It has been less than a week since the “newsplosion” of the police-shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the ambush of five Dallas police officers, and America is still in recovery mode.
There have been the obligatory calls for healing, ubiquitous photos of black people hugging white police officers and a few meaningful speeches by political leaders, but rest assured, the overall trend has been negative. People are getting arrested for anti-police comments on Facebook, and random ambushes on police have been reported thwarted across the United States. The majority of events since last week have been white backlash against Black Lives Matter and African Americans in general. These are some of the worst examples and pushbacks in the week since Dallas.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed into law what amounts to a “Screw Black Lives Matter” bill Monday. House Bill 972 removes police-body-camera footage from the public record. McCrory says the law protects police, but the timing and context call his motives into question. In the wake of the Castile and Sterling shootings, shootings that the public (and their respective families) only know about because of video recording, this law, which takes effect Oct. 1, makes police departments less transparent and less accountable and denies justice to those most likely to suffer. The new law states that body-camera video will be available only to those shown in the video and only after getting permission from a judge. Therefore, lawyers, advocates and journalists can no longer access the camera footage of potential police wrongdoing.
The irony of this law is that there have been at least half a dozen cases in the last two years of unarmed black men being killed by police in which the event was caught on camera, and the cops didn’t even get indicted, let alone go to jail. Of course, the newly enacted H.B. 972 isn’t about keeping cops out of jail; it’s about a vulgar attempt to scuttle and keep future victims of police violence from getting justice.
Philando Castile was shot in Falcon Heights, a suburb nestled between Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.—a metro area that is not unfamiliar with questionable shootings of African-American men. On Saturday, before the WNBA’s champion Minnesota Lynx took on the Dallas Wings, several Lynx players addressed the media and spoke out against police brutality. They also expressed condolences for the police in Dallas. The result? Four off-duty police officers assigned to provide security for the game walked off the job in protest. This was followed by the Minneapolis police union advising other officers to boycott working games in solidarity.
If several police officers want to deny themselves a paycheck out of spite, that is their problem, but this boycott speaks to the larger negative trends since the Dallas shootings. Just last year, Minneapolis police were under scrutiny for the shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, and they were accused of sitting idly by as white supremacists shot five Black Lives Matter protesters. It would seem that the Minneapolis police provide protection only to those with politics with which they agree or support.
A police officer from Overland Park in Kansas was fired in the last week for threatening the 5-year-old daughter of LaNaydra Williams on Facebook. After viewing a picture of Williams and her daughter, Police Officer Rodney Lee Wilson wrote the following:
We’ll see how much her life matters soon. Better be careful leaving your info open where she can be found :) Hold her close tonight it’ll be the last time.
The officer was promptly fired by the department, but that’s a remedy after the fact. Consider what kind of workplace environment the Overland Park Police Department must have if Rodney Lee Wilson felt comfortable threatening a 5-year-old girl … in another state … just because he was angry.
It is July of 2016, and just about anyone who has paid any attention over the last year knows that “All lives matter” has crawled into the passive-aggressive racial dustbin along with phrases like “superpredator,” “urban voters” and, who could forget, “D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty.” In other words, “All lives matter” is what you say when you’re really an anti-black racist but want to dress it up with pretty words and concern-trolling (if the shoe fits, J.Lo, Columbus Short and Keke Palmer).
Consequently, when Remigio Pereira of the Canadian music group the Tenors slipped “All lives matter” into the Canadian national anthem at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, many people were not pleased. The fact that Pereira followed it up by holding up a handwritten “All Lives Matter” sign didn’t go over too well, either. First, it was an insult to Canadians to hijack their national anthem, and second, even drunken baseball fans know racial trolling when they see it (and they see it often).
The rest of the tenors say that Pereira went rogue and that they had nothing to do with his protest and have indefinitely suspended him. However, it just goes to show how deep and searing are the white resentment and anger in Pereira (and others like him), that he thought the All-Star Game, and the singing of the Canadian national anthem, was the best time to express his aggression toward the Black Lives Matter movement.
Finally, it has always been a curious phenomenon in America that within hours of the shooting of unarmed black men and women, the press is able to dig up reams of information about their lives. Sandra Bland suffered from depression; Trayvon Martin smoked weed (in high school—*gasp*); and Alton Sterling had a bit of a rap sheet. Yet we seldom, if ever, get that kind of rapid-fire information about the officers who did the shooting despite the fact that they are public employees. The Huffington Post has solved that problem, posting a story Tuesday morning suggesting that one of the officers shot in Dallas last week, Lorne Ahrens, may have been a white supremacist.
Reporters have shown that Ahrens sported not one, but two tattoos associated with white nationalist groups, an iron cross on his finger and a “Crusader” tattoo on his arm. Further, his Facebook page is full of Norse iconography, usually associated with white nationalists, and his history of likes falls comfortably into the area of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. We don’t know if Ahrens was fully committed to the fight for white rights or if he was just a window-shopper, but it adds another disturbing and complicated wrinkle to the already ugly story of the Dallas massacre: the fact that we didn’t find out this information until almost a week later, in addition to the overall tragedy of finding out that perhaps one of the fallen “hero” officers was actually a terrorist sympathizer.
These stories and more show that the week since the Dallas shooting has moved this country not only further away from reconciliation but also possibly toward more violence and discord. With the Republican National Convention next week, it is very likely that the rhetoric, violence and protests surrounding black lives, justice and police accountability will get much worse before they get better.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.