Two black men– George Floyd of Minneapolis and Dion Johnson of Phoenix — died on the same day at the hands of law enforcement officers. In the video, Floyd says he can’t breathe as a white officer pins him to the ground with his knee. Why is that even an approved tactic for police?
There is no video of Johnson’s death. We may never know how a man who was asleep in his car ended up dead after a state trooper stopped to check on him. Neither of these officers was wearing a body camera. We have structural racism in our country. It’s not just systemic; racism is baked into our laws and how those laws are enforced.
Here is a case in point. Last August after the Elizabeth Warren rally in Tempe, my husband and I were driving home to Tucson on I 10 after dark. You’ll remember that I 10 was under construction at that time, and the speed limit went up and down in the interior of the state. Jim and I had had a pizza in Tempe before we hopped on the freeway. I had a glass of wine with the pizza, but he had no alcoholic beverages. He was studiously following the speed limit changes on I 10 when we saw DPS flashers and heard the siren behind us.
We were surprised to be pulled over by the Department of Public Safety because Jim was so carefully following the speed limit, even though nobody else was.￼￼ The young, white DPS officer came to the passenger side. I rolled down the window. I bet he was disappointed to find two completely unimpaired, white grandparents in the vehicle that he just stopped.
He asked for Jim’s license and the registration, which was in the glove compartment. As I reached for the glove compartment, I thought, “This is how black people get shot.” I looked at the white cop in the giant flashlight he was shining in my face, and I open the glove compartment. He immediately shined the light into the glove compartment to see what else we might have in there, but it was only a bunch of papers and old pair of sunglasses￼.￼ We purchased our car insurance from one of those online companies that doesn’t send you a card in the mail (or anything else in the mail). I pulled out a wad of papers from the Internet-based insurance company’s website and the emissions report and handed it all to the officer. Even with all those papers, I had not printed out the actual insurance card. (Jim’s like, “You didn’t print out the card!?” Well, I didn’t know until that moment that I had not printed out the card, and I was cursing the online insurance company.)
The officer took all the papers which obviously showed that I had purchased the insurance and went back to his car. Eventually, he returned to our car and said, “I bet you’re wondering why I stopped you.” We said … well, yeah.￼￼ He said that there was a headlight out on our car, although we had not noticed anything, and he let us continue our trip home￼.￼
When we got back to Tucson, we checked out the headlights. My small SUV, has multiple lights on each side in the front. The car has white and orange headlights on both sides, both sides were illuminated￼, but one side had one white light out. The car lights were dimmer on one side than the other, but we weren’t completely black on one side.
This was a pretextural traffic stop. Instead of finding a slow-driving drunk, stoner or smuggler, he found careful grandparents. Remember, I didn’t actually have proof of insurance because I printed out pages from the insurance company’s website that didn’t include the card. Would that have been enough for a black couple in Central Arizona?￼ (BTW, I didn’t tell the officer that I am a Legislator, and he didn’t ask for my ID… because I’m a white woman.)
Several years ago, after the deaths of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown Jr., Trayvon Martin, and Tamir Rice, I remarked about these tragedies on Facebook. My friend Toreenee Wolf said, “This has been going on forever. The difference is now we have video.” This has got to stop.
Democrats Propose Special Session
Last week, Democratic Legislators called for a special session to address police reform and racism. Democratic Whip Reggie Bolding and Rep. Gerae Peten– the Legislative Black Caucus– helped identify steps that the state of Arizona can take now to prevent police violence against residents. The Democrats proposed five strategies: body cameras on all law enforcement officers; require independent investigation of any officer use of deadly force; create a statewide officer database, which includes any disciplinary actions, and require law enforcement agencies to do background checks on new hires; limit qualifies immunity; and require AZ Post training on cultural sensitivity and de-escalation of dangerous situations. You can read the Democrats letter to Governor Ducey and details here. Some of these ideas have been proposed as bills in the past but never saw the light of day because they were proposed by Democrats.
Post Script… A Trip Down Memory Lane
In 2015, my husband and I, along with several other Blog for Arizona authors, attended Netroots Nation in Phoenix. The highlight of the week was a speech by presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders. Approximately 75 Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted the much-anticipated presidential town hall with Democratic candidates Governor Martin O’Malley and Sanders. Chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Say Our Name” (in reference to the innocent black victims of police brutality). The protest started during O’Malley’s segment of the town hall and spilled over into Sanders’ segment. Moderator and undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas stopped the town hall 10 minutes early. Hundreds of NN15 attendees were in the audience; many of them were older white progressive Bernie supporters.
The ONE question that Black Lives Matter protesters had for the two Democratic candidates was: How would you as president “dismantle structural racism in the United States”? Watch the videos and see what transpired. Black Lives Matter is still waiting for an answer to that question.
Attempting to answer the question, I wrote this blog post in 2015: Ending Structural Racism in the US (video).
Featured Image: The Black Lives Matter t-shirt that I am wearing in the video was designed by local Tucson musician Cash Lansky.