Submitted by Tia Oso
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
This week Fox 10 presented a purported “news” feature on law enforcement use of force featuring anchor Troy Hayden and self-proclaimed civil rights activist Jarrett Maupin (see the news report below).
This shameless media stunt presented the message that those who are critical of police violence and brutality lack understanding and need to “walk in the shoes” of law enforcement to change their perspective. Far from fair and balanced, the story completely left out the overwhelming and statistically supported evidence of police violence in communities, presenting instead a staged and sensationalized fluff piece.
Indeed, Maupin exhibited a change of heart following his crime-fighting field trip with Fox and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office; promising to take his message to the community that people should comply with the police “for their own safety.” The entire premise of the story was false, as untrained civilians presented with orchestrated scenarios do not compare to trained law enforcement recruits and very dangerous as it perpetuates the media stereotype that unarmed civilians killed by law enforcement presented a threat and thus, their killings are justified. This is deplorable and irresponsible. Issues of police terror are not the result of community noncompliance, and are in fact a symptom of deep systemic issues that must be addressed.
While I am appalled by the media pandering, I cannot say that I am surprised. The story was immediately applauded by the corrupt and law-breaking Joe Arpaio, himself a media hound and perpetrator of racial profiling and human rights violations.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has gained international attention and for media personalities looking for conservative leaning story angles and Al Sharpton-esque figures chasing five minutes of fame, this is an opportunity to gain notoriety. However, as a Black woman concerned with the well-being of my community and an organizer with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, I am uncompromising in my commitment to justice.
I have experienced police violence personally am devastated at the way it is ravaging communities of color. The issue of police and community tensions and racial profiling hit home for me very recently when my nephew, Gregory Fray was sentenced to serve 5.5 years in Arizona Department of Corrections because of verbal altercation with Mesa police. He was unarmed, in full compliance with the officer at the time of the incident and was not arrested. However, the dynamics of race, poverty, oppression and the imbalance of power in police impunity with regard to human and civil rights have resulted in his incarceration. These are systemic issues that have nothing to do with personal responsibility of the victims of police violence.
Former Valley resident, co-creator of Black Lives Matter and Executive Director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Opal Tometi wrote for the Huffington Post titled, Staying Focused in the Movement for Racial Justice, “The energy on the street is about justice and accountability — the system of policing is what is making us unsafe. With months of protests and organizing, we are finally at a moment where more people are newly open to understanding the institutional and systemic problems with policing that hurt communities of color and disproportionately black people.”
With the movement’s surge of activity and racial justice at the forefront of American society again, to have a known, visible activist suggest individuals “comply” with the police as a solution to the epidemic of extra judicial killings of Black people every 28 hours absolves the police of responsibility. Law enforcement are supported with public funds and public trust and must be held to account, indeed to a higher standard than others.
I am not advocating disrespect for law enforcement, nor denying the serious nature of their job.
I am, however, unapologetic in naming the very real and deadly issue of racism and prejudice present throughout the U.S. justice system. These are issues at the root of American society that continue to plague us and they must be addressed until there is true justice for all people.
I felt it was imperative to speak up as a local activist and make it clear that there are more voices to be heard and that this movement does not have one appointed “leader.” Though we may not always agree, there must be principles and integrity if the movement for justice is going to succeed. There is no room for those who are focused on personal gain and glory, at the expense of the community. The only ones losing at the end of the day are the people who we claim to represent.
Tia Oso is the Arizona Organizer for Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a chair of the AZ Black/Brown Coalition and President of the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals.