The Police Would Rather Kill White People Than Stop Killing Black People

Illustration for article titled The Police Would Rather Kill White People Than Stop Killing Black People
Photo: Joshua Roberts (Getty Images)

I was reminded last week, while watching the clip of 75-year-old Martin Gugino getting pushed by Buffalo police officers and cracking his head open, of a Twitter thread a few years ago by Gene Demby.

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I cannot find the actual thread right now (perhaps someone can help me and I’ll add a link to it) but the gist of it was that, since black people have more encounters with the police than white people do—because of racialized neighborhood occupation, because of racial profiling, because of racist policies like stop and frisk—we are more likely to be brutalized by them. Even if you believe that most cops are “good”—I don’t, but for argument’s sake let’s say they are—the more frequent interactions give us a greater likelihood to meet a Michael Rosfeld or a Derek Chauvin.

Waiting for white people to work to dismantle white supremacy because it’s the right thing to do is a fundamentally flawed practice. People—white people, black people, people who put salt on fruit—just don’t change without incentives. Some incentives are nobler than others, but the incentive is always the catalyst. And, if you’re a white person existing at the top of America’s social caste, what is the incentive for changing a thing that theoretically benefits you?

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The rub here is that white supremacy actually harms white people more than it helps. Of course, there are the tangible benefits of this foundational social hierarchy. But a commitment to the protection and preservation of whiteness’ status hurts white people too. Shortens white lifespans too. Kills white people, too. Robs them of their humanity. Prevents them from developing empathy, compassion and perspective.

The police are agents of white supremacy—the sentinels developed, trained, and instructed to protect it by any means necessary. And as billions across the world have seen in the past two weeks, they will harass, they will arrest, they will beat, they will brutalize, they will maim, and they will kill white people too for the privilege to continue harassing, arresting, beating, brutalizing, maiming and killing us. White lives don’t matter to them as much as white supremacy does.

This is why, when Martin Gugino was bleeding from his ears after they shoved him to the pavement, they treated him like litter—an empty pretzel bag someone else would clean up. The flippancy here is terrifying. This is where the haughtiness and the arrogance of the 57 officers who resigned from the emergency response team—a collective pout because two of them were suspended for shoving Gugino—stems from. White supremacy and feckless audacity are first cousins.

Is this uprising enough to lead to an actual, substantive and transformative change? I don’t know. I just know that, if asked about the ubiquity of police brutality, white people can no longer say “I don’t know.”

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

murrychang
Murry Chang

I still can’t get over those officers resigning. What do they think it shows besides them standing up for the right of the police to assault anyone at any time?