Everyday Jail Without Bars
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As I was scrolling through Facebook, I came across a video that read “Body cam video catches Barstow cops slamming Black pregnant woman to ground, letting white woman go free.” I watched the video in hopes that perhaps the actions of the people who swore to protect and serve were justified. Although we typically know this to be untrue, I wanted it to be justified so that I could have some sense of peace and relief. I needed relief that this could never happen to me, because my Black respectability teaches me how to act when dealing with authority, and that my brown skin is not always deemed a threat. However, what I saw was a different story. I saw a young Black mother being handcuffed and slammed onto the ground after she was already wrestled into a metal fence. One may wonder, what was her offense? Simple, she did not provide the police officer with her full name. The other lady involved in the altercation, who happened to be white, was never even asked what her name was. The video also shows the officer stating, “I don’t see a crime that was committed.” So then why was this woman, who was 8-months pregnant, who posed no threat, and not being charged with any crime slammed into the ground? Ill let you be the judge.
Immediately after I watched this video, another video of singer Pleasure P came across my feed. He was filming himself being followed around a convenience store in Alabama. It was actually disturbingly funny how blatantly obvious the man following him from aisle to aisle was. This caused me to start thinking about my desire to simply move to another country, where I would not feel like a prisoner while walking down the street. I also started to think about all of the ways in which Black Americans are imprisoned in this country, without even having to step foot in a prison cell.
In fact, we are the product of multiple invisible, but explicit imprisonments. For instance, when you hear the excitement in a soon to be Black mother’s voice because she does not have to deal with the pressures of having a son, it is heartbreaking. She does not fear the nature of her son, rather she is fearful of the fear-mongering nature of this country against him. She is fearful that he will fall victim to the “curse” of either a premature death or imprisonment, just as her father, uncles and brother before him. This is a true story. And when you grow up in predominately Black and brown neighborhoods, where the windows are reinforced with rod iron bars and local store owners, who do not look like you are, but are protected from the dangers of your brown skin through bulletproof glass, you learn at a very young age that you are not safe here. Then at some point, you grow up and you begin to understand that those bars and bulletproof glass were not simply because you were not safe here, but because you were the threat here. And due to systematic redlining of the government and banks, subprime lending and overall mortgage discrimination, your family has not had the ability to fairly own the homes in which they inhabit.
Being that your community is in a constant state of economic depression, businesses do not flourish where you live. So you grow up being shut out. Then comes the educational imprisonment formerly known as the school-to-prison pipeline, where Black and Latinos make up 80% of students in special education. And depending on the view of your lens, you are then expected or unexpected to succeed in an environment where 42% of Black students just like you, attend schools that are under-performing and lack proper resources. Or perhaps you attend a high performing school, where prior to this year, the only Black female staff of 120-plus worked in a self-contained classroom. And if by luck of the draw, you are fortunate enough to make it out, you quickly learn that your invisible imprisonment does not stop.
This comes with the realization that the glass ceiling for a young Black professional does not extend beyond an entry-level position, and according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, 55.9 % of Black grads are underemployed, which moves you further along the barriers and into the sector of employment imprisonment. Even with a decent job, every time that you enter into a store, your brown skin affords you the unstated fear that you will take what does not belong to you. As such, you are giving a personal shopper just as the one assisting Pleasure P, but who is only assisting from the distance.
It does not matter that according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, 68.6% of theft occurs by whites compared to 28.8% of Blacks. YOU are the threat. And no matter how many young Black men and women are shot down in the streets by the police, our society protects the murderers and demonizes the dead. I wish that I could give you a solution to everything that I have stated, but the truth is that I cannot. The truth is that even when faced with the truth of our injustices, case and point, the video taping of illegal police tactics such as the chokehold used to subdue Eric Garner, we are still not given the justice we deserve.
No one hears the invisible prisoner. We are fighting systems that have been set in place since 1619, when the first enslaved Africans were brought to these shores. And although we have come a long way, America still has a longer way to go. I just hope that someone is able to overcome one of these imprisonments today, whether you are the victim or perpetrator of it.