Driving While Black: A Certain Route to Death

Untitled1If you’re driving while Black, your time is limited. So savor the comforting voice of your partner, the tiny fingers of your newborn child, the beauty of the trees in the summer light, and the sweet anticipation that comes with heading home—you may never make it there.

And your life will end prematurely and unjustly not because of a sudden car accident, but because some white supremacist police officer may blow your brains out as you sit behind the wheel of your car or take you to a prison where you will meet a mysterious and lonely end. All of this will happen to you, and the mob labeled as law enforcement will seek to cover up what really happened. And in covering up the circumstances of your death, they may as well just throw your body into the river, because hiding the truth is the ultimate form of disrespect to a life already stolen.

To pretend you were the criminal when indeed you were the victim—even when you have passed out of this world—is the embodiment of evil.

This is the kind of evil that terrifies Satan.

After all of this bloodshed, how are your loved ones expected to grieve fully and completely when you weren’t suppose to die? Why are they expected to let you go, when your death came at them like a stab in the dark?

Tragically, all of this is not an extract from a fictional horror story; this is the reality of driving while Black in America.

Sandra Bland, 28, died in police custody after being violently arrested for allegedly failing to use a turn signal. Three days after her arrest Bland was found dead in a Texas county jail. Autopsy results suggest Bland committed suicide, but her family and friends are disputing this. Indeed, Bland was due to start a new job at Prairie Valley A&M University in Texas.

Samuel DuBose, 43, was shot by a University of Cincinnati police officer, 25-year-old officer Ray Tensing. DuBose was shot after being stopped for allegedly having a missing front license plate. At the time of his death, DuBose was unarmed and posed no threat to police. It has emerged that officer Tensing, along with other responding officers, fabricated their accounts of the circumstances surrounding DuBose’s death.

Significantly, the deaths of Black people following traffic stops aren’t anything new. In May, 31-year-old Sam Matthew Holmes was shot dead by an officer after being pulled over for speeding. Reports suggest that the officer was dragged for some distance before shooting Holmes. Similarly, 29-year-old Charles Leon Johnson II was fatally shot during a traffic stop back in July 2014. There are reports that the officer was allegedly dragged along the road by Johnson who tried to escape the traffic stop. Of course, with the awareness that police reports are at times fabricated, questions remain about the facts surrounding these cases.

As a Ghanaian who was born in London, and now living in New York City, I am terrified of the police and will not call on them if I’m in trouble. And just because I don’t drive, it doesn’t mean I’m protected from police brutality and violence.

There are too many activities that result in death for Black people—praying, walking, sleeping, shopping, and driving to name just a few. Death as a consequence of driving while Black is directly related to America’s affiliation with an elaborate system of white supremacy.

Within this system, police officers clump Black people into categories that not only see them labeled as “criminal” or “dangerous,” but also render them subhuman. In this way, Black people are dehumanized and their lives are considered of lesser value in comparison to white lives. The devaluing of Black life fuels the engine of white supremacy, which intentionally mows over Black people killing them in the name of the law. Consequently, families and whole communities are destroyed.

White supremacy allows members of the “boys club” to cover up or embellish stories to ensure no member is expelled. Activists behind the Black Lives Matter Movement and similar movements are challenging the false labeling and dehumanization of Black people. They want greater transparency and accountability within police departments, and quite rightly so. These movements aim to dismantle the current system of white supremacy because Black people deserve to live freely with access to basic human rights.

The indictment of officer Tensing, who murdered Sam DuBose in broad daylight, doesn’t induce me to sit back in my chair, unbuckle my belt, and put my feet up.

There is more work to be done.

Dubose’s death demonstrates the corruption and racism that is embedded within police departments. His death along with the other senseless deaths suffered by Black people, tells us that reform will not be enough. Introducing body cameras and other bandages are only effective if those bestowed with the responsibility of using them have a conscience and integrity. At the moment, we have members of law enforcement who are intent on terrorizing Black communities by flexing their muscles and revealing their massively inflated egos during traffic stops. We have bandits with guns who act wild and crazed, and they are the ones selected to protect us.

Many Black men attempt to escape traffic stops because they fear death or incarceration. Indeed, an unarmed Walter Scott, 50 attempted to flee a traffic stop, but was shot while running away by Michael Slager, 33, who at the time was a North Charleston police officer. Slager has since been indicted on a murder charge for the fatal shooting of Scott. Once again, the video evidence associated with the murder of Scott did not correspond with police reports.

Clearly, current systems should be abolished and we must begin again, from scratch—evil doesn’t disappear just because we change its outward appearance.

As Malcolm X said, “If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn’t even begun to pull out the knife.”

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