UPDATE - FALL 2019
WAITING to Exhale and
Reflux in American
by Eboni M. Zamani-Gallaher,
We are three-fourths of the way through 2019 and well over 600 people have been killed by
police officers, according to The Washington Post Democracy Dies in the Darkness: Fatal
Force police shooting database. As these records show, there are disproportionately higher
rates of deadly force applied to Blacks per population in contrast to Whites. In fact, Whites
comprise 76.5% of Americans but account for just 205 deaths by the cops, which is less than
1% of those killed this year by police. Blacks, meanwhile make up 13.4% of the population,
but 143 (9.4%) of them have been killed by cops in 2019. Further, 139 of the 143 Black people
shot to death by police officers this year were Black men, 7 of them being unarmed and 6 of
them identified as having possession of an unknown weapon.
Nearly five years ago, I wrote the following blog post, “Waiting to Exhale,” feeling like my racial
battle fatigue was at an all-time high, knowing that my “Black-is-tired” and so many other of
folks were having similar feelings. Prior to the 2014 killings of Michael Brown and Tamir
Rice, and before the 2015 killing of Eric Gardner, there was Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Trayvon
Martin, Jordan David, and Renisha McBride. As I wrote the blog piece “Waiting to Exhale”
in December 2014, I never fathomed that I would see 2015 ushered in with yet more of my
people—unarmed Black folks—being killed. Floyd Dent, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra
Bland, and Samuel DuBose. Stephon Clark and Botham Shem Jean in 2018, Isaiah Mark
Lewis this April … and the list goes on and on. Black folks who were killed for walking while
Black, standing while Black, playing while Black, driving while Black, trying to get home on
public transportation while Black, being in their own backyard while Black, being in their own
subdivision while headed home with Skittles and tea while Black, playing loud music at a gas
station while Black, and for trying to seek help after following a car collision while Black. Time
after time, I and other Black folks collective breaths are taken away. It’s laborious trying not to
have asphyxia from continual injustice that permeates as no charges or acquittals result after
killing us. The past five years have flown by, yet the painful reality is that the more things have
changed, the more nothing whatsoever is different when it comes to the unparalleled loss of
innocent Black lives.
UPDATE - FALL 2019
Original Post With Garner’s death filmed, the Obama administration’s plans offer
December 22, 2014 little consolation. It is criminal not applying accountability to those
dishonoring the badge bringing peril, not protection, to the people.
On November 24th, a St. Louis County grand jury brought The reactions I have had to the recent events depict the cumulative
no criminal charges against officer Darren Wilson, a white effects of what William Smith refers to as RBF – Racial Battle Fa-
policeman who shot an unarmed African-American teen- tigue. Smith coined the term in describing emotional, psychological,
ager, Michael Brown multiple times resulting in his death. As I physiological, and behavioral symptoms that manifest as people of
watched the news coverage of the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury color deal with the toll of daily racial macro- and microaggressions
announcement unfolding, I felt disbelief for what appeared to be (Smith, 2010). The mainstay of marginalization is not manufactured
immunity for prejudicial policing. Some may balk that justice pre- making mending what is broken far reaching. Scholar Joe Feagin
vailed; however, those embittered by the result in Ferguson have contends that this country was founded on extensive white-on-black
tired of excessive force being commonplace. oppression and has never recovered. The symbiotic relationship
December 3rd, I viewed coverage of protests in dismay of another between policing and racism has contributed to militarism and in-
failure to indict in the case of Eric Garner, a black man killed by a creased brutality of the disenfranchised.
white officer. The fatal exchange, all captured on video tape, shows We Aren’t There Yet
Garner saying, “I can’t breathe” multiple times. The medical exam- A post-racial society is still merely rhetoric not reality. Across the
iner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. As I watched MSNBC, my spectrum of difference, dominance functions by remaining unexam-
two 10 year-old daughters ready for bed, came to say goodnight. ined. It is only when it hits close to home for us that the particular
One looked at the screen inquiring, “Mom, why are you watching group membership in question is more salient. It is then that uneven-
that show again? You watched it last week. Why are you watching ness registers; that we all have racialized realities, gendered experienc-
a re-run?” My heart sank. Really, a re-run? While this was not a es, social class matters, who you love can come at a cost, and so forth.
television series, the scene was a familiar repeat on prime time TV. As we clamor for new codes for cops, there should also be new rules
I attempted to explain what was occurring. My other child asked, for engagement on college campuses. One thing we can do as schol-
“Aren’t the police suppose to protect us?” and with panic asked, “Is ar-practitioners is to encourage students to know their rights, have
Daddy going to be safe?” Geez! How do I inform them without a sense of agency and voice, as well as stay encouraged. Many times,
setting off an alarm that the black boys/men in our family will not the positive changes that occur in society are due in part to youth
meet harm’s way just for walking and driving while black? activism. The democratic distresses of the 1960s challenging social
Walking the Line inequality that brought about campus movements are still relevant
in today’s society.
I feel particularly paradoxical as a black female that grew up as a As a scholar-practitioner with a social justice imperative and as a per-
cop’s kid. On one hand, my father is a retired police officer that was son of color, it is hard not to feel that there is a devaluing of our lives.
awarded a life-saving commendation from the Superintendent of I have ordered and worn a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt numerous
the Chicago Police Department. On the other hand, I know that times the past few weeks. The shirt is symoblic and gives me affirma-
every police officer will not be a dignified upholder of the law but tion but only fleeting relief. It is unnerving that in the 21st century
may demonstrate dereliction of duty. I have seen my father racially we are still plagued with the charge to move black lives from the
profiled when in plain clothes. Why would he have to be in uniform margins to mattering. I guess I want a utopia where we get real about
with badge and gun in tow for some of his colleagues to see he was the scar of race and have systemic and sustainable change. Is trying
not a threat – to see his full humanity? There is irony in the pride to be the change you want to see in the world an exercise in futility?
and pain I feel toward members of the fraternal order of police. The Well, I cannot go there. I would rather be in a fool’s paradise where
circumstances contributing to the recent death of Eric Garner indi- the newsreel is full of stories with a different ending than pipelines
cates a need to deescalate the divisions. The contemporary divisions to prison instead of postsecondary for brown and black men, to each
between communities of color and the police are but a “re-run” or person seeing one another, moving beyond the “me” but considering
repeat if you revisit American history. the “we.”
Race has been inextricably intertwined with social control in the
U.S. Therefore, it is nothing new to find historical and current cases Eboni M. Zamani-Gallaher, PhD can be reached at
of no culpability for misconduct. Fifteen years ago, the Clinton Ad- [email protected]
ministration called for $40 million dollars to be spent on ethics and
integrity education, $2 million to recruit more minority police of-
ficers, and $5 million for citizen police academies to curb racial pro-
filing and police brutality. On Monday, December 1, 2014, Presi-
dent Obama asserted the Eric Garner case is “an American problem”
announcing plans to roll out a $253 million dollar plan to address
police brutality with $75 million toward police worn video cameras.
UPDATE - FALL 2019
Mom, why are you watching that
You watched it last week.
Why are you watching a rerun?