Election Reflections: “Law-and-Order,” the Resilience of White Supremacy, and You

Families along Martin Luther King Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Families along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Where do things stand now?” I asked Adonia Lugo as we organized potential discussion themes ahead of this Sunday’s Untokening event.

Election results were just starting to roll in from the East Coast, she replied, and they weren’t looking good for Hillary.

Perhaps we should relabel the event ‘The UnTrumpening,’ I mused.

We were already planning to raise the question of policing in communities of color as part of a larger discussion on street safety. But the potential election of a self-proclaimed “law-and-order” president suddenly gave that question a much greater urgency.

As a candidate, Donald Trump regularly described “the African-Americans” and Latinos as living in “hell,” promoted the (erroneous and harmful) idea that black-on-black crime is a thing, suggested Black Lives Matter advocates were troublemakers who help instigate acts of violence against officers, and sung the praises of “law-and-order” practices like stop-and-frisk. He even went so far as to deny that stop-and-frisk was in any way problematic, charging that the issue was not the policy itself (which disproportionately subjected black and Latino pedestrians and cyclists to opportunistic, invasive, and forceful stops, despite whites being more likely to be found with weapons or contraband), but that the woman who ruled it unconstitutional in New York was a “very against-police judge.”

The problem in our minority communities is not that there is too much police,” he said in August to an overwhelmingly white crowd of suburban supporters outside Milwaukee, a city whose poorest zip code is also the nation’s most incarcerated. “[It’s] that there is not enough police!”

Stop-and-frisk, he said on another occasion, “worked incredibly well” and was a solution he’d like to see deployed in cities across the country.

To many of those taken aback by the unrest seen in their urban cores and feeling threatened by black and brown voices and bodies pushing for change, this approach to governance is reassuring.

To many of the rest of us, it is terrifying.

We already know that biases about the intentions of people of color impact the way in which they are treated by law enforcement, as well as the frequency with which they are likely to have negative encounters.

We saw this in the case of a number of folks in Florida who had their bikes confiscated by officers who assumed they had stolen them. And in the case of youth activists in Boston who were told they “looked suspicious” and that people in their neighborhoods rode bikes in order “to shoot people.” And in the Bay Area, when Richmond Spokes staff members were harassed in front of advocate Brian Drayton’s home because, according to Drayton’s summary of the supervising officer’s remarks, “80% of the cyclist[s] in Richmond at night are involved in drug, robbery, and violent offenses and [officers are] just keeping the community safe by profiling cyclist[s]…in the Iron Triangle.” And in the case of teenager Alvin, who managed to record being stopped “for being a fucking mutt,” as the officer put it. And here in L.A., when a young man riding his bike one night was tackled without provocation, viciously kicked in the head, and then arrested for resisting arrest. And again a few months later, when two separate groups of black cyclists were profiled while participating in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade in 2015.

And those are cases that have ended more happily.

The deaths of Eric Garner (put in a chokehold for selling loose cigarettes), 12-year-old Tamir Rice (killed for brandishing a toy gun and not given first aid because officers were busy handcuffing his 14-year-old sister when she came to his aid), Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, 34 (gunned down in Gardena by the very police he and his brother had called for help while looking for their stolen bike), Philando Castile (shot after being pulled over for having a “wide-set nose”), and too many others all offer potent illustrations of just how easily the combination of biases – implicit or explicit – and the power to act upon them can upend the fates of people of color.

Americans’ ongoing effort to reckon with the way we’ve codified, encouraged, and even rewarded the violent policing of people of color in the public space represents progress, however agonizingly slow and imperfect.

Today, we got confirmation that even these baby steps come at a steep cost.

It is no coincidence that we have managed to elect a man who classifies Mexicans as rapists, drug dealers, taco bowl aficionados, and people to be tossed back over a big and beautiful wall, black people as lazy hell-dwellers who are armed and uneducated, the Japanese as having been rightly interned, women as objects to be rated and/or grabbed at will (or, if they are teenagers, ogled and harassed), Muslims as people to be tracked, banned, occasionally waterboarded, and massacred, Oakland and Ferguson as among some of the most dangerous places in the world (with Chicago also qualifying as “hell”), the disabled as people to be mocked, white supremacists and anti-Semites as having opinions worth retweeting, and LGBTQ-hating governors as suitable candidates for Vice President.

Nor is it a coincidence that Trump’s vision of livability entails the rescue of an America deep in the clutches of decline – a country threatened by barbarians at the gates and menaced by the urban savages within. His “real commitment” to law and order is his promise to this nation’s vulnerable and “forgotten”* inhabitants that he will not stand for the last vestiges of peace and prosperity being wrested from their beleaguered and victimized hands. [*White people, he’s talking to you. Bigly.]

And while it may be true that he probably won’t have the power to reach into our cities with his tiny, tiny fingers and oversee the day-to-day management of our public spaces, he has set an ugly tone for us going forward.

Which is why this is the perfect moment for livability and transportation advocates to step forward.

We’ve already seen how he has encouraged and condoned aggression toward dissenting voices at his rallies, recruited vigilantes to watch for “suspicious” behavior at the polls, proclaimed the overt harassment of people of color to be a “proactive” way to make our cities safer, and aligned himself with those actively denigrating the efforts of people of color to secure more humane treatment from law enforcement, including Milwaukee’s Sheriff David Clarke, Jr., Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio (thankfully unseated, finally), and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Whether he did these things to win votes or because he truly believed they were the right things to do doesn’t actually matter. He’s freed other people to believe these things are OK.

So while we can and should celebrate some of the victories we’ve seen for transportation funding today, we absolutely cannot stop there.

The public space is now a more overtly hostile place to people of color, to women, to the LGBTQ community, and to the disabled.

That is unacceptable.

And it is a battle no one should have to wage on their own.

Which means that, on a day when our worst fears about ourselves as a nation were confirmed, it is simply not enough to sit around and just not be racist, homophobic, sexist, or able-ist.

If our goal is to build more inclusive, more vibrant, and more welcoming cities for all, then we need to be working more actively and intentionally to do so. We need to be looking beyond cars and physical infrastructure to engage and address any and all barriers that impede safe passage through our streets. We also need to be more pro-active in problematizing and dismantling the structures, policies, practices, concepts, and even vocabularies we participate in, past and present, that have helped fuel segregation, repression, and marginalization in our communities.

There is no single right place to start. Solutions may entail everything from being more willing to look out for the person next to you, to establishing more robust channels of communication with marginalized groups, to working to build trust between the city, law enforcement, advocates, and communities of color, to creatively routing funding to give communities the amenities they need without displacing them in the process, to questioning the way we think about what makes for a healthy community, to just learning to listen, among many, many other things,

Wherever you decide to begin is up to you, obviously. But now that we’ve gone and elected a man who launched his campaign by spewing hateful nonsense, this would be the appropriate time to take that first intentional step.

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