There are alternatives to contacting the police, and these alternatives can be more effective than getting law enforcement involved in situations that they are not specifically trained for. As an institution, the police perpetuate and uphold the violence of white supremacy
The Harts were hideous monstrosities of unbounded proportions.
[Content Warning: child abuse, anti-Blackness, state violence, murder of Black children, suicide.]
Years of reported child abuse claims, including physical harm and starvation, recently culminated in the death of an entire family. Sarah and Jennifer Hart drove their SUV off a California roadside cliff with their adopted children inside. Three of the children were found among the car wreckage along with the two women — Markis (19), Abigail (14), and Jeremiah (14). The other three remain unfound and are presumed dead, possibly washed out to sea. They are Hannah (16), Sierra (12), and Devonte (15).
Investigators now believe that the crash was intentional, citing the fact that the speed was set at 90 mph and the lack of skid marks, but Black people knew it in our spirit all along. From the moment the story broke, we fucking knew it. We sat and watched as others speculated about it, giving these two abusive, murderous white women the benefit of the doubt after they had driven their adopted Black children off a 100-foot cliff.
We knew it in 2014 when Devonte Hart, with tears welling up in his eyes, was photographed in a tentative embrace with a white cop at a Black Lives Matter rally and the image instantly went viral. Other photos from that day show that Devonte was already in tears even before he was approached by the cop. In Sgt. Bret Barnum’s own account of the event, he states that the boy was “hesitant” to speak to him, but he persisted with the conversation and ultimately asked for the hug.
Devonte’s body language in the photos spoke volumes to us. It felt like coercion. It felt like a 12 year-old Black boy, who was at a rally to protest the Grand Jury's failure to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown, was afraid to speak to a white police officer, but was pressured into doing so anyway as others surrounded him and took the opportunity to snap the perfect “feel good” photo. And we were not at all surprised when Sgt. Barnum was later caught up in a controversy for publicly showing his support of Darren Wilson on Facebook.
We know what it looks like when Black people are being used as a tool of performative allyship and white liberalism. Devonte was made a spectacle and used as propaganda, by his guardian who accompanied him and by every person who shared the image of his obvious pain with musings about how racial togetherness and free hugs would magically solve all of the world's issues and end racialized state violence.
One of his guardians seized the opportunity to write about the viral photo on Facebook, saying that they attended the rally in hopes of “spreading love and kindness, and to remind (ALL) people that they matter in this world.” The Harts failed Devonte and his siblings in more ways than one.
This is why performative white allyship is so dangerous, and not just for the Black and non-Black kids who get adopted by them. It is insidious, to say the least, when “good white folks” impersonate someone who truly cares about anti-racism work, even as they continue to uphold white supremacy in their words and actions, and continually harm people of color.
We witness this ally theater daily, both in our communities and on the larger world's stage. We see the way that people like the Hart couple insulate themselves with people of color as tokens and trophies to provide themselves an alibi for their racism.
We see the way they fetishize Martin Luther King, Jr. and a non-violent stance, whitewashing and re-writing his legacy to present an ahistorical vision of the civil rights leader who ultimately saw the validity of violence as a form of resistance, because they plugged their ears after “I have a dream.”
Their white saviorism complex is painfully obvious, a perpetuation of the colonialist and imperialist self-aggrandizing belief that people of color always need white people to save us, even from the white supremacy that they actively participate in and continually benefit from.
And how dare we not bestow accolades upon them for “liberating” us? We, deadpan as they explode into tears and go on social media rants when people of color don't fall to our knees and thank them profusely for being gracious enough to do work on our behalf. We hear them scream, “I've always been good to you negroes” before exiting stage left in a huff.
We side-eye the ones who are so glaringly only “progressive and forward-thinking” because they see it as a trend, like their avocado toast and the aesthetics that they appropriated from hood Black girls. They list social justice work that they never actually did on their resume and OkCupid profiles for social capital, and pats on the back, and so they can more easily fuck the people color that they fetishize.
The “I’m not like other white people” declarations don't fool us. These special snowflakes take up so much fucking space as they fall over themselves trying to obscure their own privilege and disassociate themselves from the white supremacist violences of the past, present, and future.
We roll our eyes at the white allies who demand our intellectual and emotional labor and scream “It's your job to educate me!” only to take our words back to their white ally spaces to accept all of the credit, then block us on Facebook when we call them out for their intellectual thievery.
The conversation regarding school safety cannot start and stop with guns and shootings.Since 2018 began, at least 8 school shootings have occurred in the US involving injury or death. In the days since the most recent widely publicized shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, several conversations have erupted regarding U.S. school safety. Similar to other shootings, gun control has re-emerged in the mainstream discourse. As well, there are discussions regarding arming teachers and increasing militarization of U.S. public schools. For example, in Broward County, Florida where the shooting took place, the police have reportedly stated that sheriff’s deputies will carry rifles on school grounds going forward. But amidst the growing discourse surrounding violence and guns, one particular discussion about school safety has been erased: that US students have been under threat and are under threat everyday. Understandably it is a worrisome and frightening and grave situation when a school shooting occurs, but “school safety” is more than just about school shootings. And this hyperfocus on the state of US schools only when widely publicized events happen, obscures that schools have been unsafe and that teachers and students are constantly threatened and in dangerous situations. In particular, the conversation on increasing police presence in schools or further incorporating metal detectors and other scanners or arming teachers, ignores that many schools are already militarized and policed in this way. Many schools already have policies in place for metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs, especially among schools with a greater concentration poor students and students of color. The National Center for Education Statistics notes that up to 24% of U.S. schools have random drug-sniffs by dogs and almost 9% of high schools have random metal detector scans.
