Black lives, black voices
Dr. Tiffany Chioma Anaebere
The Emeryville resident, 31, is an emergency physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland
I don’t feel like it’s happening to an “other.” This could easily happen to someone I know, regardless of education or economic status, and it feels very personal.
My parents are from Nigeria. They don’t completely understand all of the racial interactions that one generationally raised in the U.S. may understand — but they have learned. I can vividly remember my dad telling me, “If you interact with police, do not say anything. Don’t move, do exactly what they tell you, do not argue with them even if they stop you for an unnecessary reason. Don’t put yourself in a position where you can get killed.” This is from someone who was not born into the race-conscious fabric of this country. This was a learned behavior and an assessment of the American condition.
So now every time something like this happens, my phone is blowing up with my parents saying, “Never you ever talk back.”
I was stopped by a police officer a few weeks ago while driving in Chicago and the interaction was very pleasant. I was in a fancy dress driving back from a wedding. He was a white male cop who stopped me because I forgot to turn on the headlights to my rental car.
What I can tell you is that before he came up to me, I was shaking. I was scared that this could be that cop, the one interaction that could change everything. There’s a fear that if you aren’t perfectly polite, if you move too quickly, if your cell phone is mistaken as a weapon, something could go horribly wrong.
I know not all police officers are bad police officers. I work with them every day at the hospital, and many of them do their jobs very well. But when this happens time and again, as a person of color, as an American, as a health care professional — there’s no way you can ignore it. It is a serious public health issue and has to be addressed as such.
W. Kamau Bell
The 43-year-old comedian and Berkeley resident hosts CNN’s “United Shades of America”
Every member of the black community has two lives: First, we are human, and second, we are in some way a spokesperson for the black community. Not all of us accept that burden, but that’s just the way it is. You see moms and wives at press conferences who are all so composed. They’re not allowed to just mourn what happened. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s too much pressure on a community.
Then once we get through the hot spot, we just want to go back to whatever “normal” is. But normal for white America is a much more comfortable place than “normal” for black America or people of color. We don’t have the same normal. Black America’s normal is that we can be having a wonderful day and still, through no fault of our own, end up dead at the hands of someone whose job it is to protect us.
I’m not ready to have the conversation with my daughters, who are 5 years old and 20 months, about how someday you may find out your dad was killed by a cop. But it will happen. White families, they don’t feel the need to have that conversation. There’s also a conversation I’ll have to have where I’ll say, “You’re a child now, but someday you’re going to be walking through the world by yourself. And at that point you’ll become a target.”
The Oakland resident, 34, is one of the Bay Area’s most popular rappers
We become frustrated and enraged, and we realize we’re just a bullet away from being a hashtag. Being a black man in America, I can go out today and I could be next.
In 2016, we’re still having the same talks we had in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s — we’re still dealing with that. The same problems that existed in the ’70s are still going on. The same things Martin Luther King Jr. talked about and Frederick Douglass wrote about are still going on in 2016. Where is the progression?
Knowing your rights means nothing when we are dealing with people that don’t respect rights. The judicial system is not set up for us to win, the rules can be broken on sight, and then the officers who have broken the rules are protected. We have to understand that it’s not fair, but we don’t want to give them any other reason to murder us.
The UC Berkeley student, 20, is a campus senator, activist and double major in African American studies and sociology
Even though the videos kept reappearing on my feed, I remained frozen in my seat for two hours. I scrolled through and refreshed my social media sites, thinking: “Why?” and “Not again.” After close to three hours of trying to make sense of all the deaths, I reminded myself that if I didn’t get up, I’d be on my laptop until 1 a.m. in the same state of shock.
I decided to get up, go for a run, then write about how I was feeling in order to process my emotions.
It has been very painful but rewarding coming to consciousness about these things. They’ve always been happening, but social media allows us to magnify what’s happening around us.
Through educating myself about the climate in America and organizing to affirm the worth of black lives, I’ve learned how to love and appreciate myself, my culture and my identity more. It’s never just been political — it’s always been deeply personal as well.
