Stop Police from Killing People or Admit You Don't Care

Charleena Lyles, photo provided to media by her family

Charleena Lyles, photo provided to media by her family

On June 16, in St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on all counts in the shooting of Philando Castile. The dashcam footage of the shooting was released to the public yesterday and it is horrifying to watch. The most astute analysis of the incident came from @ChrisCJackson, who noted, “If the first instinct to a black man informing you that he's legally armed is fearing for your life, maybe you shouldn't be a cop.”

In the video, the officer is a panicky mess--swearing and screaming at Castile’s partner to remain calm and not move. He’s doing this (not calmly himself) after shooting her husband and still pointing a gun into the car. Yanez was terminated by his department the day of his acquittal. The man is not fit to wear a badge or serve in any capacity in law enforcement.

On Sunday morning, while I was talking to local columnist Matt Driscoll about the Castile verdict, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30 year-old black woman, was shot and killed by Seattle Police in front of her children. She was the 558th person killed by American law enforcement this year. There have been eight more since then (as of 7:30am on 6/21).

In 2016, that total was 1161. In 2015, it was 1216. I refuse to accept this. You should as well.

Sadly, many folks are actually quite okay with it. In the days since the Castile verdict and the Lyles shooting, I’ve seen more than the usual logical gymnastics and rhetorical contortion to justify the taking of Castile’s, Lyles’ and hundreds of other lives. People on the internet, particularly certain white males (every one of the following is a quote or paraphrase of a response from a white male) seem to able to justify or explain away an incredible amount of violence to black bodies:

I say stop killing black people, y’all say stop making it about race.

I say stop killing black people, y’all say I’m playing the race card.

I say stop killing black people, y'all say the officer feared for his life.

I say stop killing black people, y'all say all lives matter.

I say stop killing black people, y'all wanna talk about black-on-black crime.

I say stop killing black people, y'all say he was smoking weed.

I say stop killing black people, y'all say she had a prior record.

I say stop killing black people, y'all say what about the violence in Baltimore & Chicago?

I say stop killing black people, y'all wanna talk about pulling our pants up.

I say stop killing black people, y'all wanna talk about hoodies and dreads.

I say stop killing black people, y’all wanna talk about black unemployment.

I say stop killing black people, y'all wanna talk about how there are too many single moms.

I say stop killing black people, y'all wanna talk about the music our kids listen to.

I say stop killing black people, y'all wanna talk about how the victim was no angel.

I say stop killing black people, y'all wanna talk about our kids having no discipline.

I say stop killing black people, y'all say we have to wait and hear both sides.

I say stop killing black people, y'all say we have to let the investigation play out.

I say stop killing black people, y’all call me a cop hating faggot.

I say stop killing black people, y'all excuse the officer’s panic, but expect perfection from their victim.

I say stop killing black people, y'all find every excuse you can to justify our deaths.

Fellas, next time I say "stop killing black people," just admit it, you really don't care.

We spend a fair amount of time in my classroom talking about encounters with law enforcement. I started after the Mike Brown shooting; it generates buy-in and is relevant for my students. I use the frame of police encounters to teach about the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 14th Amendments. As a part of that teaching we do a workshop on dealing with police officers with three takeaways:

  • First, remain calm, always--even if the officer doesn’t.
  • Second, seek to disengage and end the encounter. Ask, “Am I being detained? Or am I free to go?”
  • Third, film the police.

None of this advice should be controversial, but it is--especially when coming from a black face. But, if getting called “divisive,” a “racebaiter”, an “idiot”, or a “cop hating faggot” are the price of doing business, I’m here for that work.  

Before this year is up, American police will kill another 500-600 people on our streets. We have the power to stop this: We can change use-of-force policies for local departments. We can end the capricious enforcement of petty traffic laws in order to generate municipal revenue. We can implement the common sense policy recommendations of Campaign Zero. We just have to care enough about the victims to do so.

And by we, I mean you.

