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57 year old Darnell Thomas Wicker has been shot to death by the Louisville Metro Police Department. Supposedly he was waving a weapon around. According to the police, they told him to drop the weapon, Wicker advanced, and they shot him multiple times.
This story is all to familiar. Black man meets police, black man dies.
Cut to two days ago, when a white man met the police, and another familiar narrative happened. Cody Curry A 24 year old white man, actually fired a weapon inside a restaurant, and had two other guns hidden on him. Yet when police showed up to arrest him…he lived. The repeated performance of race in America takes physical shape here in this scenario. The black person is treated as an immediate threat ands murdered, while the white person is given the space of humanity and dealt with wearing kid gloves.
I have recently been in a twelve week conversation with multiple members of the Louisville Metro Police Department. I took part in a citizens police academy where we had weekly talks with officers over their job duties, police procedures and recent shootings. Like other cities, Louisville has its fair share of black people murdered by police. We had some difficult and tense conversations when it came to the force continuum, and use of force, and their standard operating procedures. For the most part it seemed that the officers I spoke to were taking in my objections to the unequal treatment of people of color by police seriously and didn’t defend poor and racially problematic choices. There was some push back from a few, but it seemed like progress was being made. This I believe is due greatly in fact to the push from the top, Chief Steve Conrad, who has made it his mission to increase community policing. He walks around neighborhoods to get to know the people he is serving. This is not to stay things have been magically fixed in Louisville. I believe my above example highlights how unequal the police treatment is when it comes to black and white men in Louisville. However Steve Conrad is pushing hard to implement changes to hearts and minds among the force it seems. he wants people not to be afraid of the police. I spoke to him about the Darnell Wicker shooting, and an investigation underway, he couldn’t say much, but he did express (in essence) that there are problems with what was seen on that tape. A conversation is a start, a positive one.
Where I feel in the middle now is this trouble I seem to be facing from my own liberal side now. Some of my fellow activists see me as a sell out because I am talking to police. But isn’t that what all of our protesting is for? Isn’t the point to get the police to listen to our demands and make changes to stop the killing of black life? To make black lives matter to people who don’t understand, we have to get them to the table. I have marched, I have written for police accountability and I have done my part to create that tension Dr. King spoke of. However I still say all of that is meant to support what I am now able to do- namely sit down and have a sane, civil conversation with police officers.
I refuse to say I am a sell out because I now am starting to form the relationships needed with police officers that might actually get them to stop and think before they shoot another black person on sight. I certainly don’t let any officer I speak to off the hook, I simply don’t punch them in the face with slogans and stats now before they open their mouths. I actually listen to what they have to say, which opens the space to have a conversation where I can counter them. Save any rebuttal about respectability politics. I am not espousing those. I know Dr. King was shot in a suit holding a PhD.
So what am I saying here? Do I want folks to stop protesting? HELL NO. We need them. I just want to express that we need as many black folks in the room where it happens (thanks Hamilton) as we do folks throwing rocks from the outside. I don’t need pats on the back from my community, but I wish I got as many now that I am having real conversations with police, as I did when I was walking up and down the street screaming…
I will critique the LMPD where and when it is warranted, but when someone does right by my community, I will recognize it.
Chief Conrad is attempting to do right by putting structures in place to encourage his officers to follow suit.