Daunte Wright was killed by police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Kimberly Potter, the police officer responsible for his death, reportedly meant to tase the 20-year-old Black father, but confused her taser with her gun and shot him instead, even saying, “Oh shit. I just shot him.“
Now, before the police apologists come out saying Wright had a warrant, or a vaguely criminal record, or the horrifyingly classic, “just comply,” let me be clear– I don’t care. Police officers should never serve as the judge, jury, and executioner during a brief traffic stop. If a police officer cannot tell the difference between a taser and a gun–sweet, fancy Moses–that person should. not. have. a. gun. And I don’t know when “serve and protect” became “comply or die”, but I am not OK living in a world where the police kill for supposed non-compliance. That’s not a society, that’s a hostage situation.
It is undeniable that police kill far too many civilians, and that young, Black men like Daunte are the most at risk. This isn’t a media conspiracy. This is just an indisputable fact based on the evidence of police killings.
We have an intensely broken system that is in fact SO broken, I am not convinced reform is a viable option that would save the lives we must save. I fully support the call to defund the police.
But, in the meantime? People are dying.
When Breonna Taylor was killed in my community, it was at the height of pandemic shutdowns while she worked as an emergency room technician–an essential worker. I immediately thought of how police officers are also essential workers and a pandemic is apparently not going to stop police killings.
Efforts to defund the police and conversations about reimagining community safety should be happening. But I understand that change is rarely swift and we need to do what we can to protect more Black lives from being senselessly lost at the hands of police NOW.
In the past year, I’ve heard the calls from many who call themselves white allies supporting the movement for Black lives. I’ve seen many people finally declare “Black lives matter” who never had before. Annnnnnnnd, I also saw some of that energy fade away. We cannot have that. If you believe Black lives matter (which, my God, is like a bare minimum standard of being a decent human being) and you want to support the movement for Black lives–cool, cool, cool. Unfortunately there’s no time for an onboarding meeting and crafting sesh for decorating your best BLM sign. We need to face some harsh truths about our privilege and how we can best utilize it.
We’ve identified the people most at risk for police violence–young, Black men. Who are among the least risk of police violence? People who look like me. As a white, cis woman in my 30s, I’m pretty much at my peak Karen power and the least likely to experience police brutality or killing. People often get skittish about the word “privilege” and associate it with guilt. But in order to truly practice anti-racism, it is necessary to take inventory of your own privilege. I did absolutely nothing to earn this privilege, but I can do something with it.
When we defer to Black leadership (which if you read my book, you would know we always, always do when fighting for racial justice, right?), we see calls for immediate oversight and accountability. That is something we can do. Some white women are labeled Karens for their over-the-top calls for accountability and demands to see the manager of whichever fairly-priced department store they frequent the most. So, to all of those in your peak Karen power, I implore you to transfer that energy necessary to convince the cashier to accept your expired Kohl’s cash and use it to keep the police accountable.
Recording encounters with police has been a vital step in independent accountability and provides a necessary check and balance that we’re all capable of doing. As long as you don’t interfere [key word!] with police activity, you have the right to observe and record anything happening in the public realm. Unless you are carrying a Jitterbug, you likely have the ability to record quickly and easily with your cell phone.
Prepare yourself now so if you stumble upon an encounter, you’ll be ready.
- Know your rights. You have the first amendment right to record the police in public. Look up any other relevant laws in your state so you’re familiar.
- Do not interfere. Remember, this is the big caveat to your right to record police activity. Don’t just keep your distance, don’t do anything that could be perceived as an interference.
- Stay civil. This must be a peaceful encounter for the safety of all involved. Do not interject. Do not yell. Do not touch a police officer. If you cannot approach this with calm-as-a-Hindu-cow-like zen, do not do it. The last thing you want to do is increase the risk for violence.
The concept of policing the police has been around for decades, once used by the Black Panthers in the 1960s to reduce police brutality. Review this article from The Atlantic and look for any existing legal observation or “copwatch” programs for trainings in your area. (If you don’t have one, review established ones like NYC’s Justice Committee.)
Don’t be a Karen and weaponize your white woman privilege. Don’t be Central Park Karen. Don’t be San Francisco Karen. Try being Copwatch Karen and use your privilege to police the police.
Buy my book, Raising the Resistance: A Mother’s Guide to Practical Activism, here!