**Trigger warning for violence**
I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the situation with Kimani Gray, but it just doesn’t make sense. I mean, considering the unceasing frequency of U.S. American police brutality, the story is “simple” enough. Ten days ago, sixteen-year-old Kimani, known as KiKi to his loved ones, was out late, returning from a gathering. While out in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Kimani and his friends were approached by two men, apparently plainclothes undercover police officers with records of brutality and excessive force, who sidled up in an unmarked van. While those close to Kimani claim the youth was simply adjusting his belt or waistband, the police have claimed that Kimani pulled out a .38, which caused the officers to unload eleven rounds of ammunition into his body, killing him there in the street.
Simple, right? Not even close.
For every Black and Brown person I’ve spoken with, this is so clearly another example of our communities’ ever increasing militarization that not only marks our bodies as inherently deviant and always guilty, but that is also hell bent on killing and/or imprisoning our people with impunity.
Although they are little more than half the population of New York, African Americans and Latinos were subject to almost 90% percent of the incidences of stop-and-frisk in the city in recent years. Stop-and-frisk policies are not only morally unsound, but statistics have clearly shown that they are also expensive and inefficient. The New Yorker reports “As for the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk, since Bloomberg doubled down on the program, in 2002, murder attempts, robberies, and assaults have fallen by less than one per cent. Arrests are made in about six per cent of the stops, and a firearm is found in about one per cent” (Source). Likewise, Vincent Warren notes:
Every first-year graduate student learns that correlation does not prove causality, but the NYPD routinely claims that the city’s falling crime rates are caused in part by their stop-and-frisk practices. There is not a single published study providing evidence for this claim. The truth is that no one knows what has caused the city’s drop in crime, but given the fact that only 6% of stops result in arrest and the vast majority of these are for so-called quality of life violations, it seems improbable, to say the least, that crime rates are going down because of stop and frisk. (Source)
Then again, cost is no object in a police state, right?
Reading about Kimani’s story, takes me back to my own youth in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where I witnessed police negligence and violence firsthand. While they could never be counted on to come when someone was going upside your head or stealing someone’s car, they for damn sure would show up and show out in other moments, making my already unsafe hood even less safe. I learned to be more afraid of the police than my dopefiend neighbor who bashed my bedroom window open to steal or the pimps that stood just outside the gate of middle school everyday at 3pm. They were treacherous, but I knew how to deal with them. But the police—they were a wild card. They could come into your house, disrespect you, put their hands on you, talk to you any kind of way, and you’d just be standing there contemplating the virtues of taking a cast iron frying pan to their skulls but remembering your duty to your family. But, for some people, sometimes that cast iron pan would win.
Twenty years ago, something happened with the police that I’ll never forget. I was an eighth grader, walking home from school. A big crowd had gathered to watch two girls, two of my classmates in fact, tussle. These sisters were rolling around and around in the dirt. Look, I wasn’t a fool. I wasn’t really trying to be all up in this altercation, but the crowd was so big that I couldn’t get through or around it. So I watched, shaking my head, knowing that one girl was jealous of another and that some knucklehead dude was at the center of this drama. It wasn’t until they separated that I saw how horrible the fight had been. The sister that initiated the fight had carried a razor blade in her mouth and sliced the other girl on her face and neck. This young sister stumbled past me, her face and neck swollen and bloodied, her white t-shirt splattered with her own blood.
I could not believe my own eyes. I had just watched someone get stabbed. I was appalled. I was disgusted. I was worried for my classmate. Would she bleed to death? (She did, in fact, live). She lived a block away from me, but despite her injuries, seemed to be making a defiant walk home. I looked around to see if anyone was there to help. There were mostly other teens like myself, standing there with a mixture of curiosity, disbelief, and horror.
Then, I spotted the police. They had been in the background all along. I mean, they were always there along my route home, apathetic observers that never stopped when drug transactions were made brazenly, out in the open or when twelve-year-old girls were propositioned for sex in broad daylight. But on that day, they really jumped the shark. As I scanned the crowd, looking for an adult to help—my go to adult helper has always been older Black women—I saw the police pointing and laughing at my bloodied classmate. I’m not talking about a nervous giggle or an uncomfortable chuckle, but some of that old bent over, clutching your stomach, and wiping your eyes kind of laughter. Rather than going to the aid of an injured young woman (who was wounded by another injured young woman), these fools were laughing. It was as if we were all slaves in a Roman gladiator’s ring, killing each other for their amusement. The image of their laughter haunts me to this day.
Years later, when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in college, I came across this line that has stayed with me, haunting me, ever reminding me of the constant dehumanization Blacks endure under white supremacy. After the novel’s protagonist, Sethe, is abused by the whites that run her plantation, she remembers, “they handled me like I was the cow, no, the goat, back behind the stable because it was too nasty to stay in with the horses.” I felt that way, felt that way for my classmate, on the day I saw her stabbed and no one rushed to help her.
So, when reports allege that Kimani Gray pulled a .38 on the admittedly plainclothes officers, I do not think of black-on-black crime or an out of control urban Black youth population that are menaces to society. I think of a kid who lived in a war zone, a kid who could not only not count on those who vow to protect and serve to do either of those things, but who could also expect the police to be the major perpetrators of state sanctioned terrorism.
Let me be clear. I do not think systemic violence is strategy that is going to liberate our communities. And I do not actually think Kimani had a weapon. However, I would understand why a kid would think he was in danger if two random dudes rolled up on him in a car and jumped out yelling. And I do understand the pain, anger, and frustration the protestors in East Flatbush have been expressing. And I wish that stories like this were not a constant unbroken loop in our communities, continually traumatizing us into silence and submission.
What are your thoughts on the situation surrounding Kimani Gray and his murder?