We've Been Protesting for Decades. What's It Going to Take to End Police Brutality?
On #BlackLivesMatter, moral injury and activism
We've Been Protesting for Decades. What's It Going to Take to End Police Brutality?
By Tai Amri Spann-Wilson / filmsforaction.org
Jul 22, 2016

I am one voice in a movement to make Black Lives Matter beyond rhetoric and platitudes.

I am a Black father who doesn’t want his daughter to grow up in a world where she has to fear for the safety of her body because of the color of her skin.

I am an educator who has walked through the worst neighborhoods of Oakland with fear in my heart, not for myself, but for the children I taught. Fear that they will be the next body in a forced prostitution ring, rampant on International Boulevard and exposed within the Oakland Police Department. Fear that they will catch the next stray bullet from a dispute between neighbors and police. Fear that not only will they find no protection from the police, but that the police might actually be the ones they need protection from.

I am a minister, who has held the hands of a crying mother, asking me to help get justice for her son, Alan Blueford, shot and killed by the police in his senior year of high school in Oakland, California. His last words, “I didn’t do anything,” will forever ring in my ears.

I am a Black man, who wonders, every single time he is in a crowd, where all the other Black men are, and remembers, every single time he wonders, just how many of them are prisons and morgues unjustly. This burden I carry is not a new one, it is not even unique to me. I believe that everyone whose ancestors were held in chattel slavery carries some version of this burden to varying degrees. This is why I am one voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, who wants to see true change, and wonders what that will look like.

I believe that the anger that I have towards institutionalized racism is justified. I believe that action is required to change the conditions of marginalized and targeted communities in America, and that nothing changes without action. I have studied with activists like the 100 year old Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs and the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. I believe that marches and protests are necessary but not enough to bring about change. And because I implore a strategy of Kingian Nonviolence, I believe that our enemies are not individuals but systems of oppression. We have a right, as a people, to express our anger and grief publicly. We also have a responsibility to not continue to perpetuate the same systems of oppression.

When I was a pastor in Oakland I was asked to take a training on a condition called Moral Injury for veterans. Similar to PTSD, moral injury causes psychological and emotional distress, but unlike PTSD, moral injury must include the participation and/or witnessing of actions that transgress one’s conscience or personal morals. In treating and ministering to veterans then, it was seen as imperative to understand whether or not they feel like they participated in an inhumane or unjust act, and to help them see how their current actions may be affected by their belief in diminished values because of these acts. Unfortunately, while we live in a world where it is acknowledged that those who have experienced extreme trauma may have after effects from that trauma that cause them to hurt themselves or others, there is very little acknowledgement of how participation in causing trauma and harm to others might have a similar effect on their actions.

The other day, listening to a podcast interviewing Thich Nhat Hanh and remembering how he has aided Vietnam Veterans, I was reminded both of how disgracefully veterans were treated in our country after they returned, and how wounded our police officers are. It’s like this, it has been shown that the leading cause of death for our police officers is not Black men shooting them or wrecking during high speed chases, it’s suicide. That’s the same leading cause of death for U.S. veterans. We need to talk about this in our communities, on our blogs, and in our protests. The cops are not my enemy, they are tools of my enemy, one tool, in a huge assortment of tools to oppress and suppress. But unlike systemic tools, cops are human beings, and thus they get the full brunt of damage from being used as tools. They witness the most horrific murders and accidents, they are forced to contain and participate in domestic abuse, and they are required to be soldiers in the war on the poor. What’s more, often times if they speak out against injustice, or simply state the obvious, that they need help with their own psychological problems, they are ostracized and crucified by their own departments. And finally, within the general population, cops are demonized and treated as if they caused the very conditions that they are forced to uphold. Because of this, cops are the perpetrators and also the victims of unspeakable acts of violence.

Now I’m not in Oakland anymore, I’m in Lawrence, Kansas, not too far from Wichita. Trust me when I say I am not advocating for a barbecue, as if everything is good between the police and the people. The truth is, no cop has ever tried to make friends with me, so I don’t believe that community policing is something I have very much experience with. I know that part of the reason that I am viewed as a threat to the police is because of racism, but I also know that another reason is because police have experienced actual threats, and that they are trained to perceive everyone as a potential threat. That’s the problem right there. Why are we training our police to perceive others as threats and not as community members?

I remember being in Oakland when Oscar Grant was murdered on a train station, without a weapon, in front of friends and bystanders, by Oakland PD, leaving behind his precious baby girl. I remember hearing the cries to lock up Johannes Mehserle, the cop who shot him, and wondering, will that work? And then the entire city erupted after the non-indictment, and I wondered again, will that work? And now fast forward 7 years and we’re still marching and police are still shooting us. So I have to ask again, is it working? Is the best approach a hard stance towards the police or a compassionate stance or a mixture of both?

What I believe is this, until police officers can sit down and listen to the pain and anger of people of color, of transgender and Queer folk, of immigrants, of sexual assault victims, then no laws will ever change. But until US civilians ask police to start sharing their emotional and psychological wounds, the laws may change, but the police never will. And that’s my word. Peace.

#blacklivesmatter #restorativejustice #ftp #moralinjury #ptsd #thichnhathanh #thay #cherimaples #posttraumaticslavesyndrome #vietnamveterans #charleskinsey #justice4alanblueford #counterrevolutionary #staywoke #restinpower #graceleeboggs 


Tai Amri is a graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado. You can read more of his works via his blog.

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We've Been Protesting for Decades. What's It Going to Take to End Police Brutality?