June 1, 2020

Reform is not the Answer to Police Shootings

1048 Peralta Street, Oakland CA

I’m a white man who reported on the murder of an unarmed deaf-mute black man by the Los Ageless Police Department (LAPD) in 1997. I was a reporter for the LA Weekly and assigned to cover the shooting. The victim, Kelvin Robinson, was a 33-year old deaf-mute father of 5. Witnesses say there was no gun, police said there was. Friends and family said Kelvin never carried a gun, he wasn’t like that.

People in lower economic neighborhoods congregate at local corner stores. I used to own a home on the 1100 block of Peralta Street in West Oakland, across the street and down a few doors from the last headquarters of the Black Panthers and 2-doors down the street from the Family Market corner store. I lived there for nearly 10-years and twice experienced the blood of shooting victims on my hands while on my knees searching for a pulse and on the phone with 911.

Corner of Peralta and 12th Streets, Oakland CA

I’ll never forget my first visit to the store. I was home cooking while listening to Angela Davis on KPFA and needed something at the last minute. As I turned left out my gate, I could see there was a crowd like most days, people focused around the register and then spilling out onto the sidewalk as they socialized. I approached and the crowd parted like I was Moses. It was a startling experience that immediately made me realize how complex it was for me to be living in this neighborhood. It was the beginning of my education.

Gathering at the corner store is a social thing and makes congregants sitting ducks for roaming police. This is why a majority of cocaine arrests/convictions are against black people when the majority of cocaine in consumed by white people – it’s easy to roll up on a corner store and throw people against the wall without cause. It’s also easy to film for the evening news. Compare this to the white Wall Street executive whose white dealer arrives at the office in a coat and tie carrying a briefcase. When was the last time you saw that on the evening news?

On the day of Kevin’s death, LAPD rolled up on a corner store at Compton and East 42nd where Kevin and others who knew him were socializing. When Kevin saw the LAPD coming, he and his fellow deaf-mute friend, Raymond, started walking away. Raymond was pushing a bicycle. LAPD got out of their vehicle and shouted for Kevin and Raymond to stop. The crowd started shouting at the officers that the men were deaf and couldn’t hear the order to stop. Police ran after the 2-men with weapons drawn.

Kevin was shot dead in the back. Nobody but family and friends cared. My article was published but no LAPD officer was ever disciplined. There was no public outrage.

I tell this story today in response to all the white righteous indignation at the murder of George Floyd. This man was not murdered just because of a single officer at this singular point in time. He was murdered because our society has allowed this to go on since the beginning of slavery. We white people, those of us with the power to change the laws, politicians and law enforcement, have done little to nothing. It is those of us who control socioeconomic privilege that are responsible.

To this we add gasoline to the flames by conducing never-ending wars that drain the economy by the siphoning-off of resources to defense contractors, bankers and politicians (Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) is married to a defense contractor while sitting on the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence). We then hire those troops returning home from the slaughter of civilians overseas to serve as US police officers.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech at the Riverside Church on 4 April 1967 in New York City where I was first exposed to this line of thinking:

For it occurs to me that what we are submitting [US troops] to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

The solution to inequity is not reform of an inequitable system born of slavery. Corruption and exploitation are the driving force of our economy and politics. Our system is not broken, it’s doing what it is designed to do, exploit the majority for the sake of the few.

The new writing game, Lingua Galaxiae, (ages 16 and up) looks at language as a human system so that players are equipped with the tools necessary to design/build/manage new human systems. Systems built from the ground-up can have whatever mission statement the designers want. If we want a socioeconomic system that is free of exploitation, we can have it. We just need to realize this is possible and then wrest control away from those who favor the status quo.

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