Casket Pretty: A Reflection on Police Brutality (aka White People—Shut the Fuck Up!)
by Elizabeth Dunn on September 24, 2017
Posted in: Other
CW: racism, violence
Ever since the Noname concert, I’ve been thinking a lot about police brutality—about how Black Lives Matter isn’t just a slogan, but is in part a response to the murder of Black people by police. About the devaluation of Black lives. And about how my relationship with police is fundamentally different than many of my classmates’.
I’m overly familiar with police acting violently, whether it be from videos posted online, other people’s stories, or my own experiences. I’ve had police chase me, shove me, push me to the ground, and go out of their way to cause me pain (like when I was arrested at a protest for Eric Garner and the they pulled the zip ties so tight they cut into my wrists). This is my experience, and I consider myself lucky to still be alive to write about it.
Besides a fear of physical harm, when I interact with the police I also experience a feeling of spiritual, cosmic helplessness. I know I am in a realm where nothing can save me: not a good explanation, or any degree of respectability. There is a tangible threat of death, and there is the sinking knowledge that were I to die, there would be more than a few people who would think I deserved it, who would disrespect me. I was the admin for a protest in New York after the murder of Philando Castille, and I remember trolls posting pictures on the event page of Mike Brown’s body with the Hulk photoshopped over it, and of Trayvon Martin with the caption: Skittles are TO DIE for. I wonder: would people meme my murder?
A few days before the concert a friend (also Black) and I were at a get-together, drinking outside with a large group on the porch when a Public Safety officer approached and reprimanded us for drinking in public. The interaction was amiable—the group we were with, all white men, expressing no discomfort towards the officer’s presence and even cracking jokes with him. He seemed almost apologetic to be interfering with us at all. Afterwards my friend and I laughed together in disbelief, and, half-joking, half-in-shock, said, “So this is really how they live?” We were taken aback by a glimpse of a reality in which interacting with police was nothing more than a casual annoyance, a reality with no threat of imminent harm or death.
“Hold up Elizabeth!” an imaginary crowd of white students exclaim. “We know all about white supremacy and the prison industrial complex and we’ve even read The New Jim Crow! We don’t need police brutality 101 from you! We don’t need a reminder of how you, one of our three Black friends, experience racism. We are very aware of these issues!”
Well, my dear friends, how about putting all that theory into practice and respecting the Black artists who travel to this caucasian hell and have the courage to address these issues through their music? Because for many Black people, police brutality is more than just a political issue or an intellectual discussion—it’s a material reality that can drastically alter the course (or continued existence) of our lives. And having you talk through the moments in which we try to mourn and heal from this violence is extremely disrespectful.
Like how dare you speak through Casket Pretty at the Noname concert, a song that memorializes the deaths of people who could just as easily have been my relatives? Every time I listen to that song, I think of last Thanksgiving when my cousins and I (along with a friend spending the holidays with us) were driving down a lonely Florida road around 1 A.M. when we were pulled over. I was half-asleep when the car stopped, and a bright light glaring through the window woke me up. A white cop with a thick southern accent asked my cousin for his license, registration, and to step out of the car.
The minutes until he returned seemed to last forever. Eighteen years old: that’s how old my cousin was. Trayvon was younger than that when he was murdered in the same state we were in. Aiyana Stanley-Jones was only a child when the police killed her in her sleep. Kalief Browder was only sixteen when he was arrested and psychologically tortured in prison until he no longer had the will to live.
I wondered if my cousin was about to die. To become a statistic, a hashtag. A name to chant at protests. Or, to bring it back to Midd, a person memorialized in music that white people would drunkenly disrespect, even after the artist asked them to check their privilege and quiet down.
There’s a part of me that wonders if my reaction to this is valid. If I’m being a bitch, not appreciating the white people I know who are actually sensitive to these issues. If my mental health is distorting my perspective (of course a crazy person would fixate on the worst shit and get super worked up about it). I even wonder sometimes if Black people are over-sensitive to this issue.
All of the above is bullshit of course, just good ole fashioned internalized racism, but it’s hard sometimes to keep from drowning in the doubt that floods in when things like the incident at Noname happen. It really takes me aback to have something I take so personally and someone I respect so much to be treated like that.
So to end this piece, I have a very simple request for white people: Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up when you feel the urge to disrespect Black musicians. Shut the fuck up when you’re privileged enough be in the presence of a Black person sharing their pain around police brutality. Shut the fuck up and respect the experiences and emotions of those of us who have felt a fear you will never know, who are forced to live with the inescapable fact that our lives are considered forfeit the moment we encounter a police officer.
Just take a moment. Breathe deeply. Keep calm. And shut the fuck up.
Let me sweeten the pot a bit: Shut the fuck up and stop being racist, and I pinky promise I’ll stop writing about you being racist. I am a senior who is really tired of three years of dredging up my trauma and talking and writing about it in the hopes that maybe people will care a little bit more if I do, since a lot of y’all don’t feel inclined to give a fuck unless you have all the gory details and a familiar face to attach this pain to. So please, if you’re just as tired of reading sad “woe is me it sucks 2 be oppressed” articles as I am of writing them, take my advice.
And shut the fuck up.