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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Desensitized

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Desensitized (Part 1)

By Michael "Yasir" Belt

“We are in the real world in which we can´t change the changed.” – Robert Day

Another one bites the dust. They got one of us again.  One more black man shot dead in the streets by a law officer, a representative of the justice system.

It was Sunday morning.  I´d just finished the wake-up routine hygiene, praying, mixing that smoothly bitter shot of Colombian coffee and tuning my T.V. to the news channel. I sat down and began reading about the mentalities of women in an unsavory magazine it came over the airwaves.

“Get on the ground!  Don´t move! Don´t move!”

I looked up to see on TV the man, a black man, though it doesn´t really matter, getting his face smashed into the ground by the weight of a white officer´s knee. The officer was applying all of his weight to the head of the subdued man.

“Roll on your stomach! Stop resisting!”

Is he resisting,? I wondered.  Or is he merely trying to avoid pain? Mind you, he was already face planted on his stomach, with at least four officers pinning him down. And then you could hear “Pop!” of a gun, followed by screams.

“Aahhh! Oh my God!” cried the restrained black man.

“Gosh! I shot him! It was an accident! I´m sorry!” said an old man, a civilian who’d been on a ride along with officers who were standing around.

The officer who had his hand pressed against the victim´s neck didn´t relent, as someone with a heart would have. Instead he applied more pressure.  You could see him adjusting his body weight and kneeing the victim´s head and face further into the ground.

I wondered what would give first: flesh and bones or asphalt and concrete?

I´ve taken the liberty of excluding all the profanity emitted from law enforcement. I´ll substitute the phrase, “shut up!”  Which is what was constantly yelled at the victim, along with profanity, as he informed the officers that he could no longer breathe, or that he was losing breath.  Instead of loosening their restraint ever so slightly, the officers continued to forcefully hold him down and mock the dying man who can´t breathe, why don´t you? So professional. 

You know what….I can´t help it.  When the victim said that he couldn’t breathe, the officer on top of him said: “Fuck your breath!” Now, take that in for a minute. Imagine that was you or maybe your son, nephew, brother.  Your daughter, sister, or niece, even because they sure don´t discriminate in the mistreatment of simple citizens.

“I can´t breathe!” was a slogan, a chant at rallies recently.  This stemmed from the case of Eric Garner, another black man, who was being put in an illegal choke hold by a police officer on a New York City street.  His last words were: “I can´t breathe!” “Hands up, don´t shoot!” stemmed from the case of Mike Brown, of Ferguson, Missouri, who was retreating away from a police officer with his hands high in the air, as the officer opened fire on him, ending his life.  These were our “We´re not gonna take it anymore!” rallying calls.  But, we´ll come back to this later.

Pro tempore, I want to discuss why, before the current news story was even finished being told, I reverted my attention back to my studying of the feminine mind and physiological differences. Or, in other words, how could I take my eyes off  the black man laying shot and dying in the streets and turn my attention back to strumpets?  Why, where I am from, the answer is elementary dear reader.

I am a product of desensitization.  Dehumanization, even.  

The story that followed involved a police officer who had repeatedly punched a white female who was 9 months pregnant in the face in her kitchen while in front of her children.  She had been fairly subdued.  We all saw the video.  The officer´s stated reasoning for the brutal force used against the woman was the standard claim.  “She reached for my gun,” he´d said.  And, I say, did he watch the video before issuing that statement?

Next case in point, and bear in mind that this is all in the same morning, same news broadcast, all spread within maybe a half an hour.  There was a follow-up story showing the funeral procession of Eric Harris. Yet another black man gunned down about a week prior by a white officer.

In the video, you could see Eric Harris, smack the Taser out of the officer´s hand after already being tased repeatedly, and then take off running.  The officer doesn´t tell him to stop.  He doesn´t chase after him.  He merely draws his service weapon, takes aim at the fleeing man´s back and pumps out eight rounds in succession.

My roommate and I continued to watch as they played the video on a perpetual loop.  At first take, it was shocking; appalling; head-shaking, pitiable.  But, then, after about 15-20 minutes of the loop, we began to count down the shots and laugh as he began to dance his way to death.

One shot, two shots, three shots, four.  On the fifth shot, his body jerks, his back arches as he tries to continue to run.  On the sixth shot, his arms go out to his sides as if he´s doing the wave, break-dancing. On the seventh shot, his back archs into the limbo.

