Respectability won’t save you

Respectability won’t save you


The events that preceded Sandra Bland’s death have revived an old conversation in black communities: how to make it home after an encounter with the police. Although Bland didn’t lose her life there on the highway where she was pulled over, it was the events that took place there that ultimately lead to her tragic death. Rather than focusing on the specifics of her interaction with Officer Brian Encinia, we would be better served examining what we ask of American citizens who wish to survive an encounter with law enforcement. When looking at it through this lens, an honest and sober observer will see respectability politics doesn’t save lives.

There have been no shortage of think-pieces and explanations on what black parents tell their children about how to survive an interaction with the police. Outlets from ABC News to TIME even Gawker have illustrated just how frustrating and scary it is for many black parents when they send their children out into the world. The instructions can be as broad as “’do everything the officer says” or can be as specific as a detailed point-by-point if-then scenario black people are to follow should they interact with police. Inexplicably, and almost like clockwork however we hear some story about law enforcement interaction with African-Americans that ends in death. With all these lectures on black respectability and how to navigate interaction with the police, perhaps it’s time someone craft think pieces on how police interact with citizens.

We come back to the word citizens because in the United States African-Americans are seemingly constantly attempting to prove their worth. Time and again respectability politics rears its ugly head to say “had this person done this” or “had that person done that,” but a careful review shows simply that citizenship and the rights bestowed upon those persons who are citizens are given not earned. It would be far too easy to chronicle the countless incidents where white Americans interact with law enforcement to significantly different results. Comedian Dave Chappelle brought some levity to the situation with a standup routine about the matter. Nonetheless the nation still routinely has occasion to search for an answer to the dilemma to the relationship between black Americans and law enforcement. The quandary wouldn’t be quite so difficult however if one were to make peace with the reality that no level of respectability will make law enforcement see black Americans as their peers. Thus meaning the change has to occur on the side of law enforcement.

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates outlined how the common suggestions of better police training, more body and dash cams and other tepid reforms are largely meaningless to this conversation. Sadly what they’ve done is given us a front row view to black death. The officer in Tulsa, Ok who shot and killed an unarmed Eric Harris fleeing from him had his body camera on and working. It did nothing to save Harris’ life. The larger problem here is that for whatever reason (racism seems apparent although others might argue another reason) police don’t see black lives as mattering thus there is a need for the cry Black Lives Matter. If these series of incidents were unfortunate and random occurrences they would be more evenly distributed across racial lines. They are not, and because law enforcement and the nation as a whole is unwilling to confront, challenge and change the functionality of white supremacy we are left asking the victims to come up with the answer to better manage the oppressor’s behavior.

Which brings us back to Sandra Bland. Her crime according to the law? Not signaling when changing lanes. Her actual crime? Offending the ego of Officer Brian Encinia. Her punishment? Death. Very stark terms indeed but it is the reality facing so many American citizens. Why would American have this problem with just one group of citizens? If police officers were out of control en masse wouldn’t we see Asian teen girls being slammed to the ground at pool parties? Wouldn’t we see white criminals who flee unarmed accidentally shot? And wouldn’t we just accept the humanity of black Americans without someone having to tell us how great of people they were before they died explicitly at the hands of or under dubious circumstances while in the custody of law enforcement. But none of this happens. No matter how many times Bland graduated from college, no matter how affluent the background Prince Jones came from, no matter how innocent and adorable Aiyana Stanley Jones was, no matter how great of a father Eric Garner was no matter how loving of a mother Tanisha Anderson was… respectability didn’t save them.

Ray Baker is a journalist and political commentator who has contributed to TVOne, Ebony, Washington Post & Politic365. More of his work can be found at You can follow him on Twitter @RayBakerMedia.


  1. This was a Zoom stop. The officer approached her vehicle at an excessive rate of speed for the sole purpose of causing her to make a hasty lane change. There was no other lawful purpose for the officers excessive speed. A very large percentage of the time this will intimidate motorists into making “Illegal” lane changes. They are not “Illegal” because the motorist is yielding to the police officer in the interests of public safety. The Police officer is endangering public safety with unsafe driving and the motorist is attempting to improve public safety by yielding. The pretext for the stop ‘Public safety’ stands on it’s head. If for any reason the officer’s breaks do not work he could kill someone. The use of excessive speed to intimidate drivers into a mistake is a horrible practice and is not legal. An officer needs a reason to speed, they can’t just drive dangerously whenever they want, and they certainly can’t intentionally cause motorists to panic, but they do, all the time, and it is not legal.

  2. The killing of Sandra Bland is a tragedy and very Unjustified: Police Killing:The tally for 2014? 1,100 people killed by those sworn to protect.”That is an average of three people a day. While violence among citizens has dropped, violence against citizens carried out by police has been rising sharply…When we look at citizens killed by police over the last two years, deaths have increased 44% in this short time; 763 people were killed by police in 2013. As comparison, the total number U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, in 2014 was 58…”Fewer soldiers were killed in war than citizens back home” the land of the free” in2014, by a large margin…”So why is that? Is this some natured tendency of police in free societies” to kill their citizens more, in an effort to maintain this freedom? Hardly and Hardly is The United States a free country…According to The 2014 Legatum Prosperity Index released in November, in the measure of personal freedom,”The United States has fallen from 9th place in 2010 to 21st World-Wide…”Behind such countries as Canada, The United Kingdom, Germany, Uruguay and Costa Rica….”Other such rankings systems show The United States as low as 46…..”Let’s look at our immediate neighbors to the North, Canada. The total number of citizens killed by law enforcement officers in the year 2014 was 14; that is 78 times less people than The United States….”If we look at The United Kingdom, 1 person was killed by police in 2014 and 0 in 2013. English police reportedly fired guns a total of 3 times in all 2013, with zero reported fatalities from 2010 through 2014, there were four fatal police shootings in England, which has a population of about 52 million…”By contrast, Albuquerque, N.M.; with a population 1% the size of England’s had 26 fatal police shootings in that same time period…..”China, whose population is 41/2 times the size of The United States recorded 12 killings by law enforcement officers in 2014….Let That Sink In….

  3. The Killing of Sandra Bland is a Tragedy and Very Unjustified: Law Enforcement in The United States killed 92 times more people than a country with nearly 1.4 billion people….” IT doesn’t stop there:” from 2013-2014, German People killed absolutely no one. So why are police in The United States so much more likely than all of these other First World Countries? ”To better understand the multi-dimensional answer to that question, we can start by looking at The Prison Population of The United States…..”America imprisons almost 25% of all people imprisoned in The World,”although containing only about 5% of The World’s Population, an extremely disproportionate share of people imprisoned globally….”The United States houses 2.3million inmates,, while China, a country with four times the population of The United States; is a distant second with 1.6 million prisoners….”The War on Drugs coupled with The Military Industrial State created by The United States playing Police of The World has created a deadly combination a constant pursuit of New Weaponry by The Military has paved the way for the hand-me-down cycle of Military Gear to police departments….”The idea was that if The United States wanted it’s police to act like Drug Warriors, it should equip them like Warriors,”which it has-to the tune of around $4.3 billion in equipment, according to a report by The American Civil Liberties Union…;;What we are calling The Militarization of Police has already taken place, on a large scale……”We are now seeing a Domestic Military pretending to be a Police Force…”The Time For Peaceful Resistance is now and more and more people are begining to understand this…..”Even Retired Police Chiefs are begining to realize this…”

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