The Other Why

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It was the summer of 2016, the year when Philando Castille and Alton Sterling were killed by the police in the same week. It was July.

I was attending Immaculata University and one of my classes was Police & Society. I will never understand; no scratch that; I now understand why the class wasn’t cancelled. The professor was a local, white police officer who had finally gotten his master’s degree after being a police officer for most of his adult life. The class consisted of four students—myself, a Black woman and another Black woman and two white guys. I learned a lot in that class. I did not like most of what I learned though.

As the events of this current week unfolded, I was reminded of this class and that summer. It was that class that prompted to decide to stop watching the videos. We watched Philando Castille bleed to death for a 3 hour class so we could have a “mock grand jury” to decide if the officer should be indicted for murder. We didn’t have a mock grand jury for Alton Sterling, but the professor played that one multiple times pointing out Alton’s “resistance” and explaining the cops’ actions. Professor even demonstrated “resistance.” He laid face down on the floor with his hands behind his back. We each got to take turns to “feel” what “resistance” is. It’s the stiffening of the body; arms locked and unbending; legs locked; head raised off the ground. He was demonstrating that we civilians who aren’t trained can’t “see” resistance but that officers on the scene respond to that which we can’t see. Professor slowed down the video of Alton Sterling’s death to highlight Alton’s hand “reaching” for his pocket just as the officer felt the gun in his pocket. And it was that “reaching” for his pocket that “caused” the officer to shoot him point blank.

Another video professor showed was of a Black man running away. Cops open fired on him. Shot him in the back. Professor then showed another angle of the same shooting.  The Black man running away had a gun. And in another play by play, professor showed us how the running Black man’s swinging arm was bending to turn and shoot, even though no other body movement betrayed that ‘intention.’ We had “untrained” civilian eyes.

In yet another video, Laquan McDonald is seen rung down the street. Cops are giving chase. According to professor, cops giving chase were radioing to officers ahead that an armed suspect was headed their direction. This information “caused” the officers ahead to open fire and even thought the information given was an outright lie, this shooting was justified.

After watching all of these videos, professor shows us a news clip of a Black community in moruning for the tragic loss of an innocent, beautiful, Black 5 year old. He was shot and killed by stray bullets from the gun violence in the neighborhood. And from there he elaborated on Black on Black crime. When I asked what that has to do with police shooting unarmed Black people, one of the white students said “priorities.” Professor didn’t correct him.

Eventually, professor ‘devolved’ into the Black Lives Matter movement. But before he did so, he set the stage by writing $400,000,000 on the board asking what its significance was. It was the amount of money the US paid to Iraq in exchange for hostages (of course the White House claimed it was an unpaid debt paid at an inconvenient time). and then he asked what the word ‘demands’ brings to mind. I said “terrorists.”

And with that, professor segued into Black Lives Matter. At the time, many organizations had come together to create a platform of collaboration. This collaboration produced bullet points of action. I remember my surprise because I had just downloaded portions of the platform. Professor focused on one of the points I had downloaded. My interest was surely peaked. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why this man was presenting this to the class. It didn’t take long to find out though.

The Movement For Black Lives, as it is called, their platform and their “demands” was nothing more than a terrorist organization according to the professor. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I am, a Black woman, in a classroom at a Catholic university with a white police officer professor who was labeling me a terrorist! I didn’t know anxiety then like I know it now but there arose instant fear. I needed to stay safe. I wanted to pass the class. All signs of anger, any type of protest against what he was saying and I could lose both safety and a passing grade.

My final paper was on Juvenile Justice. It was 13 pages long. Professor perused it when I turned it in and looking at the number of sources asked “Did you just do a copy and paste?” Before he even read it. College students, especially Black college students don’t dive that deep apparently. But I got an ‘A.’

I said all of that to say this: If you think police brutality and deadly force is just some “bad” apples, you are so very sadly mistaken.

A white officer, who admittedly grew up with a racist father, taught a class on Police & Society where he not only showed extreme bias in the showing of the videos, perpetuated the ‘counter’ narrative of “Black on Black” crime and compared #BlackLivesMatter to a terrorist organization, but he also violated university and police department policy and openly declared his support for then candidate Donald Trump.

Professor. In a college. Is perpetuating white supremacy and the role of the race soldier. This was 2016. He’s still a cop and he’s still a professor.