It takes a second or four for the eighth and final shot to be fired into Eric Harris back.  The officer is taking careful, precise aim for this one.  He zeroes in, adjusting his shooter´s stance.  It is as if he were at the shooting range and the target is painted on the back of a man who was once willfully fleeing for his freedom and now literally running for his life.  Eric Harris never made it, though.

The eighth shot slams into his back.  His legs carry him stumbling another ten feet of subconscious commands previously sent to them by his brain.  Then he sprawls out, face first, next to a tree.

The officer calmly walks over to the already dead body, cuffs it, walks back over to his Taser, picks it up and drops it back down next to the body.  His excuse later would be that they were struggling over the Taser. Witnesses, video and forensics will say otherwise.

Sad story, right? So, how could I laugh at it and then pay it relatively no mind?  For the same reason today´s case simply meant, “Another one bites the dust” to me.

I no longer feel like a human being.  I have come to develop a Peter Griffin mentality: “I would be empathetic, if I weren´t so lethargic.”  And, yes, this is a character from the animated show “Family Guy” that I am sympathizing with.

Does no one else see the issues?

How many times recently have we seen police brutality and misuse of authority and force?  I should mention the story of the Caucasian man in Los Angeles.  He had surrendered to the police.  He was lying there, spread eagle, face down on the ground.  He was not a threat to anyone in any way.  However, as soon as the officers approached him, they began to punch and stomp and kick him from head to toe.  I think that I even saw an atomic elbow drop in there somewhere. But, at least he lived through his encounter.  The point is, however, when will enough be enough?

How did it feel to witness the killing of a 12 year old boy? Tamir Rice, gunned down by a rookie cop in the park. I do not hold the same opinion as others on this one.  Some only see another black child murdered by a white cop.  And, that may be the case.  But, if Tamir did reach for the fake gun he was carrying, the officer had every right to defend his life against what he saw as impending danger.  Although, there was protocol that was not followed along with the failure to relay information by the 911 dispatcher to the responding officers  information that could have saved the boy´s life.

Is the pattern recognizable yet? The New York City rookie cop who shot the unarmed man in a housing project stairwell.  “He never did nothin´ to nobody but that boy shot him,” (Jay-Z).  The guy had been  returning from visiting a friend or going to the store.  Whatever the case, the rookie officer became frightened when the man came down the stairs.  He pulled his weapon and killed the unarmed citizen.  Tell me, is it ironic for a taxpayer to be killed with a weapon which he himself paid for?

I could go on.  I mean…this has been going on for decades.  But I´ll leave it there, at the cases which have occurred within the last three to four months.  And these are only the ones that I can remember. So, do you now see why I am “desensitized”? 

I am from the mean streets of Philly.  Not the Philadelphia known as the City of Brotherly Love.  Not Center City Philadelphia.  I´m from the hood, the real Philly.  I´m from where it goes down everyday.  Where bodies drop without remorse.  Whether you are from North, North-east, West side – the Best side – Southwest or South Philly, you learn what life is really like.  One of the only reasons some people watch the news or read the papers is to see which one of their loved ones was killed the night before.  Others refuse to follow the news, sick of all of the senseless violence and killing.

Picture me sitting in front of the T.V. with my daughter on a Saturday morning.  We´re eating breakfast while Bambi´s mother is killed.  I’m imagining the cartoon being more realistic and how the mother deer´s brains would look – like the cereal I’m eating and my daughter breaks into tears. Instead of offering a fatherly comfort, I stuff another spoon full of fruity, colorful, mother-brains into my mouth, turn to her, straight-faced, and quote a distasteful character from the movie “Paid in Full” : “Niggaz die every day, B.”

Would you call that insensitive?  Inhuman, maybe, or cruel? Or would you see it for what it is?  We are all merely a product of our given societies.

I´ve seen so much death in my life that I wonder if I’ve suffered permanent damage from it.  Maybe I have PTSD.  I can remember my first experience with death and my indifference even then.  My great aunt and I was young.  I remember all of my family being over my other great-aunt´s house, mourning, as I ran around trying to play.

