Police Brutality Is Not A New Problem

By now, you may have heard about a recent incident in Salt Lake City where SLC Detective Jeff Payne arrested University of Utah Hospital RN Alex Wubbels when she refused to allow him to take a blood sample from an unconscious victim of a car crash, because Payne didn’t have the consent of the victim, probable cause, or warrant needed by law and hospital policy to allow him to take a blood sample. It’s been all over the news, with many people up in arms about how Payne treated Wubbels, who has been hailed as a hero for standing up against the police in defense of her patient.

I’ve seen so many reactions from white people who are horrified and shocked. “OMG how could this have happened?” “I can’t believe a cop would treat a nurse this way, she was just following the law and the rules.” etc. etc. etc.

Now. Before we go any further, I want to make this clear: what Payne did was wrong. He was out of line to try to take that blood sample, and he was out of line to arrest Wubbels and to treat her the way he did.

But I have to ask: why are we surprised that it happened?

This incident didn’t occur in a vacuum, and it didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s not unprecedented at all. Police brutality is not a new problem. Police brutality has been a problem for pretty much since police first became a Thing, and it’s been pretty bad and been in the news a lot lately, with a whole movement aimed at bringing attention to the issue and trying to raise awareness and work for change, accountability, and awareness, we (white people) just usually don’t listen. What’s the difference?

Alex Wubbels is white.

POC have been talking to us for a while now about the police brutality they face. There have been countless news stories about POC heartlessly killed by police. Ironically, many of the same people outraged by Payne’s treatment of Wubbels are usually on the side of the police when we hear that they’ve taken yet another life. “Well, that person should have just gone along with what the police told them to do and then they’d still be alive.” “The police probably were afraid for their lives.” “Always do what the police say. I don’t have any sympathy for people who don’t do what the police say and then get in trouble.” “Why are you crucifying the police? We need to wait for all the details.” “You’re only looking at one side of things, why aren’t you looking at all sides of the story?” “I’m sure they had good reason.” But now that it’s a white woman, suddenly it’s ok to be outraged without needing to be worried about the cop’s feelings?

Hmmmmmmm…..

Police brutality is a very real problem. We have allowed police to basically do whatever they want to POC and we refuse to hold them accountable, we justify and excuse them and their behavior. We perpetuate this culture of toxic white supremacy and abuse of power. Frankly, I’m pretty short on patience for my fellow white people who want to clutch their pearls at what happened to Wubbels after basically giving the police a pass to do whatever they want without facing any repercussions. We sit here and basically tell them that it’s ok to enact violence on the people they’re supposedly sworn to protect, serve, and defend all the time. Yeah, eventually it’s going to happen to one of us, and we don’t have a whole lot of room to be shocked.

When I hear the discussions about Payne arresting Wubbels, you know what I think?

She’s lucky to be alive, and it’s probably because of how she looks.

You know who’s not still alive?

Rekia Boyd.
Sandra Bland.
Aiyana Stanley-Jones.
Tanisha Anderson.
Malissa Williams.
Yvette Smith.
Shereese Francis.
Tarika Wilson.
Kathryn Kohnston.
Alberta Spruill.
Kiwi Herring.
Charleena Lyles.

And so many more. This is not a comprehensive list of WOC killed by police.

If you’re truly shocked and upset by what happened to Wubbels, but you weren’t upset by what happens to POC at the hands of police, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself why that is. Then you need to ask yourself why you didn’t listen to the POC who tried to tell you that police brutality is a problem.

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My Kind of Love

Sometimes people ask me “Esther, why are you so outspoken? Why can’t you just talk about love? Why can’t you just love?”

Oh, but I am. Being outspoken in the face of injustice *is* love.

Here’s the thing. Love takes many different forms. It looks different ways at different times for different people.

