Okay, y’all. I wanted to avoid writing about this, because I’m tired of writing about black people killed by police. Seriously you all, I AM TIRED OF THIS. This is not my idea of a good time. I have a birthday coming up, and I’d rather be playing video games than dissecting the hypothetical scenarios of my improbable demise at the hands of police, which, judging by the headlines, seem a bit more likely by the day.
What I’m saying is, the story of Botham Shem Jean’s killing by Amber Guyger in Dallas has me shook.
Like Jean, I’m known in my community as a Christian, and specifically as a worship leader. Like Jean, I am somewhat larger and physically imposing (although not in great shape like he was). Like Jean, I live in what is a fairly exclusive apartment complex, made possible because of work I do in and among a suburban locale, where even though there is a modicum of diversity, most of the seats of power are filled by white people. Also like Dallas, the police department of my home city is also helmed by a black woman, which might give off a more progressive impression than what the truth should warrant.
Anyway, the shooting — as tragic as it is — is not the thing that completely burns me up.
And that fact — all by itself — is all kinds of f***ed up, because all by itself, that morally reprehensible and societally-aberrant act of unnecessary lethal state-sanctioned violence should make me furious. I should be marching in the streets right now. I should be dropping f-bombs in my sermon, stopping traffic on the highway, interrupting dinners of whoever is complicit in this nonsense in order to get through to people that THIS KIND OF THING IS NOT OKAY AND IT KEEPS HAPPENING.
No, what really burns me up is this.
There’s a pattern that tends to happen after every high profile police shooting — police use the news media to advance a narrative that is favorable to their officer’s version of events.
It’s as insidious and sad as it is predictable, which is why I was not surprised to find out that police are saying they found evidence of marijuana in Botham Jean’s apartment.
It’s taken me awhile to realize that this is their strategy, but if you pay attention you’ll see it. It happened with Trayvon, it happened with Michael Brown, it happened with Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, and Philando Castile, now more recently it happened with Botham Shem Jean, and it’ll happen again, if we let it.
See, here’s the thing. In this case, police who want to protect their own, they want us to argue about whether or not there was marijuana in his apartment, because if we get hung up on that, it obscures their larger goal.
And let me be clear, I’m not saying the police planted that evidence — though it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that they did — but what I’m saying is that often times forensic evidence, even if not outright falsified, can be used in less-than-honest ways to paint a narrative, and that narrative is the point, not the individual piece of evidence. So, for example, that article in the WFAA story mentions that less than an ounce of marijuana was found in Botham’s apartment, along with several other items, including two RFID keys, a lunch box, a computer, and a metal marijuana grinder. How do they know it’s a grinder specifically for marijuana? Is it possible that grinder is used to grind herbs and spices for cooking? I don’t know one way or the other, but I can see how it’s advantageous for the police to call that “a marijuana grinder” instead of just “a piece of grinding apparatus.”
And that gets really to the heart of the issue… in the accompanying video, one of the attorneys for the Jean family implied that it’s not a coincidence that police released this information on the same day that the community had gathered to remember Jean, because such a public spectacle of remembrance and mourning contradicts the unstated but implied narrative that this black man must have done something to get himself killed.
Over and over again in cases like this, police grasp at whatever details they can to cast the victim in a criminal light in order to justify the unjustifiable.
So I’m putting it out there right now. God forbid, if I ever find myself in a situation where a police officer feels the need to take my life because they are threatened, I want everyone who knows and loves me to A) remember who I am, what I stand for, how I live, and B) refuse to let police use any ambiguity surrounding the details of my life to change the narrative surrounding my death. Because whether or not I’m walking down the sidewalk trying to get home (like Trayvon), sitting in my car (like Philando), or minding my own business in my own home (like Botham), no character flaw on my part should justify the unjust taking of my life through lethal force, and they’ll be damned if they succeed in convincing people otherwise.
(I was about to say, “I’ll be damned if they succeed,” but I’m a Christian, so I know where I’m going when I die.)
I do not hate cops.
