Why Police Shootings are State-Sanctioned Violence

I haven’t commented in-depth about the police shootings in African American communities on this blog. However, for today’s post I don’t think I can “escape” from that world, as I thought about the footage from Oklahoma’s and North Carolina’s shootings.

I did a post a few months ago about some questions I get asked as an American living abroad, and one of the things that British, Europeans, and Africans do not understand is our gun culture and hence, gun violence. They see the two as explicitly linked (available guns = mass shootings), and while I have given some rationale for our gun culture, I cannot find a positive rationale for police shootings of unarmed victims. This is when the discussion goes beyond the topic of gun culture into State-sanctioned violence.

There is wide use for this terminology, however I am specifically speaking of the legacy of police-community relations in African American neighborhoods. The relationship between law enforcement and Blacks has always been tense, so what we are witnessing in 2016 stretches to at least a century ago. The same White Supremacists (Ku Klux Klan members) who would burn crosses on front lawns or perform other acts of terror in Black neighborhoods at night, would dress up in law enforcement uniforms or suits in the day, to work at the police station, city hall, attorney’s office, or at the court. In other words, the same people who swore on a bible or in front of the flag to protect the citizenry and uphold the law, were the same ones who would commit these acts under the cover of darkness. This reality is less than one generation ago.

Today, the movement of #AllLivesMatter claim that this construct has been abolished and that specifically pointing out that “Black lives matter,” is racist. Just to be clear, the entire statement is “Black lives matter (too)”; as it is not about elevating the life of a Black person above anyone else, but raising awareness to a very critical issue that the people who are sworn to protect us, are killing us. Who can we trust? And yes, this system of “terrorizing and policing” Black communities that was historically constructed, is still in place. The tactics are more subtle, but the rhetoric of the “infinitely dangerous or threatening Black man” is used as a justification for lethal force.

So why do I use this term “State-sanctioned violence” ? Other than having race, class, gender, and manner of death in common; after the shooting, the victims also did not receive life-saving first aid. Huffington Post wrote a great article and this is why the phrase “Black lives matter” is important and should be shouted from the rooftops of every house. It is terribly unbelievable to think that a terrorist, who placed many bombs all over New York City and New Jersey last weekend, was shot but received life saving treatment, and will live to stand trial to defend himself. However in direct contrast, a Black man whose car was stranded on the side of the road, or the other Black man who was pulled over for a traffic ticket, or the 12 year old Black boy playing with a toy gun in the park never made it home. Not just because of a gun-shot wound, but because the officer, and surrounding officers, did not administer first aid or call for an ambulance immediately.

Thus, what is the rationale that an “armed and dangerous” ISIS-inspired terrorist gets to live, see his family, and do all the things that a law-abiding father of four will never get to do? For the record, I am glad that Ahmad Rahami received treatment and was treated with dignity as each human deserves. But why weren’t any of these men too?

This is the key link to why we can see this historical legacy perpetuating itself. Even after the victims were shot, many were denied immediate first aid after the “threat or danger” ceased. However, mainstream society and the main discussion of police-involved shootings, have not addressed this phenomenon. The Black community has suffered disproportionately from social ills (high unemployment, under-housed, health disparities etc…) and thus as a group has faced marginalization. Police shootings are a part of this larger scope. Thus, the “lack of caring or concern” to provide humane medical treatment is a product of decades of State-sanctioned violence, where power relations constructed in this realm has made violence against African Americans plausible. In other words, there is no “outrage” when violence of this nature happens, because in a way, we expect it to; nor do we expect the first responders (usually other officers) on the scene to help neither.

The phrase #BlackLivesMatter, which raises awareness of unfair policing practices, speaks to the dehumanizing of a Black life. No individual would say that one life is less valuable than another; however as a society, we collectively stopped seeing Black “suspects” or “perpetrators” as human beings. We have dismissively rationalized the deaths of Eric Gardner, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, or Walter Scott as “guilty thugs”, rather than critique the system that wields so much power over us behind a badge. A system that is flawed and insular, and has rarely been challenged by mass society to change, innovate, and respond to the dynamic needs of the public.

The training standards of law enforcement has to become universal across the country, there are multiple DOJ investigations into these shootings; however, the reports that came out on Ferguson and Baltimore policing practices, reveal that while the ideology of White supremacy is dying, officers still “police” differently in Black neighborhoods than White areas. Rookie officers are trained to view encounters in Black communities differently and the insular nature of some police districts prevent fellow officers from coming forward when his/her colleague breaks the law. Officers are also first responders. This means anyone that needs medical help (including the person that was shot by the officer) should receive immediate first aid and a 911-call for an ambulance. However, the problem again is training, not every police force is trained to perform first aid and protocols for officer-involved shooting varies.

