What’s Going On?

Marvin GayeMany of you might be familiar with these famous lyrics:

“Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today…”

If so, you know they’re the lyrics of the late, great Marvin Gaye’s (1971) song. “What’s Going On?” These lyrics seem particularly appropriate today, as they were some decades ago when he first sang them. I share them here, because you, like me, might be asking this same question in reference to the latest police shooting, specifically of Black/African Americans or people of color, “What’s going on?”

The latest police shooting in Brooklyn, New York is a sad commentary on the state of the numbers of Black/African Americans or other people of color, dying as a result of police shootings. Is this form of dying replacing the old form of “lynching”? Mapping Police Violence (2018) tells us that Black/African Americans are more than 3 times likely to be killed by police than White/European Americans, those who live in Oklahoma are 7 times more likely to be killed than Black/African Americans who live in Georgia, and 13 of the 100 largest U.S. city police departments kill Black/African Americans at higher rates than the U.S. murder rates. The statistics mentioned here don’t include Black/African Americans who were “unarmed” when killed.

The Washington Post (2018) reported that:

Police fatally shot an unarmed man in Brooklyn on Wednesday after mistaking a metal pipe he was holding for a gun, authorities said. The death of Saheed Vassell (Jamaican) 34, provoked hours of emotionally charged protests and has prompted the New York state attorney general to open an investigation (para. 1).

It is my understanding that the person killed was holding a metal pipe like it was a gun and making gestures as if he were shooting with it, and presented this same behavior when police arrived. Community members shared:

Vassell lived just around the corner from where the shooting took place. Many of Vassell’s family members and neighbors told local reporters that he had bipolar disorder and was well known to the area’s police and shopkeepers, one of whom described the mentally ill man as “harmless” (para. 15).

It is understood that Vassell was exhibiting threatened behavior, and police are trained to subdue the threat. But, knowing that people with mental illness struggle immensely and this social issue is predominant in our communities, why don’t police training include learning about the dynamics of mental illness, and how to de-escalate situations of this nature? Going further, why is it not mandatory to have someone come to the scene with expertise in the dynamics of mental illness?  It certainly seems like, it’s easier to shoot and subdue the threat. It seems that in many cases we have normalized death, or more so murder, to the extent that, our responses may be downright outrage initially, but resolve shortly, to “That’s the way it is.”

It’s so much going on with Black/African American police shootings, leadership scandals, immigration, foreign affairs, and the like, it is often easier to blank out and ignore. Yet, as Martin Luther King, Jr. shared, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”, silence is not an option. At least not for those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s, when Black lives absolutely mattered, and across the nation, leaders in the movement had no issue about letting the world know this.

Today, Black/African American lives still absolutely matter, but so do the lives of men, women, children, youth, LGBTQ+, DREAMERS, people who are disabled, mentally ill, homeless or housed. Readers, we are talking about human beings. Tell me, compared to human life, what other condition matters more? In light of this, “What’s going on?”


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