On Police Brutality by Kara Ireland

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

It never comes with a trigger warning. I’m scrolling through lighthearted memes, pop culture updates, and various news sources when I learn that another person has become a hashtag. Learning that another Black life has been taken by the police never gets easier. No one teaches you how to digest such a thing, and so come the outcries. The brutalized body becomes every other image, every other tweet, every other repost. People share images and videos of someone getting the life choked out of them with a call for justice. They share someone’s last steps before they are shot to death for the sake of being outraged. They commercialize their last words and get it to trend in the name of spreading awareness. It becomes an onslaught of harmful images that saturate every platform you might go to distract yourself from the news.

And I understand it.

I understand that people need to see what’s happening to us. I understand that empathy usually doesn’t happen unless people witness it themselves. I understand that all of those murders would have been overlooked without photo and video evidence. I understand the purpose for sharing it and demanding that people look at it.

What do you do when you learn of another Black death by the hands of “law enforcement”? Because at first, I just scrolled past it; it was automatic. I couldn’t bring myself to engage it because I knew it would consume me. And if I allowed myself to become consumed by it, I would become enraged. It would be such a passionate, serious rage that would not be able to be concentrated into an essay, or a spoken word piece, or whatever temporary reprieve I might have tried to find. I’ve always thought that, that kind of rage needed to remain inaccessible to me, or else. I didn’t know what would happen next. I was scared to find out.

So I ignored it, and a piece of me died every time. I was having to choose between my mental health and my activism. For me, they are very mutually exclusive. That kind of knowledge is destructive in the sense that once you’re enlightened, you cannot comfortably go back to your blissfully ignorant way of life. You cannot turn a blind eye to it because it makes you uncomfortable. You cannot excuse covert racism because you know what it leads to. You cannot stay silent on present Black issues because when you’re aware, it’s everywhere. It’s ingrained into everything, the microaggressions are in everyone, and the anti-Blackness permeates everything. You notice, and you can’t stop noticing. And then you’re another angry Black woman — and you have the right to be.

Well, guess what? It’s consumed me, and I am enraged. Enough is enough. I’ve had so many moments of near apathy in the name of trying to preserve my mental health. I’ve been resisting commentary, resisting looking at it for too long, and resisting the coverage of it all. The recurring news flipped a switch for me. There’s something so egregious about how it continued in such rapid succession. Before, it happened in waves: Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile. One annual mass movement for a few days that dissipated with the change of the wind. It’s more palatable that way. When Ahmaud Aubrey happened, I was still silent; I said it was horrible and that we must do better, but not much else. Breonna Taylor broke my heart. George Floyd pissed me off.

After George Floyd’s murder, I wondered how I could call myself an activist when I refused to engage with the conversations dominating every news station and all of my timelines on social media. I thought, what right do I have to claim this title when I can’t bring myself to speak on it? Don’t I have anything to say?

Don’t I feel anything?

It’s easy for me to check someone at the dinner table for making bigoted remarks, or to clap back in the comment section online. It’s simple for me to tackle individual instances because I could usually pinpoint where the transgression is stemming from. But in these circumstances, when the concept is so much bigger than me and the nuances take so long to conceptualize, where do I begin? I claimed that the other murders happened with less frequency, and I knew it was a lie. I was comforted by my ignorance of the severity and disproportionate frequency because so many of them never made the news. It was so normalized that it wasn’t even considered. Once I started to confront the facts, I no longer had the choice to look away. I didn’t have the privilege of scrolling past anymore. Everything was in my face.

I know my history and I learn more every day. I’ve been reading up on systemic racism, internalized anti-Blackness, and the types of everyday microaggressions Black people face. Considering the recent events, I fear the day that I become so aware of history, and myself, that I become prejudiced against white people. That can, and often does, happen. The worst part is that it wouldn’t be completely invalid. They have been the aggressor for so long, and I’ve worn many hats in the arena.

  • I’ve been the “colorblind,” willfully ignorant mediator. Pretending not to see race contributes to the problem; befriending white people without holding them accountable for their under-the-table racism exacerbates it. I’ve since learned from that.

  • I’ve been the staunch pro-Black activist who didn’t give a damn about anyone else because my people were suffering. Having reckless and bold opinions without accountability can be dangerous. Intersectionality will never harm your movement. I’ve learned from that, too.

  • I’ve been the dejected, passive onlooker and bystander. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. Neutrality does not exist in race relations, because you are always implicitly conceding to the oppressor. Resignation helps no one. This is the latest lesson I’ve learned.

Now, I wear the tired, pro-Black, and pissed the fuck off hat; I’m ready for action. I’m educating myself by reading nonfiction books, watching documentaries, and listening to discussion panels by Black activists. Anger without a plan can just be reckless; I’m trying to fend that off. If you're angry too, find a local group that’s organizing protests, donations, and/or discourse. Figure out what needs to be done and get in on the conversations about legislative change and policy reform. Attend town hall meetings in your neighborhood. Effect change on a local level to feel a difference. Vote. Our anger can be concentrated, and it can look like this.

Kara Ireland is a contributing writer for BSW Chronicles. You can find out more about her by following her on Instagram @kelisebooks.

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