Love looks like a gentle word to a friend who is hurting. It looks like taking a meal to a family dealing will illness or injury. It looks like a hug for a little one having a nightmare at 2am. It looks like donating money to a loved one in need. It looks like a handmade scarf for a friend who has moved to a cold place and is homesick, sending flowers to a loved one going through a difficult time, traveling to be with a family member or close friend who’s about to have a baby, and listening quietly to a loved on who is in pain. It looks like driving someone to doctor’s appointments, watching a friend’s child for an OB appointment or while they’re in class, and visiting a friend who’s in the hospital unexpectedly and taking them toiletries and a change of clothes.

Love also looks like protesting racism and police brutality, participating in marches against systemic and institutional injustice, calling your Congresspeople and asking them to fight against Executive Orders that are unconstitutional and harmful to vulnerable people and asking them to vote against unqualified Cabinet nominees who stand to do a lot of damage, and mobilizing fellow USAmericans to also call their Congresspeople towards the same end (and helping them find the right individuals and contact info to be able to do so). It looks like participating in protests against bans on refugees and immigrants based on their religion/skin color/country of origin, donating money to organizations working to help the refugees and immigrants being unjustly targeted and detained, and volunteering your services as an attorney pro-bono to those same refugees, immigrants, and organizations. Love looks like speaking up about the school to prison pipeline, systemic and institutional racism in schools, and funding organizations helping the citizens of Flint, Michigan who still don’t have clean water because “the government doesn’t have the money to help them” (but we totes have billions of dollars to build a wall that will do nothing to improve national security and serves to accomplish nothing good and much bad). Love looks like using your privilege to speak up and raise awareness about LGBTQphobia and the violence faced by transgender people, especially trans women of color. It looks like holding the feet of your elected officials to the fire when they try to take away healthcare protections for vulnerable members of society, speaking out against anti-semitism, and pushing back against ableism and the mocking of disabled people. It looks like calling out hate speech. Love looks like calling a spade a spade and not letting people hide their prejudice and bigotry behind “religious freedom” while they try to strip civil rights – INCLUDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM – from marginalized people. Love looks like saying “No, it’s not ok to ignore our history of racism, genocide, and colonization while making heroes out of men like Christopher Columbus”. It looks like being aware of the white supremacy and racism historically present in feminism among white women.

“But… Jesus was love. You should be trying to be more like Jesus.”

That’s precisely what I’m doing. Jesus did indeed preach love… Jesus preached love for EVERYONE. Jesus didn’t just preach love for people who looked like Him (and, by the way, Jesus didn’t look like a white European dude with blue eyes and blonde hair, Jesus was a Middle Eastern man [and was NOT a Christian] and, quite frankly, probably looked more like the refugees we’re now turning away than like me or most white USAmerican politicians who are supporting the new President). Jesus preached love for all people. Jesus preached compassion for *everyone*, not just people with the same belief system or the “right” nationality.

Yes, sometimes Jesus’ words were gentle and soft.

And sometimes, Jesus’ words were… less so. I doubt that His “You brood of vipers” and “whited sepulchers” speeches were seen as very nice by the recipients. And in answer to the question “What Would Jesus Do?”, sometimes, Jesus would get a whip and knock over some tables, and I have a sneaking suspicion that if Jesus were here now, He’d already be going to town on the people perpetuating atrocities in His name.

Love doesn’t just look one way. Love can be uncomfortable, blunt, and outspoken. Love can be loud, passionate, and fierce. Love is not just words. Love is action. So if you tell me “I love people” but you’re not backing it up with your actions? That’s not the Christlike love you tell yourself it is.

I’m loud and outspoken because that’s how Jesus loved and loves me. I’m passionate because that’s how I was created, it’s who I am. I cannot say in one breath that I love God, and then sit back and be quiet in the face of injustice. Love, for me, in this time and place, looks like protests, activism, awareness, education, pushback, and advocacy. And if you try to stand in the way of my love for my friends and family, my love for my fellow human beings who are threatened by injustice and bigotry, I won’t be okay with that.

