The Perfect Storm: Power, Privilege, and Fear of Black Skin

“People understand officers have tough jobs and have to make snap decisions… but at the same time, they realize, we realize, that there are some officers who will occasionally use very poor judgment, violate policies and procedures and do things that are egregiously wrong.  We want to be able to stop that.”

-Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth Texas

 

“There was absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable.  The officers, they try hard every day to try to make this city better.  I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill, and if somebody comes with a hose and washes it away, they just have to start from scratch.”

-Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Kraus making an emotional appeal to the public not to judge all the officers in the department based on one officer’s actions.

 

“Black people are being targeted. With every death by cop, there is the “usual dance” of public outcry, an official investigation, an individual officer tossed under the bus by their police department, a lawsuit, and eventually a financial settlement. But nothing ever really changes. In a few months we’ll be right back where we started with another life lost.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane Psy.D. Clinical Traumatologist & Forensic Evaluator

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My Dear Beloved Readers,

I have missed you so much!

During my hiatus, I returned to Paris, France to do research on the psychological traumas inflicted on African-American soldiers during World War I by the American government, including fighting in segregated units, not being allowed to wear American uniforms and being forced to fight under the French flag.

I also had the pleasure of teaching two workshops at the Year of the Return Conference in Accra, Ghana, West Africa.  While there, I visited the infamous “Door of No Return” at Elmina Castle, one of the many holding pits for African men, women and children captured by Europeans for the Trans- Atlantic Slave trade.

Nearly 12.5 million people were kidnapped and held in these castle dungeons along the western coast of Africa. When the time came, they were made to exit through these “Doors of No Return” and taken aboard ships bound for unknown places in the New World. I was psychologically impacted by what I saw and felt as I stood frozen, clutching the “Door of No Return” with shaking hands.

However, I will give Elmina Castle the attention it deserves in a future blog. Today, I want to focus on the sleight of Hand trick that is being played upon us, right in front of our “lying” eyes. Below is a story of being duped without realizing you have been duped.

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Dear Dr. Kane,

As I write this letter to you, I am so angry.  I am a professional black man.  I am well educated.  I own my home.  I am sick and tired of the daily abuse I must take from white people.

Recently while riding the local transit to work, a young white male intentionally bumped me and begin calling me the N word several times while the bus was in transit. The passengers and bus driver, who were all white, sat silently.  I felt humiliated, angry and traumatized from the incident.

It is not uncommon for me to be followed by store staff while shopping or looked upon suspiciously even when walking in the office building that I have worked for the last ten years.  When I moved into the neighborhood, the only welcome I received was the police knocking on my door wanting proof that I lived there.

I have been questioned by neighborhood crime watchers and followed by the police. I am frightened about being shot and killed just for the error of being born black.  I now have a protocol when a police car pulls me over:  I immediately place my hands on the dashboard, ask for permission to move when needed, and I do not move until I ask permission to do so.

One cop asked me in a hostile tone why I don’t like cops.  When I told him it was not about not liking cops, rather about having fear of cops, he smiled, removed his hand from his holster, told me that I had “nothing to be afraid of,” and to “have a nice day”.  He never stated the reason he pulled me over.  I was simply in the “wrong” neighborhood, the one I live in.

Really? How am I supposed to have a nice day? Am I supposed to pretend that nothing happened?  When I tell my white coworkers about these incidents, they become quiet, seek to change the subject, or tell me that I am either overreacting or that I am too sensitive.  Some avoid me, seeing me as an “angry black man.”  One person had the nerve to tell me that she misses the “old” me.  I don’t smile anymore.

Now, there is that shooting of the black woman by a cop while she was peeking out the window blinds in her own home.  This is the second time cop has killed a black person in their home.  And this time, an eight-year-old child was present!

I am angry with white people for their ignorance, angry with black people for doing nothing about it, and I am scared of the police because they have the power to kill me and get away with it.  I don’t feel safe in my home, in my car, on the bus and out in the community.  I don’t know what to do.

I feel like lighting up the next white person that insults me.  I am considering obtaining a concealed arms permit.   My parents believe that what I am feeling is really related to today’s political climate and that this too will pass.  They disagree with me having a weapon either on me or in the house.  I have never spoken to a therapist before.  What are your thoughts?

