Sagirah Shahid never got to meet her aunt. She died in police custody with no explanation. That’s one of the reasons the Minneapolis police shooting of Jamar Clark affects her personally. Shahid told the story just before she launched into reading a poem about Sandra Bland, a woman who was arrested for a traffic violation and then died while in police custody at a Texas jail.
Shahid is one of several poets and other artists who last week helped raise money and awareness for the drive to stop police violence and get justice in the Clark case. The “Break The Silence” event at the Capri Theater was about a mile from where police had shot Clark in the head while arresting him last November.
The community outrage over the shooting sparked a several week encampment outside the nearby police precinct. Activists have called for investigators to release video they have that may show what happened before or during the shooting. The NAACP and the ACLU of Minnesota have filed a lawsuit to get the video released.
Defining White Privilege
On this cold February night Misty Rowan took the case to the court of public opinion. She offered up a definition of white privilege that resonated with the mostly black crowd at the Capri theater in North Minneapolis.
“Doors getting slammed in their (minorities) faces and you don’t even notice there’s doors there. Because to you they’re just door frames,” said Rowan to the crowd that clicked their fingers in approval.
Activists see the police shooting of Clark, an unarmed black man, a symptom of systemic racism that is fed by “white privilege,” which is defined as “a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.”
“It is said that white privilege is never having to think about it, but verdict after verdict I find it impossible to ignore,” said Rowan referring to Minnesota’s record of grand juries never indicting a police officer when they shoot someone. “Such state sanctioned racial violence and blatant inequality. Killer cops that walk around with impunity while black and brown faces fill up our prisons with their minor offenses. Their real crime being that they were too poor to afford a good lawyer.”
Minnesota’s legislature is looking at ways to reduce the state’s prison population, including possibly changing mandatory prison sentences for drug offenses that are one of the reasons a disproportionate number of minorities are behind bars.
“You know, I’ll bet if you ask the families of Michael Brown or Jamar Clark or Sandra Bland or Eric Garner or countless others, they’d tell you that they haven’t been able to visit their daughters and sons in prison,” said Rowan of the victims of highly publicized police shootings in recent years.
“But make no mistake. The justice system is not broken. It was built to work this way. And it’s important to remember that the police are only the enforcers of this order. It comes from a much higher place. A much deeper well of hatred. So no, this isn’t about a few bad apples that have misbehaved. This is about how the police are trained.”