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Civil Rights Activist Dick Gregory: Fight Police Brutality With Your Wallet (Guest Column)

Brutality in any form is beneath human decency. When we add the word police before it, it takes on a whole different meaning. Typically, if one is being brutalized, they can call for, or hope for, law enforcement to intervene. However, when it is the police doing the brutalizing, who do you call? What do you do? If you resist and fight back, you lose. And if you submit and don’t resist, you lose. This lose-lose relationship between the black community and law enforcement is a stain on humanity. A stain that will hang around America’s neck like a shackle of shame. A hate-filled and blood-soaked stain that like two inkblots connecting, links the brutality of slavery seamlessly with the systemic brutalization of black and brown communities by “law” enforcement.

For the entirety of my lifetime police have brutalized black people. The far too frequent brutal and excessive treatment of blacks is intended to terrorize an entire race. Terrorism by definition is to instill fear, to terrorize. There is a profound difference between fear and respect. White communities who are respected by the police struggle to understand the strained relationship between the black community and the police. They fall back on their own pleasant encounters as their frame of reference. Black folks many times assume all cops are bad until proven otherwise, and white folks typically assume all cops are good until proven otherwise. Recently we have seen rare occasions of police brutality in non-black communities, which has caused outrage, utter shock and confusion. If these white cops were killing white folks’ dogs like they’re killing my children, white women would have burned police stations down all over America.

It’s just so evil when somebody that you pay for is doing this to you. … When someone gets a job and your tax money is paying for them, and when black parents and Latino parents have to wonder, when their children are just going out to the drugstore at night, will they come back?

Out of the thousands of black cops in America, you never turn on the TV or pick up the newspaper and see where a white family is complaining that some black cop shot their child or mother or father in the head 40 times. Now, you ask the question: Are black cops more spiritual than white cops? Are black cops better trained? No, black cops know that white folks ain’t going to tolerate it. That’s why you don’t see that.

Police brutality is not when a cop necessarily knocks me upside the head. It’s when a cop calls me racial slurs when he’s making the arrest. It’s when he handles me wrongly in every process, processing the arrest. This too is a form of police brutality.

Police brutality screams “I do not value your life and you are not human to me.” This is a systemic, institutionalized problem that demands a system-wide solution. This is genocide by cop, and it cannot be tolerated, but for generations it has been. I’ve routinely stated that our only effective power is economical. We need to have faith in our ability to maintain a movement, a shift of consciousness that will most likely cause us discomfort but affect change.

This change or paradigm shift cannot be driven by a singular movement. Movements get infiltrated, and movements get hijacked. Town halls and rallies are intended to help folks feel better. They are short term and rarely enduring. You can, however, be lifelong activists with your wallet.

Real change takes work. It takes us doing more to turn our neighborhoods into communities. It requires us to have a meaningful purpose to live and a willingness to be uncomfortable to change our reality. Police brutality harms and emotionally distresses entire communities.

This problem is corrosive and rooted in a pervasive white supremacy mind-set and socioeconomic factors. No respect for black, brown or poor, with a definitive disdain for poor blacks. If we could ever come together enough, if we had one Christmas boycott against police brutality, then the white folks that are not involved in it — the turkey growers, Disneyland, all you media folks — they would come out and stop it. And when they nod their head, it stops. It is time to Occupy Your Life!

Dick Gregory is an American civil rights activist and social critic who as part of his activism in the 1960s went on several hunger strikes in the U.S. and abroad.

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