Not a Sitting Duck,  Seattle WA

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My Dear Readers:

As I listen to this young man’s words, I see the makings of a perfect storm: he lacks power, he is frustrated by those who hold privileges that he does not, and he is reacting to those who fear black skin.  The question is whether he is about to erupt, or whether he is willing to seek the ability to have “calmness in a burning house.” I want to thank him for sharing the ongoing psychologically traumatic experiences he has been enduring.   Let’s take a moment and examine what this person is feeling as well as his response.

The writing is indicative of a person who feels powerless, frustrated and angry due to interactions with the police and being stereotyped and made “invisible” by the dominant society.  His responses are to “light up the next white person that insults him” and obtain a concealed weapons permit.

My dear readers, just imagine this scenario as a television game show.  If so, the dominant society would be shouting and applauding the host’s announcement:

“Congratulations!  You have, by your actions, have just won the grand prize known as the “Angry Black, Out of Control” Trophy. This “ABC” prize is often awarded to black people who demonstrate the inability to control their emotions.”

So, what have you won?

  1. For carrying a concealed weapon (with a license) while interacting with the police. you have won a casket and the privilege of being escorted to your final resting place by six of your closest friends, your pallbearers.
  2. For “lighting up” someone, you have won a beautiful set of jewelry (handcuffs), accommodations and meals (incarceration), opportunities to meet with local celebrities (attorney, prosecutor, judge), celebrity status (media coverage) and expensive exotic items (bail bonding, attorney/legal fees, court costs and costs for anger management courses).

Should “Not a Sitting Duck” take the actions stated?

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This is the trapdoor that many African Americans allow themselves to fall through. They allow their reactions to be the response and derail all of their own hard-fought victories and accomplishments.

The Crossroads: Playing the Game or Running the Race Smarter Not Harder

One of the takeaways I have from standing at the Door of No Return is the full understanding of the endurance and sacrifice of my ancestors.   Despite slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, domestic terrorism, and other horrors, they never gave up on life.  They became skilled in learning to play “Massa’s game,” and in doing so, were able to achieve success while others sought their destruction.

Not much since then has changed.  Despite economic, social and political achievements attained by African Americans over the last 400 years, we continue to be duped and manipulated by the dominant group.

Following the most recent police-involved shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth Texas, Eugene Robinson, columnist with the Washington Post, asked the following question:

“What can a black person do to keep from getting killed by police in this country?”

My response:

“Not a damn thing.”

What is wrong with me?  Has the doctor gone insane?

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Sleight of Hand and Our Lying Eyes

The phrase “sleight of hand” refers to the deceitful craftiness of a cleverly executed trick where the movements of the trickster are barely noticeable.  I believe the term is applicable here in that:

  1. African Americans believe they have the “power” to stop the police from killing African Americans. As the African-American community speaks; it is organized in one voice, condemning the killing of individual African-Americans.
  2. African Americans believe that the hierarchy of police department has the “power” to stop the individual police officer from killing African Americans.
  3. African Americans believe that the dominant group will break their silence and act as a group and stop the killing of African Americans.

Let’s look at these individually.

  

  1. African Americans believe they have the “power” to stop the police from killing African Americans. As the African American community speaks; it is organized in one voice, condemning the killing of individual African-Americans.

The African American community is not monolithic. It does not consider itself to be powerful, intractably indivisible, or uniform.  Its strength has been focusing on political and economic growth generally through education and social and personal accomplishments.  Its weakness has been a psychological survival mentality that is historical in nature and does not allow it to act proactively in either speaking in one voice or to protect its members from police involved shootings.

  1. African Americans believe that the hierarchy of police department has the “power” to stop the individual police officer from killing African Americans.

There are more than 18,000 police departments throughout the United States.  There is an estimated 750,000 to 850,000 sworn or commissioned officers within 18,000 federal, state and law enforcement agencies in the US.  Due to the growing numbers of agencies, overlapping and conflicts in jurisdictions, there are inconsistencies in the following areas:

  • Training & protocol
  • Hiring & retention
  • Mental health
  • Financial resources/ budgetary concerns

In an earlier quote, Fernando Costa, Assistant City Manager, Fort Worth Texas stated:

“People understand officers have tough jobs and have to make snap decisions”…”But at the same time, they realize, we realize, that there are some officers who will occasionally use very poor judgment, violate policies and procedures and do things that are egregiously wrong.  We want to be able to stop that.”

Here is the sleight of hand trick in action:

Is he really stating to the public in general and African-Americans specifically that “occasionally,” an officer will take actions that will result in the injury or death of those the officer is sworn to protect and serve? If so, how does that relate to a person being shot and killed while peeking out one’s window blinds or because the officer mistakenly entered the wrong residence?

“We want to be able to stop that.” Is he saying what he needs to say to calm angry African Americans and nervous white constituents, or is he claiming that he doesn’t have the authority or ability to stop the killing of African Americans?

In restating Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Kraus’s emotional appeal to the public not to judge all the officers in the department based on one officer’s actions:

“There was absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable.  The officers, they try hard every day to try to make this city better.  I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill, and if somebody comes with a hose and washes it away, they just have to start from scratch.”

By throwing the individual police officer involved in the shooting under the bus and seeking empathy and understanding, he is distancing himself and the overall department from responsibility!

  1. African Americans believe that the dominant group will break their silence and act as a group and stop the killing of African Americans. 

My observations and feelings about have taught me to watch carefully the trickster’s hand.  The focus on the police officer involved in the shooting is misdirected.  The focus on the policing department and its civilian oversight is also misdirected.

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So…who should we focus on?  In essence, the silence of the dominant group.

The “fear of black skin” that often is a factor in police involved shootings of African Americans is generated and reinforced by the dominant group.  There is a non-verbal and binding understanding between the police and the dominant group which commissions its officers.  That being community protection for us (the dominant group) and enforce the law upon them (African Americans and other people of color.)

As a result, now and then an officer must be sacrificed so that the police department involved can rebuild trust or, as Interim Chief Krauss states, “rebuild the anthill.” Chief Krauss adds:

“Human life is a precious thing and should not have been taken from Ms. Jefferson,” Kraus told reporters. “This incident has eroded the trust that we have built with our community and we must now work even harder to ensure that trust is restored.”

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Concluding Remarks-Dr. Kane

Mr. Hale, a black resident of Fort Worth, when questioned whether during an emergency would he call the police, stated:

“It would have to be extreme to call.  It’s too much 50/50 in the air.  It’s not that I’m scared of the police, but you just don’t know who’re going to catch on the wrong day.”

My Dear Readers,

It is a sad truth that these comments are echoed throughout many African American communities in the United States.  Once again, African Americans are allowing themselves to be deceived by the sleight of hand trickery.  Specifically, by placing the focus on the police themselves, we give the dominant group, who grants the power that is given to the police, a free pass to continue operating in the shadows of the darkness.

So, what can a black person do to avoid being killed by the police?

For black people to stop being killed by the police, black and brown skin must be valued, validated and visualized in the same way by the same people who, like the police, fear black and brown skin.

For black people to stop being killed, white people must want to explore issues of racism, privilege and implicit bias. White people must want to begin working on healing (and stop ignoring) their psychological trauma of chronic moral injury syndrome.

White silence must end, and transformation must begin. Black people are being targeted and as in police involved shooting, there will be the usual dance of public outcry, an “official investigation,” an individual police officer tossed under the bus by the police department, a lawsuit, and a financial settlement.

We will see the same photos of grieving family, pallbearers and casket with the media escalating the story. And then there will be SILENCE…. until the next time.

Chronic moral injury syndrome, white supremacy, and fear of black and brown skin only insure that there will be… A next time.”

-Dr. Micheal Kane, Facebook post,  10.15.19

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What Is Winning?

Every Black person going to sleep is not going wake up

Life is walking the landscape

If I can make it through the night

And awake up in the morning

With my loved ones safe

I win.

-Dr. Micheal Kane

 

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“They don’t hear your voice.  They just see the color of your skin”

-The Revenant (2015)

 

“Here is what it is.  They don’t like you.  They don’t dislike you.  They are afraid of you.  You’re different.  Sooner or later difference scares people.”

-The Accountant (2016)

 

Interactions with Law Enforcement-The Five R’s of RELIEF

Take a Respite (Step away emotionally)

Embrace your Reactions (Hug your feelings)

Reflect (balance your feelings and thoughts)

Respond inwards (calm the inner self)

Reevaluate (actions and behaviors)

Until the next crossroads… The journey continues…

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