Juice was killed when I was 13.  I didn’t really know him since I was just getting into the ways of the streets, but, I watched other members of my block lament over him.  When I was 15, Jamaican George was killed while I was away for the first time. He was the first one to teach me how to “conduct business.”  Then there was Tim Blaze, a good dude.  I was 17 or 18 by that time, and away again.  And, somewhere in the midst of all of that, my friend committed suicide.

The first dead body I actually saw was Rell´s.  I watched the shoot-out from down the street.  When it was over, I walked down the block and there was Rell, laying on the bus stop, minus part of his head.  I lucked up though since I was 20 by the time I saw that one.

I´ve only cried twice concerning death.  It was 2004 or 2005 when my best friend was killed by an off-duty cop who thought that he was above the law.  Charlie was the original Mike Brown, his hands held high in the air, telling the cop not to shoot him, that he was unarmed.  His nephew and my friend, Big, had been killed right before that.  Watch your friends closely, was the lesson to be taken from that one.  In 2006 my young friend Shawnn was killed by his own friend while he was in a high, jealous rage. Damn, Shizz, why didn´t you stay in college, baby boy?

In 2008, little Keyon died from an overdose of either oxycodone or another opiate.  I felt more connected to his death because not only did I watch him grow up, wrestling with him, trying to toughen him up for the life he was bound for, but Keyon had been crying out for me to help him.  He had just come home from prison, as I had shortly before him, and he was trying to avoid evil and its people. I didn´t fully commit myself to giving him the help he needed, succumbing to the evils myself at the time.  So, I feel, if not necessarily responsible, contrite, as if I could have done more.

So, why has death become the similitude of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to me?  Probably because I´ve been force-fed death for most of my life.  But so have a lot of people.  After all, death is a part of life.  But death like the kind I’m writing about should not be a part of anyone´s life.  Life should end the way it did for my grandfather recently: in old age.  But because life is what it is, when he finally died, I couldn’t have cared less.  We had been close when I was younger; when I was different.  But, now his death only mattered to me in that it relieved the suffering my mother endured over his failing health.  That´s it.

I´m numb. How many more of us must become this hardened?  How many more of us will?

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” – Maya Angelou


Desensitized (Part 2)

By Michael "Yasir" Belt

“He who sleeps in continual noise is awakened by silence.”  William Dean Howells

I must apologize, dear reader, for it has been months since the death of Walter Scott.  His story was where we began this journey. “The words of truth are always paradoxical” (Lao Tzu).  And, the status quo still remains, however regrettably cliché, that black lives continue to not matter.

I was discouraged from continuing to write about this subject.  Not by another person, but rather myself.  “What´s the point?” I thought.  “My words will impact the situation about as much as a frog shitting in Florida marshlands does to a Sherpa in the Himalayas.”  And, I was right..  A multitude of others have spoken on this subject and its underlying issues to no avail.

Talk does not cook rice.

Freddie Gray died in police custody over the summer in Baltimore, Maryland.  His cause of death is believed to be the aftermath of what the police called a “rough ride.”  This is when arresting officers intentionally drive in an erratic manner in order to cause harm to their prisoner.  Freddie Gray’s death caused Baltimore to riot.  Another young black man, dead as a result of the actions of law enforcement.

Citizens took to the streets, like they did in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Mike Brown.  But this time, there was much more force.  They destroyed police vehicles, with bricks, bats, fire and feet.  Not all the destroyed cars started off being deserted.  There were attempts on the lives of police officers.  As reported, one of these attempts resulted in the loss of yet another young black life.

I am not speaking on this to praise, glorify or encourage violence.  For I believe that, as a wise man once said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of ignorance which created them.”  And ignorance causes some people to believe that other races are portrayed as animalistic, cantankerous, primitive, dim-witted, and, well, ignorant.  Such narrow beliefs may only lie in the eyes of certain groups and individuals, but, these are often the groups and individuals in power.

Some of what has colored us so falsely is, in that both Baltimore and Ferguson, we looted and burned down our own neighborhoods.  Black-owned businesses don´t even want to rebuild, they will move elsewhere and cut their losses, leaving us worse off than we began. Scenes were broadcast worldwide, footage of us destroying our own common places and communities, being our own conquerors.  We were viewed as being the cause of our own plights.  Did we not learn from the Watts or Newark riots?