My love is not silent in the face of injustice. It is a fierce roar.

wwjdwhip

PTSD Is Not Weakness

CW: A Certain POTUS Candidate Whom I Refuse To Name (I don’t care to contribute to his trending), suicide, mental health, depression, PTSD.
 
I have no intentions of weighing in by responding directly to/on POTUS Candidate Racist McFerretwig’s recent remarks about soldiers with PTSD. Not because I don’t think it’s important. Not because it doesn’t have me all sorts of angry. Quite the opposite. So why not? It hits too close to home. And, quite frankly, this whole year (but especially the last 6 or so months) has been REALLY difficult in a multitude of ways, some of which I haven’t even talked about publicly. Lately, I haven’t been in a good place (no I’m not suicidal, just not in a good place) and I don’t have the emotional energy to watch his remarks or even to read them to be able to weigh in.
 
Instead of talking about that walking travesty,, I want to talk more generally about depression, PTSD, and suicide.
I’d like to start with a few facts.
1. Anyone can have PTSD, it’s not limited to combat vets, servicemembers, or severe trauma.
2. PTSD is a legitimate health issue.
3. PTSD is not a sign of weakness or the result of doing something wrong, sinning, not praying enough, etc.
 
Now. Even though PTSD can affect anyone, not servicemembers, I’d like to focus on veterans with PTSD.
 
Did you know that on average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide? I’m not suicidal, but I understand all too well how people – including veterans and their dependents – can get to that point. And unfortunately, most of what’s out there and geared towards suicide prevention, including from the military, is there to help when people reach the crisis point. We need more aimed at preventing people from hitting the crisis point, which means helping veterans earlier on, whether it’s earlier detection and treatment of PTSD/depression/etc., helping prevent really crappy situations from reaching a certain level, helping prevent unjust situations in the first place, and so on. A big part of that is that we need more conversations about PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues, we need an increase in education and awareness, because those are a huge part of combatting stigma. And when it comes to servicemembers, veterans, and their family members, the stigma that is out there can all too often play a very large role in keeping them (us) from reaching out for help (including before hitting the crisis point). This means we need to be careful how we talk about mental health, depression, PTSD etc. NOT saying “that’s weakness”. NOT saying that people who commit suicide are *insert derogatory statements here*. NOT joking about suicide, NOT making light of these issues. It means trying to make sure we are a safe person to talk to, and that people know we’re a safe person to talk to. It means that when you hear someone saying this crap and perpetuating stigma, you call them on it and have a conversation about the realities of PTSD, etc.
 
PTSD, depression, suicide, and mental health issues in general are no joke and they’re not a joking matter.
 
If you or someone you know need help, please feel free to message me. I’d also like to include some other links to resources that may be of assistance.
 
This link is to the Crisis Text Line (in case you’re more comfortable texting instead of talking on the phone). 
 
Military OneSource Provides a number of different types of support and resources. 
 
This link is to the Veterans Crisis Line
 
If you/your spouse are in the military, you can contact the MFLC (Military & Family Life Counselor) for your installation. If you need help finding their info, contact me and I’ll help you figure it out. ACS or your unit should also be able to help you get this info, and you don’t have to tell them why or for whom you need it.
 
For military/dependents, Chaplains may also be an option.
 
If you have TriCare, you may find this link helpful. It’s a post I wrote for Postpartum Progress about getting help for PPMD as a military spouse, but a lot of the information is relevant to this post. 
 
If you’re having a rough time, please reach out. You don’t have to go through this alone. If someone you know is having a rough time, PLEASE reach out so they know they don’t have to go through it alone. It can make a huge difference. Reaching out literally saves lives.
 
I won’t get into all the reasons why this is so important to me, besides to say that I’ve been there. After my first baby was born, I had 2 hospitalizations courtesy of Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders dragging me down into a really dark place. I almost didn’t make it out alive, but I did. In large part, I made it out because of people who reached out to me, and people who responded with love when I reached out. If you’re that person and in that place, know this: you matter, it’s NOT hopeless, you are loved, and the world is a better place because you’re in it.

