#BlackLivesMatter: Cases of victim-blaming and denial

Athletes voicing their opinion on Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III were told by their respective police departments that their public stances were “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.”

They’re just “athletes.” They have “no facts of the case whatsoever,” police union president Jeff Follmer said of Cleveland Browns wideout Andrew Hawkins.

Some representatives of police departments even went so far as to dish out vague threats of non-policing of those who protested (and anyone associated with them) when they wrote to the Rams organization,

“Cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours.  I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products.  It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do.”

If you’re wondering what called for this response, it was after players for the St. Louis Rams extended their arms to symbolize “hands up, don’t shoot” and after Cleveland Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt calling for justice of the police killings of Rice, 12, and Crawford.

Now going back to what is deemed offensive, if we wanted to really weigh what’s offensive and what’s not, when Follmer goes on TV and tells viewers that when police act justice is always served, that belittles the intelligence of the Rices and Crawfords.

When referring to Hawkins’ statement on his shirt, Follmer said on an episode of All in With Chris Hayes,

“It’s not a call for justice — they (the officers) were justified.”

Follmer’s statement makes the victim in this case seem as though he was already a criminal and could only be subdued through lethal force.

If Rice was the worst person he could be the moment before he died, he would probably be charged for using a weapon in public that resembled a real gun. At the worst, he’d get a year of probation.

He wouldn’t be anywhere near death row.

When Follmer finishes his interview saying that people should just follow the law and police orders, in neither instance (Rice or Crawford) could a “drop your weapon” order be given. Rice and Crawford were killed within seconds of officers approaching them, having little to no chance to comply.

Adding fuel to the fire, an officer in Indiana selling shirts displaying “Breathe easy, don’t break the law” also could be seen as offensive to the families of Crawford and Rice because again it is assuming that the victims were breaking the law. What laws were Garner, Rice and Crawford breaking when they were killed? In any of those cases, were their crimes worse than rape or murder?

The officers are exercising their constitutional right which they have every right to do, but what’s disappointing is that they’re doing so at the expense of a grieving and downed community. Instead of reaching out to heal wounds or “shake hands” and say “good game,” they’d rather choose to make shirts that sour the deaths of a father, a son and a 12-year-old boy — all unarmed when they died.

At the very least, the deaths in Cleveland warrant a deeper investigation, especially being that officer Timothy Loehmann, the man who shot and killed Rice, resigned from his previous job due to being ‘unfit’ for duty.

Similarly, a report by the Justice Department,

“found that systemic deficiencies and practices haunt the city’s police department.”

There’s more evidence that Rice’s killing may need to work its way through the courts. According to the Washington Post,

“The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s report ruled Rice’s death a homicide.”

American society does this thing where it blames the victims (perceived or not) of an injustice or crime. In these instances, it becomes the fault of the victim for speaking out or even defending themselves.

Victim-blaming can be done in a variety of ways. From bullying a victim through physical or financial means to keeping accused rapists on campus with them victim, this act is often used as a form of intimidation — or terror. It’s intent is to dissuade others from also letting their voice be heard.

When campus presidents say #AllLiveMatter, it’s a tricky maneuver because on its face, it doesn’t seem racially insensitive. Who would disagree with the concept that all lives matter? But when understood in proper context — the recent circumstances where four unarmed black men were killed by police officers — saying that all lives matter when black people have been on the raw end of the judicial system for hundreds of years is akin to going to a stranger’s grandparent’s funeral saying, “Hey, my grandma’s  funeral is also going on across the street #AllGrandparentsMatter.”

It’s like when women created a Twitter hashtag about sexual assault called #YesAllWomen and some men responded with #NotAllMen (insinuating that not all men are rapists). The thing is, we already know that all men aren’t sexual assaulters, but that wasn’t the time for men to derail a moment of honesty and healing for women.

Sometimes there’s victim blaming and other times there’s the projection of one’s flaws onto others like when these officers say a newspaper is “exploiting” violence because they ran a “politically incorrect” political cartoon.

When the Bucks County Courier Times ran a political cartoon depicting black children asking Santa to protect them from alleged excessive police force, the president of a local police department responded in this manner,

“There is a special place in hell for you miserable parasites in the media who seek to exploit violence and hatred in order to sell advertisements.”

From a president, you’d expect a little more restraint when voicing one’s displeasure of a newspaper’s editorial section running a political cartoon (it goes without saying these sections are separate from the news and typically run opinions from many different perspectives).

And then there’s denial.

In the Bucks County Courier Times case, let’s not forget to mention the total misunderstanding of how the First Amendment works. Is it ironic to accuse a newspaper of exploiting “violence and hatred” while totally being unaware (or ignoring) the role you played in it?

When Hawkins responded to criticism of his shirt that called for justice, he spoke in a way that was honest and respectful — there were no vague elements of threats. He spoke soft but with authority. He believes he’s fighting for something that is very American — fighting for equal justice under the law.

He said (in no particular order),

“Before I made the decision to wear the T-shirt, I understood I was putting that reputation in jeopardy to some of those people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do.

“To clarify, I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way. And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. My mom taught me my entire life to respect law enforcement.”

This point stood out the most,

“A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.”

Even so, the police demanded an apology from Hawkins because they felt “disrespected.” The hostility from opponents of the movement paired with an assumption of guilt assumed on a vulnerable community and those killed makes me wonder why our society is quick to blame victims.

We kick victims because wholly blaming people for their misfortunes (keeping in mind that misfortune happens to everyone) protects us from the idea that we live in a world where at times innocent people are killed for little to no justifiable reason.

Isn’t it interesting how in each of the officer-involved fatal shootings, the victims are perceived to be at fault by a significant portion of the mainstream public?

(Poll: Racial divide over Darren Wilson charges)

In rape cases, the knee-jerk reaction is to say the victim asked for it.

And when people struggle to make ends meet it’s apparently because they’re not trying hard enough.

Crawford shouldn’t have been playing with a toy gun in a store isle, Rice shouldn’t have taken the red cap off of his toy gun, Michael Brown should have walked on the sidewalk and Eric Garner shouldn’t have sold untaxed cigarettes.

But should any of them have had a reasonable expectation of killing without trial for their seemingly innocuous acts (robbing a convenient store, in the case of Michael Brown) of “resisting arrest”?


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