However foolhardy such actions appear to be, they’re understandable.  Edmund Burke said that “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.”  This may have been the sentiment of Mike Brown’s stepfather when it was announced that the officer who’d murdered his son would not be brought up on charges.  He got on the bullhorn, addressing the crowd in front of the police station by screaming, “Burn this bitch down!”

Can we blame him for his emotional outburst?  Like him, the people are mad. Sick and tired of being sick and tired.  The rowdy believe the only way to be heard is to make noise: throw bottles and bricks at police or whatever it takes.  Those who are seen as older or meek, who are actuality the stronger, make statements such as one Baltimore protester did, “When is it going to stop being just us and be justice?” Yet, is either side wrong?  Surely their opposition is.  For there would be no fuse to light if the powder had not been continuously compounded into the keg.

Blasé Pascal said that “Justice without force is powerless.  Force without just cause is terror.”  There is no need to question the validity of just cause. Black lives – all lives – matter.  Simple as that.  The terror is the oppression and inequality, which continues to exist despite claims to the contrary. We arrive at the question:  would we be wrong if we directed the correct forces to their proper locations? I don´t think so. I can´t say what forces would be the correct, nor where to direct them.  There are people more qualified than I am in matters such as this.  But I want to be part of the solution, whether in my lifetime, my children´s or their children´s.  Here´s the kicker though:  It´s going to take more than myself, those whom I instill with guidance and wisdom, and a few thinkers.  A lot of doers are necessary and, together, we must act. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” (Margaret Mead).

Riots, peaceful protests – or any other form of demonstration have one thing in common.  They all fade.  Those on the other side of the picket-line simply wait for the momentum to dissipate and then they return to business as usual.  Nothing changes,  neither thought processes nor patterns of behavior.  The subject may be lingeringly addressed for a while, spoken of and then whispered for a moment.  Again, the rice has failed to be cooked.

Do we starve ourselves?

When we shoot each other we are considered the scourge and plagues of the communities.  Yet, when police come into our communities and unjustly gun us down, they are held to be heroes, patted on their backs by their fellow peers, compatriots and sympathizers.  And this is neither to justify, glorify nor vilify the actions of miscreants within our social climate, but to point out the injustices and inequalities.  Or, more so, biases when it comes to the citizens of certain communities as it relates to the police state in authority; not to be confused with the state of police.

“THUG LIFE, BITCH!” is one of the truest statements made by the precociously revolutionary, Tupac Shakur.  As I stated, I grew up in a climate of death and destruction, inequality and persecution.  Personal infringement upon humanity and sensibilities. I was a young boy watching Rodney King gettng beat to shit and now I am a grown man watching 12 year old boys being gunned down on the playground. Hands up, don´t shoot, and I can´t breathe; Black lives matter; slogan after slogan has been chanted since way back before “we shall overcome.”  Have we though; overcome?  Some may say things are different or that they have changed.  The reality, though, it is as Irene Peter said, “Just because everything is different doesn’t mean that anything has changed.”  We have come to realize that from our youth we are mind-fucked into believing that we do not matter.  THUG LIFE, BITCH!  Why have I been desensitized? Because The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody, Bitch! (For those of you not in the know, this is what Tupac meant every time he said Thug Life.)

I intend not to incite, but to edify and possibly empower.  I don´t have answers to questions or even suggestions.  I am simply one of the masses and I am tired, fed up.  And I do not know what else to do.  Some refuse to do even that.  They choose to ignore the fact that not only has damage been done, but it will continue if no one does anything about it.  They do not realize that “even if you bury your head in the sand, you can still get your ass kicked.” (Dr. HaHa Lung).

After Baltimore, a pretentious onlooker asked what´s so hard about, sitting down and figuring it out.  He was referring to the blacks of Baltimore and the Baltimore PD, who are known for their improprieties towards blacks.  Michael Smith of the sports show His & Hers responded to the ignorance by saying, it´s easy to say that someone should be able to find a solution “when you´re not the one forced to answer the question.”

As a black man, I am forced to attempt to find an answer to the question. If not simply for my people, then for my children, my little brothers and sisters, and the family which shall come from them all.  And I hate to play the race card or to talk race specifics period, because I despise even the simplest thought of racism or racial bias or even the fact that there are still race issues period. But, one can no more escape the harshness of reality than they can stop themselves from blinking (you even blink when your eyes are closed.).