On Being a “Good Ally”: It’s Not About You

Today, let’s talk about being good allies/co-conspirators with oppressed/marginalized communities.

If you want to be a good ally/co-conspirator, realize that it’s not about you. Being a good ally/co-conspirator is not about getting cookies, accolades, praise, awards, and attention. It’s not about getting patted on the back because you’re so brave to speak up for what’s right and fighting against the oppression of human beings. It’s not about recognition and warm fuzzies. If those things are your motivation, you’re doing it wrong and you need to sit down and take a good hard look at yourself and rethink your methods. You probably need to sit down, be quiet, and listen. I know that it’s hard to accept criticism. I know it’s uncomfortable. TRUST me, I am intimately familiar with that discomfort. But instead of getting defensive and continuing to make it about you and why the people you claim to want/try to be an ally/co-conspirator with are so mean and you’re so hurt, stop and sit with your discomfort. Look deep within yourself and ask “WHY do I have such a negative reaction to the people I claim to want to be an ally/co-conspirator with/to/for calling me out on the ways I’m causing them further pain?”. Chances are very good that if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll find that your discomfort shines a light on a shadow of privilege and problematic behavior/thought patterns/beliefs/etc. And once you have seen that mess for what it is, you can start to weed it out.

And keep in mind that no matter how uncomfortable you are (whether it’s discomfort due to being called out by the people you claim to want to be an ally/co-conspirator to, or discomfort because of angry reactions from the people being confronted with their own problematic behaviors), keep in mind that your pain and discomfort is not equal and comparable to the pain and discomfort faced by the people you claim to want to be an ally/co-conspirator to. Example: let’s say there’s a man who says he wants to be an ally to feminists because he recognizes that sexism and misogyny are still very much alive and active institutionally and systematically as well as on individual levels. Let’s call him Bob. Bob, on a regular basis, speaks up about and against sexism and misogyny, to include calling other men out when they say and do sexist and misogynistic things. Bob is open about his support of feminists. Bob probably shares posts from websites and FB pages that promote intersectional feminism and from a variety of individual feminists in an attempt to signal boost their voices. Eventually (possibly sooner rather than later), people (probably mostly men) start lashing out at Bob. “HOW DARE YOU say sexism is a thing. How DARE YOU share that terrible #YesAllWomen hashtag. NOT ALL MEN!!!! OMG why are you divisive? You’re such a fucking idiot, Bob, and I don’t care who in the family I offend. Half the family has you blocked from their newsfeeds because you’re so offensive. You’re the one being sexist by saying this stuff.” and that’s probably just the tame responses. Over time, Bob gets more and more pushback. Bob probably loses some friends. Bob may even have family members who lash out, talk about him behind his back, block him, etc. People say some very hurtful things to Bob.

Bob’s pain is very real. It sucks to have people lash out at you when you speak up for what’s right, especially when it’s people who claim to love you and have previously claimed to just LOVE how passionate you are about your advocacy for other people and for doing what is right (but that’s only when your cause doesn’t make them uncomfortable by confronting their sexism/racism/LGBTQ antagonism, Islamaphobia, white supremacy, etc.). Bob is perfectly justified in being hurt and upset that his loved ones treat him like this. But even though Bob is in pain, Bob needs to realize that the pain he feels and the discomfort he feels due to negative reactions to his allyship is NOT the same as the pain experienced by women due to institutional and systemic oppression and marginalization on top of the same on an individual level. The pushback he gets for speaking up is NOT the same as the lived experiences of women, and he should not compare the two and try to put them on the same level. Bob needs to understand that speaking up is a choice that he makes, and he can choose to step back if he needs a break, whereas women don’t get to step back from being a woman when exhaustion hits because they’ve been living under the oppression since birth. Bob still has his male privilege and the privilege of taking a breather if he chooses/needs to.