Trump Persuadables: My Evolving, More Pragmatic Worldview

Introducing 2016 Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Bill Bryant to my students last month

Introducing 2016 Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Bill Bryant to my students last month

When I was young I believed in magical adults. I was taught or convinced myself that there was this circle of elite, highly-educated folks out there who knew what was going on in the world and had answers to all the complex issues. I was born at the twilight of the Carter presidency so my “discovering what is happening in the world years” were largely during the Reagan & HW Bush administrations. Admittedly, I was an odd kid; I remember revering folks like James Baker, a Republican presidential whisperer, who served in several administrations. I may not have agreed with folks like Baker on policies, but they were at least smarter than everyone I knew (or so I thought) and they had life figured out (or so I thought).

Adulthood, time, reality, the War in Iraq, the 2008 Housing Collapse, the response to Katrina, the general dysfunction of the Democratic Party, etc. have all helped to disabuse me of much of this. Moreover, over the past few years I’ve paneled and met with state school superintendents, Senators, Harvard educated fancy-folk, and a couple of billionaires. I’ve found that my mediocre high school GPA, community college attendance, and state university education often stand up well against theirs. I’ve shed my belief in the cabal of wise, magical adults. If you’re dorky enough to read this, then the answers we need to the societal questions we face are within you.

That said, I’m still an institutionalist. I believe in the power of the state and in the importance of having thoughtful folks in important roles in our society. The anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism of the Trump Moment repulse me. Throw-the-bums-out-ism may feel good, but when the national fever breaks, I think it’ll be clear: we’re better off with “statist bums” from the ideological mainstream of either party than “outsiders” who govern by cliche, white-ethno-nationalism, and authoritarian populism.

At times, I feel like I’m shifting into an early stage black Andy Rooney--I don’t think we read enough; I feel like we don’t learn lessons from history. Post-election, I’ve diversified my news line-up. I’ve made it a point to read the Sunday paper. I’ve discussed with my students the need for active rather than passive news consumption--seeking out thoughtful journalism rather than passively consuming what shows up on their timelines. Via my podcast I’m trying to have more thoughtful conversations about the interconnectedness of issues (economics, politics, education, journalism, etc.).

I have a lot of concerns about our collective future. I’m not one of those “Trump voters are all racists” or “if you voted for Trump, you’re an idiot” people. I think the vast, vast majority of Trump voters really, really hated Hillary Clinton and really, really like the idea of massive tax cuts (but not the consequences: debt and deep discretionary spending cuts). In this moment, we have to differentiate between “Trump Supporters” and “Trump Persuadables,” and folks like us have to talk to folks like them about our collective future. Oh man, twenty-five-year-old me hates thirty-seven-year-old me for writing that sentence.

To that end, I’m going on a conservative AM talk show later this month to talk about my teaching. I hosted the GOP Gubernatorial Nominee as a guest lecturer in my classroom, and I plan to have some Republican electeds on the Nerd Farmer Podcast in May. We need a more thoughtful and engaged citizenship. In this era of political polarization we need to intentionally cultivate difficult conversations across ideological lines. And people like twenty-five year-old me have to become comfortable making common cause with folks they don’t agree with on every issue.

I think too many of us are taking an “it’ll all work out” approach. I don’t buy that. There’s a non-zero probability we’re headed toward a dark, violent, less prosperous future. Recently, while discussing Russia’s democracy-in-name-only-surveillance-state, Yale Professor Timothy Snyder said that "Russia is a possible negative future for the United States.” If we don’t know, teach, and understand our history and safeguard our norms and institutions, regression becomes as likely an outcome as progress. This is how the Visigoths sacked Rome. We aren’t guaranteed a hyper-egalitarian, Star Trek Federation, techno-fabulous near-future. We have to earn that.