Even though this blog has a lot of words about police brutality and racial justice and I wrote a piece last year on why conservatives should embrace Colinn Kaepernick and his protests, I do not hate police. I have an uncle who was a police officer, and I’ve gone to church with three different people who’ve made significant careers in the Portland Police Department. Not only that, I spent a year working for the City of Portland as an 911 dispatcher and call-taker, so I’ve gotten a birds-eye view on what policing looks like on a day-to-day basis. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that officers do to keep our communities as safe as possible. I just think that the hypervigilance takes a toll on officers, and that too many of them forget their ideals of wanting to help people over time, and also that implicit bias tends to infect all people with criminal stereotypes around black people.
But no, I don’t hate police.
I also don’t do drugs, or drink.
I do occasionally go to concerts where other people smoke weed, but I don’t. (Actually, that’s really only happened once, but you never know. Robert Randolph might come back to Portland.) Yes, if police raid my apartment, there will be liquor in it. My wife drinks. She’s German, it’s a part of her heritage, and the culture of our friends. But I don’t. You can ask literally any of my friends. You will see pictures of me in bars occasionally, but trust me, if it looks like a wine cooler or a froofy, fruity cocktail — it’s just fruity sugar water. Sugar and fat and salt are my vices, not alcohol.
I’m a rapper, but I’ve never advocated violence.
Even in the rap song that I wrote specifically disavowing our current president, I never once said anything that can be construed as violent or dangerous (unless you consider the truth to be dangerous). If you ever hear me yelling “do you want a revolution!?!” I’m only quoting Kirk Franklin.
Speaking of danger…
You’re never going to find a gun in my car.
If police ever recover a gun from my car, it either belonged to someone else who took my car without my permission, or they planted it. If you ever hear me talking about guns, it’s probably only video game guns. And even then, it’s pretty much only the guns from Halo. I don’t even play Call of Duty anymore, because it’s too close to realistic. I’ve never been to a firing range, I’ve never owned a gun, I’ve never even held one. The closest I came to holding a gun was in 7th grade, when I brought a plastic toy gun to school, and it looked a little too realistic, and the assistant principal Mr. Brannon confiscated it from me because he knew what I didn’t — that even in 1988, that thing could get me killed, even though it was a $3 toy that I got from Woolworths.
(That’s right… not Walgreens, freaking Woolworths. I am old.)
Here are more things to know about me…
If you see me lean my head back and forth while hollering and clapping my hands repeatedly, this is not an attempt to intimidate anyone, nor is it any kind of tribal incantation. It’s LAUGHING. I like to laugh, and this is how I do it. If you see me flailing my arms around while I laugh, I’m not reaching for a gun, I’m probably grabbing for my phone.
Speaking of which…
If you see me walking down the sidewalk and it appears like my head is down and I’m behaving in a furtive manner, I’m doing what many Americans do — I’m DOING SOMETHING ON MY PHONE. What, exactly? None of your business.
If you see me walking through a parking lot and it seems like I’m walking down several aisles of cars, I’m not casing the lot looking for something to steal. I’m TRYING TO REMEMBER WHERE I PARKED MY DAMN CAR, because I’m in my mid 40s and I’m scatterbrained.
If you see me wearing a lot of red and black, and I’ve got an angry scowl on my face, these are not gang colors, and I’m not about to engage in violence. See the pinwheel logo? It means I’m a TRAIL BLAZERS FAN, and I’m pissed because the NBA Western Conference just got like 3x more competitive and the Blazers aren’t keeping up.
Also, if you hear me in a conversation ranting about justice and combating racism and redistributing wealth, it’s not because I’m an activist about to stage a protest, it’s because in addition to being a rapper I’M ALSO A PASTOR AND ALL THAT IS IN THE BIBLE.
But most importantly… none of that should matter. None of those things should be a reason why I should live or die. Respectability politics offer the lie that people who are respectable should be insulated from police violence, and that the only people who die are people who somehow deserved it.
Well, Amber Guyger just proved that to be a lie.
So if the police somehow find a reason to kill me, don’t let them change the narrative of my death.