This example applies far more generally, not just to men trying to be feminist allies. If you’re trying to be an ally with members of a marginalized/oppressed group, you DO NOT get to compare any discomfort/pain you experience with the pain and lived experiences of people who are members of that group. Being an ally and experiencing angry reactions from people who are unhappy having their privilege and problematic/oppressive behavior and words called out is not the same as experiencing the oppression experienced by the people you want to ally with. Your lived experience is not and will never be the same as theirs. Being an ally doesn’t make you a member of the community, and trying to say it does and force your way in takes space away from the people who actually do belong to that community, and that’s not ok. It’s not ok for Bob to go into a feminist space and make the feminist space about him, and then get angry and lash out at women who say “Dude, not cool, not ok, BTW you’re mansplaining too now and you’re being condescending and talking over me, and you’re being a crappy ally. Stop it.” It’s not ok for Bob  to go into what are supposed to be safe spaces for women and make those spaces about him. It’s not ok for Bob to take space away from the women who need it.

As a cis-gender woman and feminist, I can say that I don’t expect male allies to get their allyship with feminism right the first time. I realize there’s a learning curve, and that we are all growing and progressing as we move through life. I’m certainly not perfect, and I have made mistakes in my attempts to be an ally, and I will again in the future. That’s one reason I know that sitting with your discomfort can help you learn and grow, and reacting defensively and closing off your ears while insisting you’re right does the opposite, and can drive away the people you claim you want to help, and can mark you as not being a safe person. Being open to listening and learning, realizing you’re not perfect and you will ALWAYS have more to learn and more growing to do, is vital.

If you want to be a good ally, if you want to do the right thing by standing up for what’s right and using your privilege to speak up against oppression, that’s great. Realize that that’s going to come with discomfort and pain. Doing the right thing often does. When you get criticism and pushback from the people you’re trying to be an ally/co-conspirator with, stop and listen, and try to determine how you can apply it to your life. Don’t compare your discomfort with the pain caused by systemic oppression. Remember, it’s not about you. If you’re making it about you, something is wrong and you need to step back, sit down, be quiet, and listen.

Who’s Really Disrespecting the Flag?

CW: This post discusses racism, police brutality, the killing of People of Color by “law enforcement”.

 

kaepernick-knee

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, my social media feeds have been full of discussions about Colin Kaepernick and his choice to take a knee during the National Anthem as a form of protest against injustice, racism, and police brutality. I’ve seen a lot of people crying foul and complaining about how disrespectful he’s being to the flag, to the Anthem, to the United States of America, to USAmerican Servicemembers and veterans, etc. I’ve had some thoughts simmering about this topic and I want to share them, specifically for my fellow white people, especially those who feel like Kaepernick is being disrespectful. And please keep in mind, I say this as someone who is a veteran of the US Army, who is the spouse of a combat veteran who is in the process of transitioning out of the US Army, and who has a number of other relatives and close friends in various branches of the US military. I’ve spent a lot of time around the military, on installations, and thinking about what the military and our oaths as servicemembers stand for and about what constitutes respect and honor for the country and the flag. (I don’t think that makes me better than anyone, I just wanted to preemptively put that out there since people tend to assume I have no connections to the military and try to tell me “soldiers/vets/their spouses/families think/feel blah” as a way to try to shut me up.)

 

Personally, I don’t believe that Kaepernick is being disrespectful at all, he’s doing something that is totally in keeping with the very roots of the USA and with what the USA and the flag are supposed to stand for. The USA was founded out of the desire of white people to be free from tyranny, to be able to live their lives as they saw fit. The USA supposedly stands for democracy, freedom, and justice. Heck. The Pledge of Allegiance contains the phrase “With liberty and justice for all.” That’s what the flag is supposed to stand for. That’s what our country is supposed to stand for.

But. There’s a problem with that.

Liberty, justice, freedom, and democracy aren’t a reality for everyone in the USA.

What?!? What are you talking about?!?

I speak of the rampant and unchecked killing of People of Color (POC) by “law enforcement”, the justification and defense of it by far too many white people, and the fact that even when there are “investigations” and on the rare occasions when it gets prosecuted, no actual accountability comes from it.

