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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Smashing the Shackles of Invisibility


An attorney for the family of the Rayshard Brooks talked about the slain black man as a father whose 8-year-old daughter, in her birthday dress, waited for him “to come finish the party they started yesterday”.

L. Chris Stewart visited the family’s home after an Atlanta, Georgia police officer fatally shot Brooks, 27, in a Wendy’s parking lot. Brooks, asleep in his car, at the fast-food restaurant, was blocking the drive-through lane, according to police. He was shot in the back twice as he ran away after a struggle late Friday night on the 19th day of nationwide and global demonstrations for racial justice in the wake of the killing of another black man, George Floyd, by a police officer, but in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“It’s frustrating to be playing with someone’s children -- again -- when their daddy should have been alive,” said Stewart, in a CNN televised interview the next day. He also represents the family of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, a black man who was hunted down by a white father and son in February, while he jogged in his Georgia neighborhood. “It should not have happened. They (police) should have had a conversation with (Brooks) from the beginning."

“I don’t even know what justice is anymore.”

Brooks was a person, the family's lawyer tried to convey to viewers. He was a man whose four children love him.

Therein lies the quandary of being black in the United States, where we are often invisible, as is Ralph Ellison’s young narrator in The Invisible Man (1952).

“When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”

We are invisible to teachers, colleagues, everyone. Tragically, many Americans’ stunted imaginations and blinkered vision see only disadvantaged, threatening and criminal. If we have an ongoing relationship, we can sometimes restore sight to the blind. Sometimes not, if we choose not to try, because we are exhausted at having to school people on our humanity. An encounter with police, however, rarely leads to a relationship. Because police are, in effect, authorized to take away life and liberty, it is imperative that the shackles of invisibility are smashed apart.

Therefore, changes in police training will not be effective if African Americans are invisible to recruits. A sincere national apology for slavery and reparations for its descendants would lay the groundwork. An apology would be a morally redemptive act for the descendants of slaves and owners, and all Americans who have inherited a country built by slaves and an unequal socioeconomic structure biased against blacks.

The net worth of a typical white family ($171,000) is nearly 10 times greater than that of a black family ($17,150) in 2016, according to the Brookings Institution on February 27. To begin to reduce the persistent wealth gap, there must be economic reparations, specifically, funds earmarked for education and housing, and savings for children, accessible when they reach age 17, for the same purposes.

An apology and reparations would help us be seen by everyone, including law enforcement officials.

Years ago, I was detained by two police officers in San Francisco in my own home. They said that there had been a spate of robberies in that area of Potrero Hill.

“Do you live here,” one officer asked.

“Yes,” I said, warning bells going off in my head. Why did I let them in? But what would they do if I hadn’t? I began to pray that I would walk out of there free.

“Do you have proof?” This is bad, I thought, as I searched in my black clutch. They are not seeing me. I am invisible.

It should have been clear that I was not robbing any houses. I was wearing very high Kenneth Cole heels, a black dress and opera coat because I was leaving for a San Francisco Symphony concert at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall when they accosted me.

Thieves do not wear heels.

But these men did not see me. Their perceptions obscured the obvious. As I handed over my California driver’s license with my address, I alerted them that I was an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. I also gave them my press pass, hoping that this information would place me on the other side of danger. Their eyes remained glossed over. They continued to ask questions such as how long I lived there, and I continued to answer them politely. All the while, I was praying that they would recognize that I was not the perpetrator and leave my home.

They just kept on, one officer, in particular, interrogating me while the other one hovered around me. I asked them for their names and badge numbers, which they gave me. Were they going to order me to put my hands up? Were they going to pat me down? What were they going to do?

Ten minutes later, they left my living room, their glacial look intact. There was no change in their demeanor. There was no apology.

It was an unnerving experience. Afterwards, I was livid.

The day after Rayshard Brooks’ killing, protests were held at the scene and, that night, the Interstate-75, a major road, was blocked for about 30 minutes. Crowds set fire to the Wendy’s, and police used tear gas.

The officer involved in the shooting, Garrett Rolfe, was fired from the Atlanta Police Department. He had been on the force for seven years, according to the BBC. The other officer, Devin Brosnan, who has been on the force less than two years, has been given administrative duty.

Also, on Saturday, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields’ resignation was accepted by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

“While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe that there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do,” said Bottoms. “I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force.”

This is the 48th officer-involved shooting that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has investigated this year, according to ABC News. Of these, 15 were fatal.

“Don’t lose faith, anybody,” said Attorney Stewart. “Don’t lose faith in that the answer and change will come as long as we keep demanding it.”

Meanwhile, Brooks’ 8-year-old waits for her daddy.

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