The federal government has a role in this; a task force was set up to review police standards and provide meaningful solutions. However, these recommendations are up to individual police units to decide if and how these recommendations would be implemented. Thus, there is no enforcement or universal mandate for local officers to wear body cameras or use conflict diffusion measures. Americans of all race, class, gender, orientation, and background also have a role in this, because this isn’t just a “Black problem”– it affects everyone. Every community deserves safer policing practices, stronger law enforcement-community relationships, and officers that are accountable to the public that they serve, not “police”.

The only thing deadlier is silence.

You can also reach out to me on Facebook or twitter for comments, questions, or critiques.


23 thoughts on “Why Police Shootings are State-Sanctioned Violence

  1. That was something that I noticed about the videos too was that the victims were not receiving immediate medical attention. It’s awful to watch someone get shot and even worse especially as a medical provider to see that no one is checking their pulse, trying to hold pressure to stop bleeding or doing CPR.


    1. Right, and that actually varies according to police protocol. So some departments, if its an officer-involved shooting, the protocol is for the officer to stand back, notify a supervisor and immediately turn over his/her gun and maybe go to hospital for alcohol testing. Ironically, this leaves out giving first aid to the victim, some of the victims could have lived. So that does need to be addressed.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Very well written and insightful article on a very complex issue is at hand. Police brutality has to come to an end. I don’t see how there is not a major investigation into police training across the board. Personally, I always thought that police were trained to keep the person in question alive and shoot to injure, when necessary, but again keep the person in question alive. There’s no justification for the all of the recent killings. It is exactly as you stated, state-sanctioned murders. I live abroad as well and as an American and Black woman, get so many questions and sometimes I’m quite conflicted.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, more accountability and better training. This is why officer involved shootings are less in Europe and island countries, and even victims that are shot, tend to live than the victims shot in the States.


  3. Very good post! I appreciate the fact you are willing to speak out about these injustices, because the more of us that do, the better chance we have of forcing a change to happen.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You have so very good questions of which many people cannot deny. Unfortunately, many “Black” communities fail to see law enforcement as community liaisons that exist to bring peace. As a law enforcement officer and as a black man, I see the BLM movement as a leaderless movement that is the perpetual boat with one paddle. True, some law enforcement agencies have to adapt their Community Oriented Policing Service in a way that is both positive and fair to their citizens. However, the BLM movement expects the law enforcement to change without seeking to meet their community partners in diplomatic solidarity. As a Pastor, the only way that this issue will be resolved is at the hand of Super-Natural means. Jesus Christ is the Prince Of Peace. Unless each side is willing to yield to Him, they will both perpetuate evil and contemptible behavior. What can we do as bloggers to influence positive change for our communities?


    1. Well, BLM is a grassroots movement that started organically with protests and people using the BLM hastag. So you’re right that there is no identified leader, even the phrase is used differently abroad here in the U.K to protest environmental and social issues. Its almost like the “Black is Beautiful” movement, no leader, but an important phrase in our history that inspired more afrocentric thinking and philosophy. Thus, when you say the “BLM movement expects law enforcement” or “BLM movement is not doing this or that…”Its hard to know who you are speaking of, because there are local communities where self-described BLM activists are working with precincts and politicians. And unfortunately, there are some self-described BLMers who are engaging in self-defeating measures too. Thus, it is up to community leaders and organizers (like you) to lead the discussion on positive change and bridge the gap between officers and civilians, and not let the rioters/looters hi-jack an important national conversation on Fox news every night; or everyone loses.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very well said! However, as we sit in our well manicured houses and comfortable domiciles, there is still an issue that goes unresolved. With respect to you and your articulate verbosity on social media; what can we as bloggers do? Many of us offer advice to many of the BLMers but few offer suggestions. I know several communities here in the US that have identified as BLM communities yet they have not adopted leaders. I find this frustrating because no one person is empowered to address the voice of the community. Hundreds of people demonstrate peacefully in the beginning but later turn violent when they feel they aren’t being validated.

        Can we as bloggers covenant together to be unified in our message to promote peaceful demonstrations and diplomacy? I think that if we set the stage for peaceful diplomatic relations in social media we can, in turn, assuage the desire to seek immediate retribution in the form or riots.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I think as bloggers that it’s possible for us to call for peace and diplomacy. However, about what you’re expressing (people turning violent later on), this can happen to anyone, anywhere, any movement. When people feel their democratic rights are being trampled on, they will move to the extreme (right or left). So “messages of peace” won’t work for long, its about progressive action and real change, that’s why (outside the BLM movement) with everything you’ve seen in politics this year — across the globe (brexit, France’s muslim burka bans, etc), people are tired of “words and rhetoric” and are demanding for “change”. But promoting peaceful relations is a small step in the right direction.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. You have a brilliant mind and are willing to see the end result. I encourage you and those like you to continue to promote the truth in love all the while remaining sympathetic to the cause seeing justice for irresponsible behavior. Both from rogue law enforcement officers and from irresponsible citizens.

    Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good. (Ecclesiastes 9:18 KJV)

    Liked by 1 person

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