, nothing happens, they go on and on. Seeing is only believing for some of us.  Individual visual acuity is useless in the face of collective willful blindness.

It is a fact that some of us are living in the midst of what feels like state-condoned, if not state-sanctioned terror.  But nobody wants to know that. Nobody wants to know that even law-abiding, upstanding, well-educated, sometimes even law-trained black and brown people are living in fear of law enforcers.  Some are caught in the sad-funny Hobson’s choice of meeting the gaze of police and being thought too forward and thus too dangerous, or looking studiously away, and being thought too avoidant and thus too dangerous. There is here, as some scholars have discussed in other contexts, an odd, unsettling quality to discourses about endangerment and dangerousness. These discourses frequently depend upon racialized notions of cause and effect, of power and of the liberty that power can bring. Dangerousness has undergone a transformation from an assessment of a particular individual in a finite situation to a broad notion of risk embodied in one person. This may, as some scholars have noted, justify almost limitless intervention in the name of crime prevention and public safety. Thus, to live ones life likes its golden becomes an act of defiance for some.

To those who say that there is nothing to fear from police if you follow the law I say, “Your freedom is not my freedom.” My freedom is more often shelved and carefully curated, protected against incursions during those times when it is not safe to banty it about, crowing into the wind, aimlessly.  Dangerously.  Too often, police assaults and killings of civilians are treated as reactive phenomena without political or social dimensions. Intentions and reasoning are re-written, and outcomes are downplayed, as the narrative of the reasonably fearful police officer and the dangerous and thus understandably dead perpetrator is repeated over and over again.  Either life is not golden for all, or all that glitters is not gold.