The majority of murders we’ve seen & those we haven’t show a pic that there aren’t many police heroes for people like us
By: Jennifer Nakhai*, LICSW/TRT Guest Columnist—
Salem residents like myself were baffled recently when we read former Salem Chief of Police and Mass. State Representative Paul Tucker’s Facebook post: “An Open Letter to the Members of the Police Department in response to protests calling for Capt. Kate Stephens’ termination and to end the unequal police abuse and numerous murders of black and people of color, which has led to worldwide protests for Black Lives Matter. The entire Black Lives Matter movement has been more than one large reactive talk on Facebook threads. It is a revolution in the making. Live and direct from Facebook feeds to Instagram stories, all making their mark as people bought into the idea of equality, integrity, and fairness. As many of us try to take a clear stance in the face of white silence and covert white violence, we still see complicit people defend “all lives.” Coincidentally, these are the same people in my network who also complain when I advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.
As I try not to allow rage to control my interactions, I found the comments within Mr. Tucker’s post to be more telling than the post itself. His post was aggressively supportive of the police (something expected from an ex-cop), but it also was much more than that. It was a permissive platform for “blue lives” to post their poems and sayings from “blue lives matter” pages. In the community, we refer to those clusters as white supremacy groups.
My call to action is asking you to object to these rationalizations by people in positions of power that support the racist and oppressive capitalist structure. When Mr. Tucker says (referring to police officers),
“While you have been counseling suicidal and emotionally disturbed persons, protesters stood in front of the police station chanting all cops are bastards and suck my d!ck. I know even worse was said but I don’t use the same words that some of them did.”
I see Mr. Tucker’s priorities and loyalties, as far as what should be discussed in the community. We also see the ridicule to those of us protecting our frontlines by offering emergency mental health services (as I am a therapist myself). I found his comment, as it pertains to police “counseling suicidal and emotionally disturbed persons,” to be a slap in the face. Black lives are more important that insults screamed at you during a police brutality protest. But, it appears that insulting the police is more of an important issue to tackle than members of the police being videotaped strangulating a black man calling for his deceased mother. George Floyd is just one of the hundreds of thousands of black people killed at the hands of white people, for whatever reason, in the long history of abuse that exists and has existed for 400 years.
The replies to the post should worry the post writer for several reasons. If I were in his position, I would’ve taken action and immediately erased it, to provide an example of inclusion and to lead by example. But, most importantly, I would’ve erased it because of the hurt, pain and additional injury that it causes communities of color and because of the “green light” that it sends to the supremacists living in Salem. After all, that is what leaders in powerful positions should do—unite and work for all, not just some, especially at such a racially charged moment in the history of the U.S. That is why chaos and racism have ensued, especially of the emboldening of their actions by Donald Trump—a white supremacist himself, ignorantly tweeting from the confines of his bunker.
Also, replies to the post ranged from fans using “black” and “blue” symbols in their comments to demonstrating their loyalty to the organized movement of neo-Nazi thoughts and beliefs. America has fought multiple wars against this type of “ethnic cleansing” and “white supremacy” ideology from 1939 to 1945. In that thread, they utilized specific colors and words, like gangs normally do. But, that was ok. You could have moderated your comments, Mr. Tucker. This would have sufficed.
We are not new to the fight against hatred from an intersectional standpoint. The timing of our protests is no coincidence as we approach the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall riots that led to the gay liberation movement which resulted in improved LGBTQ+ rights (also known as Pride). Today we fight racism in the U.S. while Puerto Rico continues to protest not only against racism but also against new civil code that removed protections from women and LGBTQ+ folk alike. None of us are safe from hatred and the people who perpetrate these ideals.
I ask that you consider similar behaviors in other leaders in your community. I also ask that you consider and demand this from the businesses you frequent. It seems that the only way politicians are paying attention to their constituents is when they hurt their campaigns and their pockets.
In Salem, we see it now more than ever when the business interests of our City Councilors take precedent over the needs of our community. Accessible Dwelling Units (ADUs) are a hot topic to follow on affordable housing right now and are mainly opposed by four city councilors who are landlords in Salem: Domingo Dominguez, Arthur Sargent, Steve Dibble, and Tim Flynn. You will see them posting videos of their campaigns supporting these measures, to then find out they vote with their interest for personal profit from an already saturated market.
More evidence of this on Dustin Luca’s article for the Salem News recently, where he explains:
“Two city councilors have called on Mayor Kim Driscoll to halt or postpone protests that have sprung up in the city in the wake of the killings of black people by police. In the days leading up to protests this weekend, councilors Steve Dibble (Ward 7) and Domingo Dominguez (At-Large) told Driscoll that if the events can’t be stopped, she should at least outline plans to protect Salem and its residents from violence and increased exposure to COVID-19.”
Salem residents recognize when politicians with a weak understanding of the law are hijacking their rights as it relates to protesting and other civil rights issues. The hardest part for me has been continuing to battle City Councilors who express unfounded ideas to the public like “5G is bad for your mental health” (Dominguez) or “Police do not have standardized psychological testing” (Councilor Conrad Prosnewski, also an ex-cop) when both statements are false news, but were disclosed during the last City Council meeting making it nearly 4 hours long.
From a clinical perspective, we acknowledge the value of ‘filibustering’ and we understand politicians like to ‘play games,’ however we are seeing politicians and police spreading completely fake information—propaganda that can result in further panic, hopelessness, increased suicide rates, depression, and anxiety, not to mention more violence from the police. Politicians like them are not considering the disservice they offer the community when they ask residents to forgo their civic duty to protest. They are not considering the fear-mongering and manipulative tactics they display and how this takes a toll on the human psyche. Needless to say, these men (the police officers and politicians) are not licensed professionals who can give that type of advice or have the right to thwart free public expression.
Friendlier with Police?
People have asked me a number of times to consider being “friendlier” with police. People often want to remind me of the importance of the “badge,” yet they fail to realize that as a Latinx female of color I have had nothing but dismissive and violent experiences with them.
The most important one being the day I reported my abuser to the police to be met with questions like “Did you cheat on this man? What did you do to make him so angry with you? Why didn’t you take him out to dinner to tell him you didn’t want to be with him any longer?” among other atrocious questions that ultimately blamed me for his abusive behaviors towards me. It was in that process that I learned how the criminal justice system is set up to fail the poor, black, female, and disenfranchised.
I remember feeling hurt by the abuse. But, I was more hurt by the policeman refusing to listen to my claim. Most of the time I would have to demand that an incident report be filed, as they were quick to dismiss it and slow to assign it to a domestic violence detective and an advocate from the DA’s office. That’s what being “friendlier” with the police got me.
My hope for Salem is to grow from the oppression, starting a new aeon that values its workers and people over the loss of profit and property damage. Learn about your rights to peacefully protest at aclu.org, and remember to engage your “indigenous healing systems” by connecting to the battle cries of your ancestors. The best advice I can leave you with, however, is to channel this energy in creative ways. Move your body, make art, make music, find resources, and pay attention to what is happening around you. In my last podcast on “Healing Racial Trauma,” Juan Colon, an activist and historian from San Juan, Puerto Rico, explained it best: “be critical and aware of history and institutional gaslighting.”
No justice, no peace.
*Jennifer Nakhai, LICSW, is a mental health therapist and activist from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico who practices in Mass. via Aeon Counseling & Consulting. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via call or text at 617-982-3996.
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