The 22-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department works out of the Bayview Station
I can't help but tie in my own experience in law enforcement, so of course each time I look at the videos I think, "Could this have been resolved without gunplay? Could this have been just a physical struggle for control?" I've been in similar scenarios. It can be accomplished. I do believe a lot more interactions could be resolved without gunfire — not all, unfortunately — but we could have a better success rate than we do.
When you're working in a neighborhood that's predominantly African American and you are African American, people are going to expect things from you. They're going to expect you to be professional and friendly — they're expecting more of you.
My family has told me it's time for me to quit. My mother said, "For safety, you can do something else." My family friends and nieces said, "Why do you want to do that? This is what you're known for." But I have some Boy Scout in me — if everyone turned their back on something when it got a little tough, we would never accomplish anything.
As a civilian, I've had officers pull me over and be blatantly rude, mistrust me when I tell them I'm really going someplace, expecting me to be up to no good or mistaking me for a criminal. It's not a pleasant experience. Who likes to be thought of as a criminal right from step one? Nobody.
But it helps me in a way — I've had the experience. I do understand it. By no means do I try to tell people when they ask me about officers on the street, "No, this didn't happen" or "These officers didn't do this." I wish I could tell them that. You may have 80 to 90 percent of those in the profession doing the right thing, but the percentage that doesn't can make a huge negative impact.
So that is one of my goals: to always speak to someone with basic respect.
The 48-year-old singer-songwriter, who lives in Oakland, addressed police shootings in his new album, “The Last Days of Oakland”
I was raised by a father who always talked to me about police, how they view us and what we should do when they stop us. I had that really ingrained into my consciousness as a young person. Now I tell my kids straight up: “Hey, if the policeman stops you, this is what you do. They can end your life. Never argue with any police officer. Tell them when you’re reaching for your license: Is that OK, officer? Call them sir. They want to have the power. Let them have it. They have a gun. You don’t have a gun.”
Every single time I’m pulled over, I’m thinking: “Wow, this could go either way.” Every time.
I think about how I look just like the people in the videos. We’re men and we have the same color of skin, and you just wonder: “Who the hell are we as a country?” I know the fear of being pulled over by the police. Fear — this is all fear. When they pull you over, the police are terrified. How can you do a job or police the people when you’re scared of them? You’re not part of that community at all. Maybe what we should do is just have people from the community police the area so they can understand the people they are policing.
What can I do now? I have a platform — I have a stage, a guitar, a voice — I can speak on this. I can act on this. That’s what I can do.
John William Templeton
The 61-year-old historian on the African American experience in California co-founded National Black Business Month
I had an experience last year at San Francisco International Airport: The officer came up and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was waiting for a tour, and that I’m an official tourism spokesman for the city of San Francisco. He’s like, “Please, give me a break.”
So I pull out my iPad. But before I did that, I told him, “I am pulling out my iPad from my briefcase so I can show you.” Then I had to show a video of a story that Channel 5 had done about me giving a tour. So the two cops are there, and one says, “Son of a gun, he actually is who he says he is!” What I’m thinking about is all the guys that don’t have a video of themselves on their iPad explaining who they are.
Her 22-year-old son, Oscar Grant, was killed on New Year’s Day 2009 in Oakland by a BART police officer
When I found out, I was in disbelief. We are raised to respect law enforcement. So when you receive a call, or someone comes and tells you your child was shot by the police, you go through that disbelief period. Then you come to a realization that it really happened. Your emotions become like a roller coaster, up and down. You feel hurt, confused, angry. You feel different emotions all at the same time. You don’t know what to do. When it’s the police, who do you go to for help? Who do you turn to?
I didn’t watch the videos of my son being shot at first. I almost had to be barred from television, because every time I turned on the TV, it was on. I watched it years later. I watched it because I wanted to see why and I needed to see it so I could say something and talk about it. Hearing my son say to the officer, “You shot me,” it pierced my heart. It has really pierced my heart.
Forever I will never be the same.