Not to be an alarmist, but—
What is a police state? I used to think of it as working like it did in Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm: the redefinition of common words (and hence the laws) coming from the top down. But if the police, at the lowest rungs of the authority ladder, get to do what they’ve been doing to (mostly) black people lately, it makes me very, very afraid. Hitler couldn’t have done what he did without the apathy and acquiescence of the German people. And now that we see a video of a mundane traffic stop, where the driver (Sandra Bland) is upset and made increasingly more upset by the cop’s ridiculous (and mostly illegal) demands, I can just imagine that the response of millions of white Americans is, “She should have done what he told her to do.” Now, think about that. We theoretically have rights. But try to exercise them, and if you piss off a guy with a badge, a gun, and an easily bruised ego, your rights don’t mean shit. And now, if police don’t know the law, you have no 4th amendment rights, sayeth the Supreme Court.
AIDS activists used to say, “Silence = death.” Now it seems that disobedience to the police, for any reason, = death. This is dangerous precedent. Young black men are shot dead because they’re seen to be dangerous. Now a young black woman is dead in police custody because she didn’t abjectly comply with an enraged cop’s phony commands. What will it take for us to stop blaming the victim and stop treating police like judge, jury, and executioner? The Patriot Act is scary enough, because “terrorism” is the buzzword and the excuse for any governmental action. But now this low-level encounter—a traffic stop!— between a citizen and an armed authority also ends in death. So long after slavery, blacks may be “free,” but increasingly they’re treated like criminals for no reason. And the rest of us self-righteously jump on and exclaim, “She or he should have just complied!” As the German pastor Martin Niemöller said, in part, ” … they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Please, stop and think about it, when you hear yourself thinking, “But she wouldn’t get out of the car!” “But he ran!” “But he may have stolen something!” “But he was big for a high schooler!” None of these things warrants the death penalty. Try a little empathy, it goes a long way.