The Nerd Farmer Podcast: Finding My Voice, Literally

If you know me or have followed me for awhile here or elsewhere you realize my interests are varied. Obviously education is dear to me. I also love travel. I’m a political junky. I’ll talk soccer anytime, anyplace, with anyone. I view much of the world through the economic lens I developed in college (incentives, trade-offs, utility, etc). I think Americans would rather have a root canal sans anesthesia than reckon with matters of race. I’m also fascinated by the overlapping Venn Diagrams among those respective worlds: education, travel, politics, sports, economics, and race. I’ve touched on all of them in this space but have never waded as deep into the weeds as I’d like to.

Somewhere in my mom’s house is a Foss High School Yearbook where in 1997, I was named "Most likely to host their own radio talk show." My classmates were clairvoyant.

Over the next month I will be guest hosting the Move to Tacoma Podcast. Move to Tacoma is a website run my dear friend (also activist, realtor, connector-in-chief) Marguerite. I love the story of her website. She started it with good intentions: to help people looking to move to the city find info about the neighborhoods and community. However, she quickly found herself being pilloried for contributing to gentrification. Instead of getting defensive, she has made her website and show a place for tough and honest community conversations. It’s not even a show about real estate or housing anymore. It’s about a very real and very imperfect city and the people who live and work here.

I was a guest on her show late last year and enjoyed the experience. We had a spirited conversation about education, policing, race, and real estate, and we've been co-conspirators around these same matters ever since. In January, she asked me to guest-host her show for a run of episodes. I decided to do it and we’ll be pushing out episodes throughout the month of March. The first episode is up; my guests will include:

Melissa Santos, legislative reporter for the Tacoma News Tribune, talking about the current legislative session, the ongoing school funding lawsuit, and the state of local newspapers and local politics. It’s a very wonky conversation, but one that is important for our schools and community.

Dorian Waller, local political consultant and font of knowledge. We’ll talk about the upcoming municipal elections. Tacoma has four city council seats, two school board seats, and a mayor to decide on this fall, along with hiring a city manager. A lot of the usual names and faces are running, and Dorian has (flamethrower) hot takes on all of it.

Kenny Coble, a local book seller at King’s Books, burgeoning soccer fan, and soon-to-be author. Kenny is one of the most thoughtful folks I know. He’s active in the city arts scene and as a person of color, who can often pass for white, Kenny has very interesting thoughts on matters of race.

The Nerd Farmer Podcast is a go! At the end of my run hosting Move to Tacoma I'll be launching my own show. Nerd Farming is how I describe my teaching raison d'etre. As a humanities teacher, I am planting seeds of globally-aware and civically-engaged young people who will be my future neighbors, co-workers, and entrepreneurs. The podcast will be sponsored by Move to Tacoma and will be an interview show where I sit down with folks (who I think are smarter than me) and chop it up about their work and matters of justice. So far on deck we have:

The logo for the new podcast was created by a student.

The logo for the new podcast was created by a student.

 

Vanessa Hernandez, a dynamic lawyer from the ACLU. She and I will talk about civil liberties, issues involving law enforcement, immigration law, and where we could be heading under the new president. She spoke at the Teacher Town Hall we hosted last month, and I am insanely excited to kick-off the show off with her.

Claudia Rowe, an investigative reporter and education writer with the Seattle Times. She has written some of the most important investigative stories about education here in the Puget Sound over the last few years, including her blockbuster piece about racial bias in school discipline. She also recently published a book called The Spider and the Fly.

Pierce County Councilman Derek Young, a nerd among nerds, will discuss the importance of local politics and why you should stop worrying about Trump and start worrying about who is running for the state legislature. We’ll also touch on the upcoming mid-term elections and probably a bit about Clint Dempsey and the Sounders.

I’m also looking to nail down some folks to talk about the environmental issues and housing segregation. I will share about some upcoming work I may be doing in China and want to do an occasional roundtable with some of my favorite members of the local media. My goal is to use a local lens and local experts to talk about national issues. The examples may be Cascadia-centric, but the themes will be universal.

This is my next big project. After a twenty-four month whirlwind in which I represented my school and state, met with the President and Vice President, was interviewed by Bill Gates, and hosted the President of China in my classroom, I’m ready to build something. I’m ready to have some real conversations with great folks, and I invite you to join me.