police Archives - The Jose Vilson


What Rodney King Meant To Me

by Jose Vilson on June 18, 2012

in Jose

I have a student who already glorifies the idea of enrolling for the armed forces. He resolves every imaginary conflict with a shotgun or a mixed martial arts move. I’ve made it a running joke just to show how absurd he sounds every time he puts his fingers up in a shot-trigger motion. Yet, something unnerved me about him. For the last three years, I’ve worked on making him one of my student leaders, and thus, he reflects me in a way no other student in the building does.

His continued impersonation of local and federal officers made me wonder what would happen if his community asked him to keep the peace, where he might offer war.

Growing up, Rodney King symbolized the continued persecution of people of color by local police. It might have shocked the nation, but it only made those of us from the hood nod in unison. While the videotape kept rolling in the media, I kept watching, hoping to see when he would rise and kick their butts back. I kept waiting for the posse to roll up and fight back at whatever cost. I kept still because, even though I saw this constantly, it just reaffirmed the bitter and unnerving relationship so many of us have with authority.

Admittedly, as a youth, I felt relieved with the increased police presence in my neighborhood, but as I got older, I started to see the police presence not as necessary, but as a necessary evil. Would I prefer to have to find against the unwritten rules of the hood or against the written laws of the land? Would those glares from the drug dealers and the boys in blue get me tossed into the corner of a building or behind a local jail cell? Only two types of cars drove slow, and both made me walk quickly back home. Friends caught up in one life eventually found themselves too immersed in the other, so it often became a question of who protected who from what.

Some of the media only exacerbated the situation by emphasizing his drug use and his appearances post-beatdown. Some commentators almost said to us, “This man is less than a man. He almost deserves to be beaten down. None of this will matter anyways, so just move along.” Yet, we saw a little of him in all of us. When the offending police officers were acquitted on all charges and the revolts raged through Los Angeles in 1992, we were asked to see these as riots because riots infer a lack of intent or intellect behind the actions. An angry sort of Black surfaced.

A similar sort of angry that I see linger into today. When Operation Desert Storm raged on through the early 90s, a war at home for justice occurred … and resolved little. Yet, Mr. King’s assault may have planted a seed into the minds and hearts of others needing a glimpse into our existences as people of color here. For a moment, I can only hope to teach future Rodney Kings to rise up and plea to fellow brothers and sisters to, at least, get along.

And not just in the pseudo-post-racial way we do now.

Jose, who suggested to my student to read Malcolm X’s autobiography. I might even gift it to him …


My Friends, The Cops

by Jose Vilson on February 27, 2012

in Jose

Before the turn of the century, my friends and I took spring walks from school to home, following the route of the M14D, which runs all the way down 14th Street from West to East and back again. Along the way, there was a little deli / convenience store along the way with the usual characters, including an dark-skinned man stocking up groceries in the back. While I searched for a Snapple and a pack of Oreos, the man just gave me the usual “What are you looking at?” New York before East Village gentrification lived up to its truculent reputation. Once the man realized I was a kid, his face softened, and he continued stocking up drinks.

My boys and I walked home with few things on our mind, least of which the small encounters we had with store owners we saw along the way. Then again, we had to have a certain nonchalance after the day we had. We were a band of brothers who grew up in the projects, but went to school with promising military personnel and coddled Irish and Italian kids from the far reaches of Brooklyn. Unspoken was a conservative set of values that assured we didn’t question the JROTC or the rituals we learned from the first orientation. Our gangsta hoodness was negotiated with our clean shaven faces and burgundy and khaki uniforms.

Somewhere in between these two worlds, I found a way to assimilate to these disparate environments. On most nights, I couldn’t sleep from the soreness I got from calisthenics or from the gunshots ringing out, young girls’ screams piercing my sensitive ears. As I got into my junior year of high school, I felt conflicted about the role police played in protecting against violence versus instigating the violence. FOX 5 would start the 10 o’clock news with another shooting in a neighborhood similar to mine, and the police were either investigating it or in the gunfight, victorious in nine of ten occasions.

Then, on February 4th, 1999, some of this changed for me. An unarmed convenience store worker was shot far too many times when all he did was pull out a wallet. Malcolm Gladwell attested it to panic and fear. People in my school secretly whispered that he deserved it for being so suspicious. People in my circle changed the color of their wallets, if they had any at all. Just as the reports and photos began to surface about this man, I saw a face I saw once before.

This time, I needed more than a freakin’ Snapple.

Amadou Diallo comes into my thoughts every so often because of this juxtaposition. Presently, I have so many friends from that high school who have become the people whose institution I can never stand by. Every two weeks it seems, more statistics come to the fore that place men (and women) like me at the center point of the bulls’ eye.

On one end, these are men I played basketball with, shared stages with, sung with, laughed with, shared homework with, told stories with, ate with, and graduated with so many years ago. On the other end, they may perpetuate the uneven targeting of Black and Latino youth and men for their institution’s clandestine purposes. It seems that for every one person of color who actually committed an offense, seven others are stopped, frisked, taken downtown, and released from mistaken identity.

How many news reports will divulge my statistics: Black / Brown Skin / 5’10″ – 6’1″ / jeans / sneakers? How many times have I walked down Harlem and felt equally suspicious of the undercover police and the black hooded men on the opposite corner? How many conversations have I had with friends already in law enforcement, or ones that recently joined because they felt they had no better option? How many of them do I see on Facebook, holding their children and sharing their families with me?

The cognitive dissonance comes into play when you’ve graduated from the same place, and live on the idea that there’s this intense part of your life you’ll always share with them, but that your ideologies about certain aspects of your life split passionately somewhere down the road. At times, when I post my more radical point of views, I get a comment from these friends the rest of society calls cops. Rather than point to their own tendencies of victim blaming, I instead remind myself that the only way for these officials to reform (and transform) is through understanding and respect. One might (rightly) argue that, so long as their crimes are protected by the Blue Wall of Silence, they’ll always have free reign to keep order by any means necessary.

Before there was silence, there was conversation. At least between these friends who are cops … and me. We reminisce on those times we shared a drink, the representative of Christ’s blood.

Jose, who has parent-teacher conferences tomorrow …


Stop and Frisk Policy

I can’t say I’ve ever been stopped and frisked yet, though I’ve accumulated my fair amount of “treatment” from other entities in NYC. I can say that we need to start asking the right questions, like why police find it OK to shoot 40+ shots anytime they’re even in neighborhoods with high concentrations of people of color. Even with the shifts in population, the discriminatory practices won’t seize. One might ask, “Are these ‘type’ of people prone to violence and crime?” The better question to ask is: “Why will more new prisons be built than schools?” or “Why are the stop and frisks more proportional to the population we have in NYC?”

The New York Times does a masterful job in showing you what many of us have known along. Here’s hoping this not only answers some of the questions we have, but also changes the wrong questions to right ones.

Jose, who doesn’t think everyone’s asking these questions enough …


On Snitching and Malcolm X’s Assassination

April 27, 2010 Jose
Malcolm X, Assassinated

Yesterday, Thomas Hagan, the only person who admitted to murdering Malcolm X, was released by the New York State Department of Correctional Services. The outrage from activists and anyone concerned with true justice has been enormous. That coupled with the recent Arizona immigration bill have made it a really hard week for those of us […]

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