It finally happened in Lafayette, LA. A Black man was killed during an encounter with police that seems to have been avoidable. On August 21, 2020, Trayford Pellerin was shot and killed by police officers during what many are calling a non-threatening situation. The aftermath has not been surprising. Protesters gathered at various locations across the city to demonstrate support for Pellerin’s family and to demand transparency from the police department and city officials.
Response to the community’s outrage sparked statements about the victim taking personal responsibility for his failure to follow police commands. Social media has become the new playground for the type of cowardice that fails to recognize, much less address, the terror of police brutality or the lasting effects of slavery. Many are quick to post their thoughts about the victims of these police encounters without the slightest knowledge of the victim or the details of the actual encounter.
So, let’s talk about personal responsibility. Personal responsibility of the police. Personal responsibility of government. Personal responsibility of every American citizen, including those who take to the streets to demand transparency, justice and accountability.
In the last three weeks America observed the 19th year following the loss of thousands of lives in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Like most Americans, I reflected on America’s response to that terror. Each year I am left to wonder if there was reason to be on alert, to mitigate or prevent those attacks on September 11, 2001. But the answers to those thoughts are too complex to address here. Likewise, I’m left reflecting on America’s response to another period of terror – slavery and the centuries of terror that followed.
Sold and shackled on the shores of Africa. Beaten and raped on plantations across the south. Lynched and jailed by white men who knew they were lynching or jailing their own sons. Murdered while white women watched, knowing the black man being killed was her lover. Shot and killed by police officers even today. I can only call that terrifying.
“. . . I’d drop any 10 of you where you stand . . .”Rep. Clay Higgins, (R-LA)
So yeah, let’s talk about personal responsibility. It’s time America takes personal responsibility for the horrors inflicted on black people every day. Look, we don’t have to use the term racism if that is a problem for anyone. Let’s just call it what it is – terrorism.
I’ll accept the argument that the word racism is thrown around too loosely. I’ll accept your pushback to the terror experienced by Black people in America. But what do you call what people of color experience when we talk about healthcare, education, housing, employment and policing across the United States? After three decades in a law enforcement I can understand why that is such a prevailing attitude. So, here’s my solution – I’ll call what I witnessed daily over those years misconduct. Misconduct by the police, by employers and co-workers, by bankers and real estate agents and doctors and lawyers, judges and jurors. Misconduct by school boards and legislators. Simply put, a lot of people have just misbehaved. Hands down, we must do something about systemic American misconduct.
However, all the dialogue in the world won’t move the needle if the misconduct is allowed to continue. When a legislator like Rep. Clay Higgins (R–LA) transitions from the ranks of the police to the halls of Congress and takes that misconduct with him, a grave disservice follows. We must demand personal responsibility through our action in the voting booth when a legislator takes to social media and incites terror. This country cannot grow when elected officials promote divisiveness.
Certainly, we do not need a sitting president stoking fear and issuing a call to action to a far-right neo-fascist male-only group that clearly advocates and engages in political violence. Personal responsibility is not a concept reserved just for those who stand up and advocate for accountability when it comes to terrorizing misconduct by police, elected officials or anyone else. It’s for every American.
So, when we talk about personal responsibility, we should begin with all Americans realizing that generations of terrorizing people of color in this country has not ceased. We must realize that the terror experienced by people of color is neither imagined nor exaggerated. Deaths like Trayford Pellerin’s are deaths that can be avoided only if we first address the misconduct.