The recent protest over the police killing of unarmed black men has stirred debate as to why and how can this be happening? We are, after all, The United States of America, “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, with Liberty and Justice for All”, it’s the 21st century.
The other side of the debate made by the mostly racist/bigoted people is “Well, Blacks and Hispanics are responsible for most of the crime; of course, they will be more of them killed. If they don’t follow the law and listen to the police they should expect to get shot”.
Here’s a news flash! This is how it has always been for people of color. All of my 60+ years on this earth has been with the understanding that people of color have their place, and that place has its limits. As life went on, I got used to being called Wetback, Meskin, Beaner and Spic. I might not like it, but that’s how it is in Texas. It’s one of the reasons I left Texas for a time.
In the aftermath of 9/11, racist, hateful attitudes towards those perceived to be Muslim really took off and hostilities against Middle Eastern people became the norm. Flying today has become a nightmare, I have yet to fly and not be subjected to enhanced screening. Couple that with the election of a black president and racism in the USA is at a level I have not seen in since I was a child in the 1960’s. I, for one, am inclined to think it shows the true nature of many of the people in this country and what they really think about people of color or anyone different from themselves.
Allow me to elaborate:
I am a very dark-skin American of Mexican decent, and I confuse the hell out of people. I am often mistaken for a person from the Middle East/India/Philippines or a Native American/Hawaiian; it happens all the time. Even people from those places are not sure when they see me in public. I embrace my international appearance as I have found I can blend into many cultures, that is until I open my mouth and start to speak.
The unfortunate side of my color is I get a double helping of racism thrown my way. I’ve been in a traffic stop and have the police come at me guns drawn. I’ve had police ask me if I was Arab and did I have explosives? When I answer no to both and identify myself as Hispanic, they then say, so you’re Mexican, you have drugs, where are they? It’s happened more than once. Sometimes I sort of feel like the “Willie Nelson of brown people” because the police always assume I have marijuana/drugs on me. This usually leads to me, my car and all my belongings being searched, even against my objections. I’ve been told when I object to the search I have no rights other than what rights the officer gives me and if I didn’t like it, go back to the country I came from…but I was born in Austin, Texas.
I grew up in one of Austin’s iconic neighborhoods, Travis Heights. Now one would think this was the greatest, coolest thing and it was special, but even here racism existed.
My first day in public school was my in-your-face introduction into how things would be. I was pulled out of line after a fire drill by some older kids/boys, held down; they spit in my face and told me I was not welcomed in their school. There were teachers who saw it, but nothing was done or said to the older kids. This would happen to me pretty regularly for a while; threats were made to me not to talk to the girls or try to make friends with anyone or I would get my butt kicked. It stopped when I got big enough to fight back and I did make some friends – some of whom I’m proud to say are still my friends today, but the pattern had been set. Walking the hallways of school while making as little eye contact as possible became the way I was programmed. There was another specific incident I remember, back when I was a child/student. Back then, there was a encyclopedia publisher who printed science facts in local newspapers. This publishing company had a policy that if a person found a mistake and brought it to their attention, a set of encyclopedias would be awarded. I found one of those mistakes and with the help of my teacher; I applied for the encyclopedia reward. Well, the review board for the prize came to my school to interview my teacher along with me. It was during the interview, I was asked if I spoke/read English, who my parents were-where did they work, did I believe in God, did I go to church; weird stuff for the occasion I thought. I was then asked to step out into the hall. I sat there and listened to my teacher argue and fight with this review board because they told her no way would they give encyclopedias to some little Wetback-Meskin kid. When my teacher walked out of the room she came up to me with tears in her eyes and visibly shaking. She looked me in the eye and told me, “Don’t you listen to them, you were right. Don’t you ever doubt your intelligence and ability”. With that, we turned, she took my hand and we walked back to our classroom.
As an adult, the encounters with racism became a work place issue at times because I worked in some non-traditional jobs and took part in assorted outdoor activities. I raced motorcycles/cars/bicycles and I was a runner; I was also a firefighter, a photographer, stage manager, etc. Often I was the only person of color present and often I would be told, “You know, it’s probably not a good idea for you to wander around alone.” That sort of warning came not only in the southern states, but also on the east coast and out west.
As an adult, my encounters with law enforcement have not always been pleasant. I always hope the officer will be cordial and not hostile, but you never know. There have been way more times the police have been biased and I have been targeted because of my skin color. Dark people get stopped more often, plain and simple. My lighter skinned Hispanic friends and family members do not seem to get the same sort of attention/treatment. Sure, they might get the occasional slur thrown their way, but not the heavy-handed harassment. I’ve been stopped for walking/jogging in an area, riding/walking my bicycle, riding my motorcycle through a neighborhood. I’ve been held, handcuffed, searched, had my car/motorcycle/bicycle impounded, my cash seized, I’ve been beaten. Even though I may be released with no charges, the cost of impoundment and a record of encounter/arrest are now there. I am pretty sure I am not the only person of color this happens to, but this type of bias contributes to the numbers of Blacks and Hispanics in the crime statistics to which the bigots like to point. Government agencies, like the Police and District Attorney, must go through a budget process to justify their existence. The more arrests they make, trials they win, the better they look and the more money they need to hold back the hoards of criminals. Add to the mix “For-Profit Prisons “, now there are quotas to be met as far as number/capacity of inmates. Minorities, often poor and less educated help fill the prisons to their requested 90% capacity.
I worked in the legal field for several years, I even thought about going to law school at one point – I thought could make a difference. I worked in a law office as a paralegal in training and later for a Texas State District Judge as a bailiff. It was there that I got to see how racism, the police and the law all combine to work as a well-oiled unit.
One of the many trials we held was a trial about a young man shot and killed by police. The official story was the kid pointed a gun at the officer from like 5-10 feet away; so the officer had no choice, but to shoot the kid – it was a very dramatic, a well-rehearsed testimony from the police officer. As the trial proceeded, the evidence was not matching up with what the officer testified as to what happened . . . sound familiar? The city/police officer’s own expert witness, the medical examiner, testified that the boy was shot in the back as he ran uphill and away from the officer. This kid had a record, they claimed he was a gang member; they painted him in the worst possible way. The jury found in favor of the officer. The kid’s family was understandably devastated. After the trial as folks were leaving the courtroom the jury foreman/person, an elderly grandmother-type Caucasian woman came up to me and said, “I guess we taught those Meskins something. They think they can come in here and mess with our police.” I was stunned that she would even say that to me, I just turned and walked away.
As time went on I began to see why it was very hard to hold law enforcement responsible for any misdeeds. It made me realize that in law, it’s not always about what’s right or wrong, but more often, it’s about who has the best/meanest lawyer and can they destroy the character of the other side. I learned the police rarely lost, juries are very fickle/unpredictable and dark-skin folks rarely win. I also learned the system is rigged to turn a profit and there are many wanting a piece of those profits. It was shortly after that I jumped at the chance to leave the legal profession.
Sadly we are seeing more things happen today like police brutality. We see it not because it’s new behavior, but because it’s because we have more cameras out there making it much harder for the police to hide their actions. Social media has now exposed a long-known fact among people of color. The number of folks of color being killed/injured/arrested/harassed by police is staggering,
So here we are today, so many folks around the world upset and outraged over the injustice in the good old US of A. I am alarmed, but I am not surprised. Let me welcome you to my world and that of many folks of color.
Now what do we do about it?