How can we say the the flag and the Anthem and the USA stand for justice, democracy, andpoc freedom for all when that really only applies to white people? There is no justice for Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Eric Harris, Michael Brown, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Rekia Boyd, and Freddie Gray. I don’t exactly hold out hope that there will be justice for Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, or Tyre King, or any of the other POC who have been or will be killed by LE. The system is rigged against it.

The USA was founded by (white) people who wanted the right to protest and speak out against injustice without fearing for their lives and well-being, without fearing repercussions like losing their livelihoods or having the King send his soldiers after them. Speaking up against injustice is one of the core things the USA is supposed to represent. To my way of thinking, Kaepernick taking a knee during the Anthem (a song with racist content and roots, but we’ll save that convo for a different day) to protest racism and police brutality – things which go against all this country is supposed to represent – is highly patriotic, not disrespectful.

What is disrespectful is that people who have sworn to protect and defend the public are allowed to go out and shoot that public, to kill people because of their skin color. Disrespectful is the fact that we allow the badge they wear to be a free pass. Disrespectful is allowing “law enforcement” to get away with taking the lives of POC. Disrespectful is the fact that someone taxpayers employ to keep the peace are allowed to do the very opposite with no accountability. Disrespectful is justifying and defending killings that we would demand a life sentence or the death penalty for if the people doing the killing didn’t wear a badge. Disrespectful is saying a CHILD deserved to be shot within seconds of the police pulling up. If it hadn’t been police, we would call what happened to Tamir Rice a “drive by shooting”. We decry these actions when they’re taken by gangs but then allow the police officers who do these things to keep collecting a salary. Disrespectful is Disrespectful is responding to posts about the injustice of a man with his hands up beside a broken down car being killed with “Well, he should have…” What’s disrespectful to the US flag and the USA is defending state sanctioned murder.

 

I wasn’t in the US Army for very long, due to a medical discharge, but when I enlisted a army-esthercouple of years after 9/11, I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and my country. I may not have had a very long career, but I spent it trying to serve my country and fully intending to have a long career, even willing to give my life trying to save others as a Combat Medic. I hear people say “soldiers and veterans didn’t sign up so Kaepenick could diss the flag by taking a knee during the anthem.” Actually, I did. I joined the military wiling to defend his right to do what he’s doing without people saying he should be fired or arrested. You know what I did *not* join the military for? I sure as hell didn’t enlist so white people could get a job swearing a similar oath, promising to protect and defend the public paying their salary, and then take the lives of members of that public with black or brown skin. I did NOT enlist to defend systemic and institutional racism. I didn’t enlist so people could use me as a political token to excuse the silencing of POC speaking out against police brutality, inequality, and state sanctioned murder, all things that are in direct opposition to the Constitution I swore to uphold and defend.

kaepernickI’d far rather see Kaepernick take a knee during the anthem in protest of police brutality than see “law enforcement” officers killing the people they’re supposed to serve. I’d rather see Kaepernick take a knee during the anthem to protest inequality in how POC are treated than see people defend and justify “law enforcement” officers killing POC in cold blood and doing so while flying the flag of the USA. I’d rather see Kaepernick take a knee during the anthem in protest of racism and injustice than see people defend and justify that racism and injustice in the name of the United States of America. I’d rather see every team in the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLB, and every other sports association in this country take a knee during the Anthem than see white people continue to defend and justify acts that should never even happen and invoke me and my siblings-in-arms as the reason why.

There is indeed a great deal of disrespect to the United States of America, the flag, and servicemembers and veterans happening today… but Colin Kaepernick isn’t the culprit. Who’s really disrespecting the flag? The culprit is the “law enforcement” officers taking black and brown lives and the white people saying that it’s ok. Just think about that.

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Note: I apologize for the oddities with paragraph spacing, my blog post editor window thingy is being… difficult… as is my internet.