Behind The Black

Chris Zamani is a UC Berkeley student majoring in Integrative Biology and African American Studies. Respond to him at [email protected]

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I'm writing to address Ross Clippinger's latest diatribe concerning police entitled "Behind the Badge" (Jan.27). I'm not writing to engage in the sort of pseudo-intellectual masturbation and meaningless rhetorical Ping-Pong that has come to characterize Daily Californian opinion pieces. Obviously if Good Ol' Boy Ross wants to debate something meaningful with me, I hardly think his ability to reason would stand five minutes against what I would have to tell him about reality. What I am doing is responding to what I consider a direct attack on me personally as one of the "Barrows Six." Moreover, the column is an assault on those of us on this campus that refuse to remain ignorant to the omnipresent problems of contemporary society (referring to his comment: "That's right I'm talking to you BAMN, twLF, Barrows Six").

Now to be honest, I understand where Ross is coming from; a young, privileged white male (yes I said it), raised by two police officers, it's no surprise that his perspective on the subject of cops might be a little skewed. Regardless, in his attempts to show the humanity of these hired mercenaries I feel he doesn't understand what it really means to be a TARGET.

No one will deny that police officers are human beings too. No one will deny that they feel vulnerable like anyone else. Ross mentions that when a police officer puts on a uniform it's like putting on a target. To a certain extent this is true. But, Ross, I challenge you to extend your reactionary imagination and think what it might be like to be born with a target on, that you can't take off at the end of the day, a target called race.

Now perhaps I'm kidding myself in giving you the credit to suggest that you might actually acknowledge that such a phenomenon as racism (yes I said it) actually exists. But humor me for the sake of creating a campus dialogue on this issue.

I wish to state that I'm not limiting my definition of who is targeted to race. Within this system, if you are a woman, poor, gay, an immigrant, unemployed, homeless, disabled, ask too many questions, refuse to accept lies or otherwise are not part of a small class of white, protestant, heterosexual, able-bodied capitalist men who control and consume a disproportionate share of the world's resources, then you're a target. Nevertheless, as a Black Man, I speak from my perspective and encourage readers, especially Ross, to entertain what I have to say.

Imagine being a black man Ross. Imagine being targeted in every store, on every street corner, in your home. Shit, sometimes cops even beat me in my dreams. Imagine that no matter what your individual joys, sorrows, loves and hates are that you're seen as a criminal in the eyes of society. Imagine seeing police and your initial thoughts aren't how protected you feel, but, rather whether or not you're about to be accosted, questioned, treated disrespectfully or otherwise (to put it in terms more on your level) fucked with. Imagine that every social function that you attend with others who look like you is shut down because you're assumed to be violent in large groups. Imagine that in attending a prestigious university you're assumed unqualified and treated as if you're out of place.

Imagine having some knowledge of history and recognizing that this country was founded on the violent genocide of 90 percent of its indigenous inhabitants. Imagine understanding how your descendants were forcibly relocated to a foreign hemisphere and made to toil their entire lives, without pay, for the economic gain of another. Imagine that the wealth

accumulated from this unpaid labor presently continues to reinforce the economic rift between your people and the descendants of those that originally imported your people as a commodity.

Imagine feeling powerful enough to speak out against something you know is wrong, and being choked, lifted off the ground by your ear lobes or violently shaken by the hair as a result. Imagine seeing this happen to your friends. Imagine this happening to your sister or brother in front of your eyes. Imagine this happening to people who look like you everyday all over the country. Imagine everyday living with the depressing foresight that this same type of physical coercion is going to happen to your children and to their children until YOU empower YOURSELF to make a change. But then again, empowering yourself constitutes breaking the law and justifies the very physical and emotional violence that you can't escape.

Imagine now, and here's where it gets tricky and maybe a little scary, that the police who do these things to you, forcing your existence to be a fine line between insanity and suicide look like your parents Ross. Imagine these police going home to their families and telling heroic stories to their sons about how many lives they saved while neglecting to mention how many they took. Imagine these part-time mercenaries, full time parents never telling their sons everything they do, knowing that the young boy would not understand. Imagine that maybe, this young child wouldn't understand why another young child across town would have more of a chance of ending up in prison, making furniture for 13 cents an hour or even awaiting death by lethal injection, than having chances of attending UC Berkeley or writing about the joys of apathy as a columnist for The Daily Californian.

In describing the uprising that occurred in Berkeley, Ross, you said that what you saw disgusted you, and suggested that cops should've used pepper spray and batons as crowd control. This isn't an indifferent view; it's a politically charged statement from somebody who claims to be apathetic. Like it or not Ross, you too are political, just on the reactionary right. Riots don't spontaneously erupt because people are bored. Uprisings come about as an answer from frustrated and dis-empowered people to situations where violence at the hands of police is a daily presence in their lives. The Los Angeles rebellion of 1992 wasn't just about Rodney King. It was about decades of Rodneys who weren't lucky enough to have their torture videotaped or even to escape with their lives. For millions of people who were never treated as individuals, and wear a target every minute of their lives, throwing bottles and taunting cops is often the only recourse they have in a voiceless sector of society.

The disenfranchised in this country control no media outlets with which to express their viewpoints. That it takes such drastic measures to be recognized is indicative of their invisibility to mainstream society. As we've seen on this campus, when certain students exercise our rights to free assembly we were violently coerced into submission by the UCPD. To suggest that we shouldn't demand that charges be dropped against non-violent protestors in a situation where video documentation clearly shows that officers were the perpetrators of violence during the arrest is ludicrous and unjust.

Ross, police are individuals. Police do feel vulnerable. They do bleed, and they do have families. Nobody will argue with this. But these individuals serve as an adjunct to a very inhumane machine, and when they don a badge and a gun, they relinquish their individuality to serve the purposes of a system with no conscience. Police aren't allowed to individually determine whether or not they should enforce one law or the next. They cannot decide for themselves if they should follow the orders of their superiors, who follow orders from their superiors, who ultimately don't care about them or the people they victimize, but only care for the protection of their private property and the freedom to make profit as they see fit. So are police individuals?

As people, parents, sons and daughters, yes they are. As agents of the state and enforcers of the status quo, no they are not. Those of us who don't have the privilege of deciding whether or not we wear a target, won't see them in such a light because they don't see us as such. Ross, the fact that both of your parents are cops doesn't excuse you from acknowledging reality. My mother is a police officer also; she had four children to feed on her own, and I respect her for having the courage to do it alone, but this reality does not bar me from recognizing her function in society to protect and serve a privileged few.

Ross, I challenge you to IMAGINE what it must be like to be me, not for my sake but for your own. Awaken from your controlled dream before it is too late. The targets of the world won't be obedient much longer, and you may find the roles will soon be reversed. Hopefully this response will have an effect on your thinking and next Thursday we won't be plagued with another edition of "Ignorant Ass Apathy Boy Writes Stupid Shit."


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