• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • December 23, 2014 in Columnists

    Police brutality harms us all

    I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
    Martin Luther King, delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

    One of the hallmarks of privilege is distance. I’m not fond of the whole “privilege” meme when it’s used to put a knee to the necks of those inadvertently gifted with it – abase yourself before your victims, monstrous ones. I take responsibility for what I’ve done personally and I take responsibility for speaking up and out when I see abuse, but I’m not going to pick up the burden of shame for things I have no way of controlling, particularly by way of not having been born yet or being a small child.

    Nonetheless, I’m going to use the P word here, because it applies. If you are privileged, most of what people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities, poor people, homeless people and people of size go through is likely  somewhat distant to you. Academic even. Theoretical. It’s Not Your Problem and so You Don’t Get It. Trust me, you can sympathize, but honestly, some things are just subjective. You have to live it to truly understand, which is why I am actually grateful for my former weight of about 420 lbs. I have lived as “other” in my own land and did so for a good 30 plus years. This perspective is treasure beyond rubies and I am deeply grateful for it, with the caveat that I was able (finally!) to lose the weight and most everybody else who can be cast in that role cannot change who and what they are.

    You may think that, as a human being, your reaction would be the same, and I’m not going to gaslight you if you really know in your heart that it’s true, but I will also offer up my experience about processing the horror of the Holocaust from before and after I found out that my (adoptive but real to me) father and a sizable portion of his family was Jewish. I had honestly believed that my common humanity would fully instruct my reactions, but it didn’t turn out that way. Finding out this crucial but long-omitted piece of family information and remembering, because of it, my father’s search for a cousin who was murdered along with his family in Auschwitz made it far more intimate and personal and it wasn’t the same at all.

    Realistically, if you don’t have a single friend who has found being who they are in the world to be potentially lethal, you’ll be more likely to be able to stand back and ruminate about the issue without nearly as much angst as someone who does.

    Me, I have all sorts of friends, some black or brown, some mentally ill, some LGBT, some disabled – I like my friends richly varied – which means I’m scared for them. There are people out there whom I cherish with all my heart, and I’m telling you, if I heard that they were beaten to death by the cops, I would be brought to my knees. I would never recover. Ever. These precious people are crucial to this world – take my word for it. We cannot do without them and we shouldn’t do without them. We’re all mortal and heir to the inherent dangers of breathing, but knowing  that my friends can be killed just for walking while black – or gay, or mentally ill, or disabled – makes me want to not only run around in circles weeping and wailing and tearing at my hair, it also makes me want to shadow them, camera in hand, like the woman lawyer who stepped up and extricated the neighborhood handyman from the clutches of unreasoning officers who had absolutely no reason to have apprehended him. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/10/09/1335527/-Wow-Police-harrass-and-humilate-Black-Man-White-Lady-Lawyer-intervenes-restores-order#)

    Because I love marvelous people of every delightful sort, I, too, bear at least some measure of the damage caused by police brutality. Because I don’t winnow out my friends by superficialities, I live in terror that one day, the suffering face in the video will belong to someone I cherish – someone I was absolutely unable to rescue.

    It’s a horrible, helpless feeling to know so many good people are imperiled for no good reason whatsoever, but there are things we can do and I try to do them whenever I can. I make noise. I share the videos on social media. I implore the good cops to weed out the bad ones – to police themselves. I abjure the judicial system to hold accountable not only the individual monster cops but also the departments who enable, entitle and subsequently shelter these miscreants. Even when people protest that they cannot bear to watch what I post. Even knowing I may be inviting some pretty foul energy as push-back. Even then, because this is the best use of privilege that I know – speaking out because I know my voice is more likely to be heard. And to continue until that is no longer true and all our voices ring equally in this land because until it is, the dream will not be realized, even though it’s long, long overdue.

    And because we’re fecking well better than this.


    • Since I filter everything through the lens of Dylan’s brutal suicide baiting death, your compassionate piece resonates deeply with me. No one has ever explained “privilege” better. We are all, indeed, fecking better. Any injustice to one is injustice to all, and we are all diminished by unnecessary cruelty. It is a profound pleasure to read your work. Thank for sharing these thoughts, dear Maya.

        • Maya North

        • December 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so much, Kathie! Yeah, once you’ve experienced an amputation of the degree to which Dylan’s suicide was, it’s like having wearing pain-colored lens implants in your eyes — you will always see everything through them. And yeah, it’s like Tikkun Olam (to heal or repair the world, the universe, infinity) where all good ripples out infinitely — all injustices and cruelties do, too. We ARE fecking better than this. Any species that can hold an ailing puppy in its hands and do everything possible to save that pup can do far, far better. <3

    • Thank you for this peace. Well said and voiced for many of us. Blessings!

        • Maya North

        • December 23, 2014 at 8:30 pm
        • Reply

        You’re welcome and thank YOU for your kind words. There’s this divide and conquer mentality with all the parties — including the people most ravaged by this — but the truth is, if we’re all one people — all one species — we’re all impacted. We’re all diminished and harmed, and we ALL have to work for change…

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