Police brutality experienced by the Occupy Wall Street movement is nothing new in the black community.
During the Occupy Wall Street crackdown a few weeks ago -- when efforts to shut down the Occupy movement hit cities all across the country -- there was a cry of outrage. We read about and witnessed attacks by police on peaceful Occupiers that seemed very foreign to some. The police's blatant disregard for the well-being of the Occupiers shocked and appalled. I saw tweet after tweet express horror and rage.
Especially toward the NYPD.
The NYPD, in its eviction of the Occupiers of Zuccotti Park, had been fairly rough. As I caught a flight out of the city before dawn, I read that early Tuesday morning, people were being pushed and hit during the 1 a.m. raid. Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke on the eviction and appeared callous. Even with the attempted press blackout, the country witnessed the situation and how horrendously it was handled.
By Thursday, as I returned to New York City, I continued to see tweets and blogs about the brutality of the NYPD. Although I absolutely agreed with the sentiments, I had a nagging feeling in my stomach. I couldn't let it go. My inner militant Negro (whom I keep sedated with brunch and Modern Warfare 3) wanted to write in all caps:
"OH, SO THE WHITE MAN GETS HIT AND NOW IT'S AN ISSUE! THE BLACK MAN HAS BEEN BEATEN FOR YEARS! WE DIDN'T LAND ON PLYMOUTH ROCK, PLYMOUTH ROCK LANDED ON US!!"
I knew that wouldn't do anything besides exacerbate the situation, but I wanted to comment on it and reasonably say, "Um ... so there's this ... " I didn't want to take away from the issue of the abuse that the occupiers were receiving, but I wanted to acknowledge the irony of the collective outrage over an issue that's become so commonplace within my community that small children are taught never to disobey a police officer, to quietly go along with whatever is happening in order not to be on the receiving end of abuse.
While the Occupiers were dealing with such abuse, during civil disobedience, communities of color suffer these type of injustices simply because it's Wednesday, and they may look like someone else. That's what happens to us -- and it's accepted as if it were just a day of the week.
Monday, Tuesday, abuse at the hands of police officers, Thursday, Friday ...
So as I hopped on a plane heading back to NYC, I sent out this tweet:
"Oh? The NYPD are treating you badly? Violent for no reason? Weird." -- Black People
And as I write now, more than a week later, it's been retweeted thousands of times. It's reached hundreds of thousands of people. It was posted on Tumblr, Facebook and even made it into an eCard.
Apparently I struck a chord.
Many people -- black, white, Hispanic, all kinds of folks -- read it and said, "At least somebody said it." People tweeted thank you to me for saying what they were feeling. People expressed that this was their issue with the OWS movement as a whole.
As. A. Whole.
I'm someone who supports Occupy Wall Street. I didn't write that tweet in an attempt to undermine the cause or to belittle the suffering of those who have been victims of the police. I wrote it to highlight the fact that these issues aren't new. Abuse of this kind is all too familiar to the black community. If someone hasn't directly experienced it, they probably know someone who has.
There have been discussions as to why there aren't more blacks involved in the Occupy movement. I can't speak for all of them, but I can speak about what I've read and the folks I've talked to directly about this. The type of outrage that pops up now at what many of us have lived with on a regular basis for years feels insulting.
It's hard not to notice that once the right number of white folks are affected, people want to take to the street. Unemployment numbers are high? We've had high unemployment for years. People are living in or near the poverty line? Yeah -- we know.
When minorities speak up and say there is an issue, we are told maybe we are doing something wrong. Perhaps we are targeted by the police because of what we are wearing. Perhaps we don't look for jobs the right way. Maybe we aren't educated enough. But now that it's affecting other folks, now there's a problem. Now we need to come together and fight the power. Someone tweeted at me that we need to come together and not point out silly differences like race because we're in this together!
Yes, we can -- and have (there is support from various folks of color) -- come together within this movement, but you can't expect us to throw away "race" and ignore history. Even the violence that's happening with the Occupiers right now is looked at differently because of race. You can't be surprised that people have reservations about this when you look at how our issues have been dealt with before.
I'm not making an argument for ignoring the movement because a lot of the movement ignored us. But I am saying take a moment to walk away from your righteousness to understand that your newfound plight has been some people's plight for generations.
We just didn't have a catchy name for it.
Elon James White is a writer-comedian and the host of the award-winning Web series This Week in Blackness and the Internet radio show Blacking It Up. Follow him on Twitter.
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