I believe that it, that is, the situation in its totality is closer to the saying of Dr. Seuss more than anything when he said: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

I´ve realized that I´m not as numb as I initially thought I was. It´s possible I was merely being a sadist.   More than likely, I allowed for my alter ego to take over, for he feels no pain and has not a care but for himself.  Me though, the real me, I am empathetic every time I hear a new name.  Sean Bell, Amadu Dialo, Anthony Beaz. Tiesha Miller, Mohamed Bah, Oscar Grant.  I have found that it is easier to harden myself, to ignore or misdirect my emotions, rather than dying inside along with the unjustified. Though, with every Sandra Blane, a piece of my humanity is stripped away from me.  I am demoralized with the passing of our Jordan Davis, and desensitization occurs in the wake of Akai Gurleys.  

Sadly, a person rarely sees the light until they are enveloped in darkness.  Walking towards the light…senseless death and abuse is not funny.  Yet, we seek solace in laughter, in order to avoid tears.  We harden our hearts so that hurt can no longer permeate within them.  To belittle those tragedies as if they are simply démedé and to be overlooked may end up causing more hurt because the attitudes we display will be the attitudes our children shall mold the future with.

Maybe we can´t do anything about what takes place in our communities. Whether the negative actions are carried out by its inhabitants or otherwise. But maybe we can.  “The most common way people give up power is by believing that they don´t have any.” (Alice Walker).  Whether you are hopeful or hopeless, do not let the devil convince you that he does not exist.  It is true that the way one sees things depends on where one is looking from. So, turn around if need be and do not turn your back or a blind eye to the injustices.  Tilt your head to change your perception.  And no matter how many more names you hear, no matter their race, color or creed, no matter how much more outrageous it gets, do not become desensitized.

“I am for truth, no matter who tells it.  I am for Justice, no matter who it is for or against.” -Malcolm X 

Michael Belt KU8088
SCI Houtzdale
P.O. Box 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698

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6 comments:

CS McClellan/Catana said...


You're not desensitized. You said it yourself: you're numb. There's only so much the human spirit can take before it has to do something to protect itself. But as long as you're alive you can work through the numbness to do whatever you're able to do, no matter how little it might be. Moments of numbness and sheer despair will always be there because the violence and killings never seem to end. I think all of human life is like that, but you either give up and accept it, or you find a way to affect one tiny corner that you have some power over.

gord said...

In your country the Media shows you what they want you to see, thus they are controlling the masses and both sides.

Joe said...

Very moving and well written post Michael/Yasir.

With some trepidation however I feel compelled to offer an opinion that may not be very popular here.

I preface it by saying that even one unjustified killing by a police officer is one too many.

That said however, I think the popular notion that there is of late a surge in police killings of blacks is more a function of media reporting than reality.

The number of police killings of blacks has not increased in recent years. The difference is that now it is reported more.

There also doesn't seem to be any acknowledgment of the fact that many of these cases that have been in the national spotlight lately aren't as simple as the BLM narrative would have us believe.

In some cases the killings are clearly unjustified, in others they are clearly justified, and in many the circumstances are frustratingly murky. In many cases the police officer involved has been a person of color.

Nevertheless, whenever a black person is killed by a police officer, regardless of the circumstances, it is counted as an unjustified racially motivated murder.

According to statistics, blacks are actually no more likely to be killed by police than whites.

Anonymous said...

That numbness and insensibility is merely a protective mechanism - when there is so much to care about, the brain just can barely process it all, and it's much easier to just shut down all emotions concerning the subject. I like watching children react to cartoon/movie situations. They cry/show genuine emotion not just because they are kids and dumb and naive, but because they don't know yet the rules of this world - if you can imagine the evil it surely happened, happens or will happen. We are taught that the situation is normal - through media, parents etc. While being ignorant of all this, kids are the role models we need to become.

Anonymous said...

To add to my previous comment, I often remember the quote - "The man of principle never forgets what he is, because of what others are". The way the world changes us all into insensible screws in the system - that is something we must resist for it is the only reason all horrible things happen - we are the ones who allow it to happen.

A Friend said...

The following comment is from Michael Belt in response to Joe:

In a nut shell... my sentiments exactly. Though, most aren't fond of the truth when it doesn't fit their tunnel visioned perspective.