Right now is the perfect time to shine a spotlight on the forgotten crimes perpetrated in Hollywood, and Patricia Douglas deserves to be avenged.[TW: This essay contains discussion of sexual violence] Ten years ago, Girl 27 went to Sundance. The film should have made a bigger splash than it did, but I suppose it makes perfect sense that it didn't garner as much recognition as it deserved, given its subject. Girl 27 is a documentary that tracks the forgotten story of Patricia Douglas, a film extra and dancer who was raped at an MGM studio stag party thrown by Louis B. Mayer in May of 1937. She was lured there under the false pretenses of a casting call. With 120 young women and girls in total, she was listed as number 27 on the "call sheet." David Stenn uses his quaint film to deliver an account of the entire story in gruesome detail, an extension of his exposé written for Vanity Fair in 2003. There were four separate police departments represented at the party that night — the LAPD, the State Police, Culver City Police, and MGM’s own private police and watchmen. None of them filed a report about the rape. When Patricia bravely took her story public with a lawsuit, the other young women and girls who worked as extras in the industry were given a questionnaire about her with questions like, “Have you ever seen Patricia Douglas intoxicated, before or after the party?” They were asked to “state in detail what you know about Patricia Douglas’ past reputation for morality.” The Pinkertons surveilled her and the doctor who first examined her was asked to create false records to show that she'd previously contracted a venereal disease. All of this was done in an effort to paint her as a drunken, loose woman. Patricia's lawsuit (seemingly the first known federal rape case) was dismissed by the court after collecting dust for three years for “lack of prosecution.” Her lawyer had failed to appear in federal court on any occasion. He went on to become elected as District Attorney of LA County, and David Stenn suspects that it was thanks to the support of MGM. Patricia's own mother—appointed her Guardian ad Litem—was paid off by MGM and let the case die. [caption id="attachment_48575" align="alignnone" width="220"] David Ross in L.A. for a grand-jury inquiry, June 16, 1937.
From the Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library/Corbis[/caption] Metro Goldwyn Mayer was home to the brightest Hollywood stars at the time. Louis B. Mayer was the highest paid man in the nation and the biggest name in the film industry. Patricia never stood a chance against the most powerful Hollywood executives at the most powerful movie studio on the planet. What happened to her was almost completely wiped from the record. Her rapist, David Ross, was never served, arrested, or charged. But Patricia did inspire a young singer, Eloise Spann, to come forward about her rape by an MGM executive. Her case was mishandled in the same way and she never received any justice. She stopped singing, became depressed, and died by suicide many years later. Peggy Montgomery worked as a film extra during the same time as Patricia and Eloise. In Girl 27, she speaks of how she was sexually harassed on the casting couch and of the culture of misogyny rampant throughout the industry. Men using their powerful positions to coerce, pressure, manipulate, and force young women and girls into uncomfortable sexual situations was common, expected, and even encouraged. “At sixteen, I went to work for MGM, and I considered it was a windfall. There was an air, a constant air of being pursued. All the men tended to try to break women down. These were very aggressive men. Twice, I was asked to go to be interviewed, and the guy got up and said, ‘Well, let's see your legs,’ and you'd pull up your skirt and he’d say, ‘Turn around, Honey. Pull it up higher.’ And then he'd say, ‘Let's see how you feel, ‘ and then he'd walk around the desk and grab you. You couldn't go to the Citizen's News and say, ‘You know, Mister So-and-so did this to me at MGM.’ No way! Because the studios owned Hollywood. I mean, this is no exaggeration. It was one of a laws I learned very early on. Even the adults were afraid. Everybody seemed to be afraid of something. Except the men that were pursuing girls, you know. That was the one thing that nobody seemed to have any compunction about.” [caption id="attachment_48576" align="alignnone" width="220"] Patricia Douglas identifies her attacker, David Ross, from a stack of photographs.
From the Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library/Corbis[/caption] Patricia's devastating account was only brought to light when David Stenn was researching his Jean Harlow biography, Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow (1993). The same week that Harlow died in 1937, the story of Patricia Douglas hit the papers, but after that, it disappeared. Girl 27 and David's investment in her experience allowed Patricia to truly be heard and believed for the first time, more than sixty-five years after she was raped. She describes how she was lured to the party, how she was literally forced to drink a mixture of champagne and scotch by two men there, how she was attacked and violated by David Ross in a field behind the barn where the party was held, how she had been a virgin before that night. For the rest of her life, Patricia struggled with physical and emotional intimacy. She experienced insomnia, depression, agoraphobia, and isolation.
We have always needed protection from police as we’ve always been sites of violence for them.We pay homage to our ancestors. We recognize and give thanks to the ancestors whose names we know and those we don’t. We pay gratitude for the times they have blanketed us with their love like armor; when they have directed us away from unnecessary pain; the way they continue to guide us towards fulfillment. Give thanks for their support of our strength. Ase.
We cannot deny that police violence is still a legitimate and real fear for black and Indigenous people in the western world. We have seen and heard the painful documentations of the unjust losses of our community members at the hands of police, and have been forced to internalize the message received about the value of black and brown lives in North America. However, we have simultaneously watched as our communities have fought to change the way we are handled by the most notorious gang in blue.