A Hedge of Protection

West Indian mothers have what is commonly known as The Look. Ask any West Indian of your acquaintance if their mother had a Look (with a requisite uppercase L) and they will tell you "Yes." It matters not from where in the West Indies this person hails. If you ask about The Look, you're going to get an affirmative response. What is The Look? It is the glare that both demands and ensures compliance; it may be a stare or even a fleeting glance that ensures that a child stops doing whatever the hell it is they're doing. It's the "comply or else" look. Apparently police forces all across America also have a Look, but it means "Comply or Die".

There's a school of thought that runs thus: if those men/women/boys/girls had just complied with the lawful orders of peace officers, they would not have died. Leaving aside for the moment, any and all questions about the lawfulness of the orders; leaving aside the question of whether or not the recently dead were in fact in the process of complying; leaving aside even any consideration of whether or not the offenses the recently deceased have committed warranted execution on neighborhood streets, I'm moved to ask: are we now at a point where there are orders from peace officers with which we must comply or face death? This is where we've reached? 

Whereas with your West Indian mother you might have your a$$ handed to you on a platter, you knew you would survive to tell a funny story about "that time when" years later. No such guarantee exists with the police on Main Street America. Failure to comply when dealing with America's finest could quite easily leave you a smudge on some town's sidewalk or grassy verge, and yet another rallying cry or hashtag.

With my West Indian mama, I could be sure that to comply would be to diffuse the situation; to de-escalate shall we say? With the popo these days, even compliance doesn't ensure de-escalation, and we know too well what the end result looks like.

With a West Indian mama, you could twitch, grimace, or even though it was ill-advised and likely to bring back the full force of The Look, you could perhaps try to explain. There was no guarantee that these techniques would serve you well, but none of them would cause you to be consigned to the crossing of the chilly Jordan (river). On the other hand, any one of these behaviors in an interaction with the police can, and from time to time, does prove fatal. 

Months ago, there was an international story, of the death of a young Japanese musician while she was on a learning/performing/mas' playing trip to Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival. One of the aspects of the story that was especially unfortunate was the report of people - both men AND women - blaming the victim for her demise, because she was skimpily dressed. For those who do not know, Carnival costumes in Trinidad and Tobago are frequently skimpy. Skimpiness is par for the course in many bands. That aside though, really? We're wardrobe policing the victim?

Oddly enough, that kind of talk was very much in evidence in a feminist forum to which I belong. In response to one post, I offered that I completely understood the need to police a female victim's dress at the time of her victimization. It was, I said, perfectly reasonable. It was especially reasonable - if wholly ridiculous and inappropriate - coming from other women.

Women who engage in this policing behavior, my logic ran, are entirely rational. As women we say to ourselves, "If I dress 'decently' and I comport myself 'demurely'  (whatever these words mean) in the streets, I will not be victimized." I know this to be foolish talk but I must tell myself this on a daily basis otherwise I'd never get up the gumption to leave my house. I have to work; I have to eat; I have a family to raise. I must leave my house, so in an effort to make that possible, I will harshly judge victims so that I'm not a basket case or an agoraphobe. 

The reality of our current rash of police excessive force complaints and videos is that many of us have to justisplain  the behavior of the officers because if we don't, we'll start to feel at risk. White folk need to believe that this only happens to Black and brown folk; and Black and brown apologists need to believe that it only happens to Black and brown folk who are not like them. We all know this to be cacalaca but..... 

Hell, Tim Scott, US Senator from South Carolina, reports that he's been pulled over seven times in a single year, while in office, but we just can't give that too much juice. We have to go on, and so we'll keep telling ourselves comforting stories; we'll keep building our cute little hedges of protection.

This is the reality: we police others so as to create just enough of a wall behind which we can hide. Truth? We know it's all boolsheet. Seriously. We know this but we also know that we have to live; we have to go to the grocery; we have to work late; we have to work. Sometimes we want to go out at night, and God knows, with our broad noses and such, we just might "fit the description" as did Philando Castile. So, instead of hiding under the bed - which, frankly, I very much want to do - I, we, build these hedges of protection behind which we can 'hide', and like toddlers playing peek-a-boo, we imagine that our failure to see means we are unseen.

It's laughable really......or it would be, if it weren't so damn terrifying.


About the Author - Elle Sagar

Elle Sagar

I am a strategic thinker and problem solver. I have a knack for seeing the heart of an issue, clearing away all the noise and nonsense and hopefully making cogent arguments that go to the central issue under consideration. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try. That's a lyric from an Ella Fitzgerald song and from the songbook of my life.