Re: Favorite Policeperson
Attn: Curtis Hayden, Editor of the Sneak Preview publication
Dear Mr. Hayden,
In the past twelve months, our country has experienced monumental shifts. This historical period is marked by the sheer gravity of concurrent traumas intersecting on societal, local, and personal levels. Talent and Phoenix were gutted by the Almeda Fire, with hundreds still left homeless, food insecure, and traumatized. No corner of our country is beyond the isolating, violating, and lethal grasp of the COVID pandemic. And, wherever the sun shines in America, the shadow, the plague, and the brutality of white supremacy is evident and thriving.
This letter is a response to your recent Favorite Policeperson lead-in, in which you provided an “anecdotal” statement about citizen treatment by the police from your white perspective. You candidly quipped that “police all over the country are getting a bad rap these days.” On the day this issue of Sneak Preview arrived at my house, Patrick Warren, a Black pastor in Texas, unarmed and experiencing a mental episode in his own home, was shot and killed by police within two minutes of their arrival at his house. The police were responding to a call from the family for mental health support. Five weeks before that, police shot and killed Casey Goodson as he unlocked the door to his apartment, coming home from a dental appointment. And, of course, the senseless murder of George Floyd that ignited an antiracism movement.
You continued by stating, “In all my dealings with policemen (and women) over the last [four or five] decades, I have never once run into one who was being unreasonable or aggressive.” THIS, Curtis, is precisely the point of the outcry for law enforcement reform, exposing the entrenched white supremacism of policing, and #defundthepolice. Your statement invalidates the multiple realities that others experience, realities that for you and I end with a racing heartbeat, and for bodies of color end with incarcerated or dead family members.
You and I, as white men of privilege living in a patriarchal society, would be, quite possibly, the last humans to receive the ferocious, violating, molesting treatment that millions of American BIPOC brace themselves for every time they leave the safety of their home. In the case of Breonna Taylor, even being inside her home wasn’t safe at all. The case of Breonna Taylor, murdered by police in her sleep in her own bed, presents in clarity the all-encompassing, all-enveloping, invasive totality of white supremacy in American policing. Innocent and asleep in your own bed assures you of nothing, not even waking up.
Your lead-in continues.
“That’s not to say that those who lose control and forget what their job is should not be held legally responsible for some unnecessary violence or death. Some people just aren’t meant to be cops, and there needs to be a more stringent hiring practice. For example, if they take a psychological test and answer, “If I don’t get the right amount of sleep, I sometimes lose control and want to kill the first person I see” … well, we might want to deny that application.”
Parodying police brutality is dangerous and harmful. Singling out the actions of individual cops while ignoring systemic plight suggests that racism can exist, and not exist, from one person to another. This distracts us from the reality that America is rooted in white supremacist ideals, and its policing is part of an entire system that is designed to uphold those ideals.
We must do better, every day—especially white men like you and me. Black lives depend on it; Indigenous lives depend on it; Latinx lives depend on it; Asian lives depend on it. The protection of all bodies of color depends on it. We can start by taking the implicit bias test from Harvard and start to recognize what we cannot sense or see. We can ask (and have Walida Imarish answer), “Why aren’t there more Black people in Oregon?” We can listen to Seeing White, read “How to Be an Antiracist,” join a Me and White Supremacy book group, and take workshops with Robin DiAngelo. These may be the stepping stones, but the real change has to happen inside us, in our bodies, unearthing, witnessing, and naming the deeply rooted systemic nature of white supremacy. We must then take that into action. We must call out racism when we see it, break from white solidarity in support of BIPOC, and stand next to and behind social justice movements. And, we must have these difficult conversations in white spaces about race, white supremacy, and how we are all on the spectrum of racism. Antiracism is not salvation for white people but a life-long commitment to pushing the needle towards equity, an effort sustained through individual persistence, collaboration, and community action.
Curtis, I invite you to join me on this journey. Let’s start with Sneak Preview joining Rogue Food Unites as members of the Southern Oregon Antiracist Business Coalition because if they’re not antiracist businesses, what are they? As a fellow author, I am familiar with the power of language. As a publisher, your voice can comfort and support, challenge and disrupt, and perpetuate harm. Relearning the gravity of our words, as they leave our white bodies and land on bodies of color, will be part of our process together.
Accountability is key to recognizing our harmful role. This public repair can begin with you publishing an apology to all who’s alternate experiences at the hands of police were silenced through the statement you issued. I am also calling on the officers mentioned in your piece to give their own statements on this matter, acknowledging your statement’s harmful impact.
It is time for us to pause, reflect, and commit to change, as a community and as white individuals. These moments will bring us together through loving accountability and support, recognizing how bound we are to each other within this system we were born into and how together we can help to dismantle it.
Rogue Food Unites