It’s not uncommon to witness the criminalization of people murdered by police. We see it all too often. It’s such a regular occurrence that even the majority in America acknowledge witnessing it in nearly every instance of Black, Latino, or Indigenous people murdered by police. In most cases, the information provided to the media comes from sources that are too often police union lawyers, union bosses, and police departments themselves.
In the murder of Adam Toledo, you didn’t just have a cop-friendly prosecutor who lied about the specifics of how it happened but you also had Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially backing up the claim that Toledo was shot while holding a gun and posing a threat to the officer. A claim that later proved to be a lie after footage was released. Toledo was, in fact, compliant. He knew he couldn’t run anymore. He dropped the weapon and turned around with his hands up as he was commanded to do.
He complied and he was killed anyway.
An all too common occurrence in America.
Far-right media and their followers have since taken the narrative the police created and expanded on it in myriad ways, as they do. Police too often “leak” information in an attempt to get out in front of any backlash. They regularly create false accounts that are then twisted by those who blindly support the police to drown out dissent. Let’s face it, if cops treated white communities the way they treat Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities, white people would be outraged and reforms would likely be put in place immediately.
Another big part of the propaganda arm are statements found on far-right “media” sites relating to the racial disparities shown in the percentages of people killed by police. They like to point out that White people account for 44% of police shooting deaths while Black people account for 23%. What they leave out are very important demographic numbers. Such as, Black people make up only 13% of the population while White people make up 76%. Suddenly, with added context, the disparities are staggering. Especially for Black communities.
Despite the claims of equality in policing, the numbers don’t lie.
The Power of Privilege
It’s no surprise that the majority of those propagandizing Toledo’s death are white people. It’s not just racist white people either. Plenty of liberals have been popping up on social media using the same memes, lies, and half-truths to justify his murder. It’s not uncommon for far-right propaganda to infest liberal circles on social media. If one person who’s considered an influencer makes absurd claims, they are easily echoed by whiteness across the board. This is where white privilege and claims of knowing what life is like for Black, Latino, and Indigenous people do real damage.
White privilege is having the same levels of crime and drug use and not having militarized police occupying your neighborhood, breaking up families, and destroying communities. If any of the social issues impacting Black communities affected white communities the same way, systems would be in place to address them. In fact, they already are. White America has for decades implemented social programs to intervene if white kids get in trouble socially or at school compared to having the police called on them. Things non-white communities don’t have.
White privilege is having the opioid crisis treated as a social issue that needs to be addressed, again with intervention programs, while the crack epidemic— caused by the federal government — was treated as something to be criminalized. The drug war, which continues even today, means White people get a slap on the wrist for having a little weed in their car compared to being sentenced to much harsher punishments for the same crime just because they’re Black or Latino.
The power of privilege goes deep in America and only one community truly benefits from it. The white community has preserved a status in society that raises them up on the backs of the poor and marginalized. Their status not only gives them advantages because of the color of their skin but also because of the socially beneficial programs available only to them and a few white-adjacent Black people and people of color. Many of those programs, however, are quite discriminatory and exclusionary.
White privilege also brings inherited implicit biases. Programming, if you will. Suggestions of Black people living a life of victimization and not making an effort to improve their status in society; ideas that discriminate against immigrants of color as job stealers while also claiming they’re a burden on society via welfare programs; presuming police are innocent of all things as long as their victims aren’t white; these are just a few of the perceptions that impact society from a white perspective. These preconceived judgments create an environment of complacency that maintains a system of oppression against Black people and other non-white populations.
White America is in no position to understand what goes on in depressed communities which are largely represented by Black, Latino, and Indigenous people. Claiming such knowledge in an attempt to demonize the victims of fatal police shootings is not only absurd but it’s also the type of reactionary logic one would expect from people with a superiority complex — whether overt or covert. Some of the most damaging racism in America comes from those who pretend to be allies but turn on us at the drop of a hat (as we’ve witnessed in the cases of Adam Toledo and Daunte Wright).
The Power of Implicit Bias
Implicit bias is loosely defined as prejudice resulting from processing information based on unconscious feelings even when those emotions are opposed to one’s stated beliefs. We all have implicit biases towards foods, products, lifestyles, younger generations (which make for great jokes), etc. However, the most harmful of these unconscious prejudices come in the form of judging Black people and people of color based on historical false narratives and having the power to decide policies based on those preconceived notions. This is where real harm occurs.
This doesn’t absolve everyday White people from the harm caused by their own discriminatory beliefs. Even in the most liberal city in Texas, residents have voted to pass laws criminalizing homelessness. Leaving displaced Americans with fewer options to house themselves with the little means they have is becoming more and more common across the country. If people would put all that effort and taxpayer money into funding and housing the homeless, we would see substantial progress in addressing the underlying issues that lead to homelessness.
Similarly, if Americans would spend less money on escalating policing into militarized subsets of the federal government and put in the same amount of time, effort, and money into creating equitable intervention programs in poor and marginalized communities, we could then begin to benefit from the healing and growth of untapped sectors of the economy. Instead of moving in and taking Black and Latino neighborhoods away from Black people and Latinos, America should be supporting the growth of these communities and memorializing their rich histories.
Implicit bias plays a major role in the covert racism Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities suffer under. There are many great examples to point to. From Joe Biden’s crime bill to Lori Lightfoot’s statements against protestors after assisting in the lie about Adam Toledo, covert racism exists in myriad forms. Similar to overt racism, those who perpetrate covert racism do so for their own benefit. To protect what they perceive is the sanctity of their white suburban lives.
Whether it be on a local, state, or federal level, support for policies that do real harm to poor and marginalized communities is broad. While we know about the 75 million who arrogantly oppose any measure to benefit anyone but White people, what we don’t know is just how many so-called allies harbor the same views as overt racists do. Someone is voting to criminalize those who have little to no equitable power on a broad scale and there’s only one demographic with that kind of voting power.
Again, I invite you to look at the policies that were voted into place in Austin, Texas.
White liberals can claim their non-racism by pointing to who they vote for or declaring their liberalism, but that doesn’t absolve them from harboring racist beliefs. Sure, it can be argued that the Democratic Party has done more for marginalized communities than conservatives have, but the question has always been, “have they done enough?” Incremental change gets us nowhere because as soon as the openly oppressive party gains power, they set us back again.
Those setbacks lead to the further criminalization of poor and marginalized communities.
The demonization of victims of police brutality stems from all of the issues mentioned here. However, this article is by no means exhaustive.
There are many ways in which covert racism works in concert with the overt. Some are aware of it, some aren’t. But most know the impacts of the decisions they’re making. They just don’t care enough. That’s why in Austin, Texas the same people with Black Lives Matter signs in their front yard are “sick of” the homeless. Meanwhile, they fail to address their part in the ostracization and marginalization of the people they abhor.
Instead, they’ve chosen to criminalize them.
After all, this is America.
*originally published on Medium