Shot in the Back

This Saturday is a time to look at the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement officers. These are often reported in the press as “office-involved shootings,” which is a way to sanitize language of the extrajudicial murder of Black people, because they are Black.

Let’s be clear about this. Black people are executed by police at a rate 12 times higher than white people in the developed world according to The Independent, because the lives of Black people simply don’t matter as much those of others in our society.

Over hundreds of years, we’ve built up a system of unconscious bias that pervades our institutions and daily lives. This originates in the systemic racism throughout American society, which ultimately permits, and often encourages (see our previous post, Black was the First Green), the devaluing of Black lives compared to those of other groups. What’s more, in this system, we allow White Nationalism to persist if not thrive in our law enforcement institutions: officers can take advantage of their positions to terrorize Black communities (Alice Speri, The Intercept) with impunity.

You can literally be shot while lying down on the ground, unarmed, with your hands up. And then, when the officer is asked why they shot you, they might say, “I don’t know” (NPR).

This isn’t just Black men either. Black women, like Sandra Bland, and Black members of the LGBT+ community have particular vulnerabilities that make living their lives as themselves particularly perilous. Monica Jones gives a harrowing look into being Black in the US through her interview on Walking while Trans.

This video shows the last words of some of the Black people who have died in recent years. It’s a moving piece, and one to get us focused for the discussions today.

Data can often help contextualize the situation somewhat. The website Mapping Violence provides a visual picture of where these incidents happen in the US, and statistics about police violence.


It’s sobering, but something that White people have not had to confront as part of their daily lives. Young Black children aren’t that lucky though.

This video by WatchCut shows Black parents talking to their children about how to interact with the police and tell their stories of their interactions with the police.

A slightly longer reading today is another one from Kiese Laymon: How to slowly kill yourself and others in America: A remembrance. It describes so palpably the feeling of inevitability and exhaustion when it comes to encounters with law enforcement.

If your child were Black, how would you talk to them about the police?

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