The Southwest Political Report
By: Contributing Writer Amoja Sumler
You’re driving down the road. Perhaps you are a few miles per hour over the limit. That’s when it happens. You see the blue lights and your heart skips a beat. You can’t afford a ticket. You can not afford the change in your insurance premium. You can’t afford the irritation. Congratulations, this is how you win at losing.
My fear is never the ticket. If you are a person of color the premium is almost never your primary stress. Our stress becomes, “will I survive this interaction?” To many this seems hyperbolic. If this is you again, congratulations. You are privileged enough to not have had these experiences.
As laws go, aside from the perpetual poverty of my occupation, and some fairly regularly smoked pot, I am what most would call a “do gooder.” I vote. I work with youth. I give money and food to people without homes. I am a middling father. I actively work to make the world I inhabit a better place.
Yet I have had members of law enforcement draw pistols on me for situations as seemingly trivial as an alleged trespass in a public place (during business hours). I walked away with my life. I survived the police.
I am a scholar. I am an artist. I am an intersectional activist. These are my self definitions. On the occasions when I have interacted with law enforcement I was none of those things. I was “aggressive.” I was “well behaved.” I was “uppity.” I was a man under five feet tall, on my knees, handcuffed with guns drawn on me. Somehow, I survived. All too often people of color do not.
The inevitable conclusion plays out watching mainstream (let’s be honest White) America refusing to convict its’ law enforcement for murdering Blacks because they so readily endorse and excuse any punishment an officer deems a Black body is due. In the collective American neurosis the most suitable punishment is always death.
Alleged to have stolen cigars … summary execution (Mike Brown)
Parking violation… summary execution (Korryn Gaines)
Selling CD’s without a permit … summary execution (Alton Sterling)
Legally own a firearm … summary execution (Philando Castille)
Child Support arrears… summary execution (Walter Scott)
It is important to remember the official purview of law enforcement is not crime prevention, and it certainly is not punishment (that is the purview of the courts). Law enforcement is only tasked with apprehension of suspects.
Yet somehow this system as it exists is only honoring and providing reprieve for its own. This is why the marginalized are working to imagine new systems, anti oppression systems as opposed to reforming these inherently corrupted systems.
My story is not singular. My story is every POC’s story, and our stories are legion. We don’t fear tickets. We don’t fear premium increases. We fear execution at the hands of people that represent the State that we are tax paying citizens of. Let this serve as an official call for all of you to share your stories to the extent you feel safe to do so. Share the stories about the time you #SurvivedThePolice
Amoja Sumler is a nationally celebrated poet and social activist known for fusing the art of the intellectual into the familiar. As “The Mo-Man,” he has headlined spoken word festivals such as the Austin International Poetry Festival, the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, Write NOLA in New Orleans and Rock the Republic in Texas. A member of both to Arts in Education and Arts on Tour roster for over a decade has seen Amoja serve as a 5 time Poetry Out Loud states finals judge and an artist in residence to Universities and literacy nonprofits across the state of Arkansas. Amoja has also presented at social advocacy conferences like Long Beach Indie Film