Fay Wells, an African American woman who is vice president of strategy at a California company, encountered overwhelming police power at her home in Santa Monica. A neighbor had called police to report what he thought was a break-in at her apartment.
Earlier, she had locked herself out of the apartment on her way to a soccer game. When she returned, she had called a locksmith to let her in and fix the lock, and then had gone inside. It was at that point that seventeen (or nineteen, depending on whose count you accept) officers showed up, and she was ordered out of her home–told to come out with her hands up and walk slowly down the outside stairs, facing a drawn gun and a police dog (and all the other officers).
By her account, she was poorly treated, not by overt physical violence, but by the officers’ refusal to identify themselves or to tell her what had caused their presence. It was a frightening time for her.
Wells wrote about the incident in The Washington Post (connect here to read it in full). The police actions, and her feelings about that, are the primary focus of her story.
However, the continuing drama in many communities about the response of police personnel toward African Americans revealed yet again in her story–the violence perpetrated in the name of law enforcement through unwarranted traffic stops, arrests, treatment during incarceration as well as the killing of persons during what should be not lethal encounters–reflects the deep-seated white supremacy still at work in the culture, the DNA, of our nation. It is not just about the police.
Of course, law enforcement agencies need to change. Retraining in the ways of cultural sensitivity is essential. Probably some cops need to be let go. Some municipal authorities–mayors and city councils, police chiefs–are doing the hard work. Others need to step up. Every agency needs a thorough inventory of itself, with outside help, to figure out what it needs to change–and then the willingness to go through transformation.
However, important as that work is, it is only treating part of the problem. Underneath police department attitudes and practices rests the much deeper foundation of white supremacy and privilege which marks our entire national culture. Alongside that rests our national love affair with guns. The truth is that all of us–certainly all of us who are not people of color–are responsible for the police departments that serve us (yes, they serve us, more than they serve others who don’t look like us, even if unintentionally).
The story does not really begin with the large police presence outside her apartment. It begins with the call from the neighbor. What about him? Would he have called them if Wells had been white? Chances are the answer is “no.”
In her story, she says she spoke to him, and he seemed pretty defensive. Eventually, he identified himself as an attorney. Wells tried to question him, but after a little back and forth, he said, . . . . “you can go f— yourself,” and walked away.
That sort of says it all . . . . so many people don’t want to take responsibility for their own attitudes as well as their own behavior.
Until more and more of us do, this will not change–even when, or if, the police do.