Sleeping While Black Can Get You Killed
Do white people get shot for sleeping in their cars? I don't think so.
I was reading recently about the death of Antwan Gilmore. Google it, if you haven’t yet come across this story.
It seems that this 27-year-old man was sleeping in his car when some cops tapped on the window, and a few moments later he was dead.
The body-cam footage suggests that the cops were “worried” about a gun in Antwan’s waistband and the fact that they couldn’t see his hands. (Though, presumably, they could see that his hands weren’t on the gun.)
After he woke, the car started to move away, and they yelled for him to stop. He did at first, then the car moved again, and then they fired. Antwan Gilmore ended up dead. There was no indication that he had touched the gun - it was still in his waistband when they removed him from the car.
Now, I’m not a big fan of guns, but the fact remains that in many parts of the USA, people have the right to own and carry them, so possession of a gun in itself shouldn’t be a big deal, right? But as we know, it all depends on who has the gun.
Why is there such a big difference between what happens when a white person has a gun and a Black or Brown person has a gun? The only possible answer is racism. White guys with assault weapons can be apprehended unharmed, while Black guys who are unarmed, or in this case, with weapons they aren’t even touching, end up dead. Yep, that’s racism, all right.
And please miss me with the woulda, shoulda, couldas, because we all KNOW that if a white guy had been sleeping in that car, the police would have treated him with more care. They’d have tried to wake him up, and if the car started to move, they’d have found a way to make that white driver stop while keeping him alive. In fact, the MPD police policy is not to shoot into a moving car, so I fail to understand what happened here with Antwan Gilmore.
We’ve talked before about the way being in black skin escalates your threat level as far as white cops - and many white people - are concerned. So, a Black man sleeping in a car, whose hand was not on his gun, was perceived as dangerous.
Maybe there’s some nuance here that I’m not getting, but I truly believe that a white man in the same situation would still be alive to tell the tale. Instead, we’re mourning the death of another Black man at the hands of the US police.
My friend Catherine Pugh, Esq., says that the problems within the police are a “failure of supervision”. In other words, you need to look at what the leadership is doing and the supervisors are doing to change the behavior of cops on the street. She makes some good suggestions in this article: The Breonna Taylor raid: A snapshot of Louisville police's fatal failure to lead, but the problem is bigger than just the police.
The problem is the perceptions of and assumptions about Black people, hardened by centuries of racism. The problem is ignoring the systematic and ongoing oppression of Black people. And the problem is that some people don’t want to give up their privilege and fix the wrongs that still affect Black people today.
Until things change, being Black in America will continue to be dangerous, even if all you’re doing is sleeping. I wonder how many more Antwan Gilmores or Breonna Taylors there will be before white America starts to address the racism problem it created.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. While I’m talking about America this time, other countries aren’t off the hook: check out this recent report by Twitter showing that most of the racist abuse against Black footballers originated in England.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.