By Emily Jenab, M.A.
Another black man has been shot and, subsequently, another case of character assassination post-death has begun. Alfred Okwera Olango, 38, was killed as he pulled out “a three inch long vape” and allegedly pointed it at the police of El Cajun, California. The shooting of Olango, an “emotionally disturbed” man who was shot after his sister called 911 for help, has already resulted in justifications of why he deserved to die. Yes, he was holding a vape, but why did it look like a gun? Why was he standing like that? Why did he hold his vaporizer between his hands? Efforts to legitimize another murder, and state implicated violence, will be taken. The cycle repeats and ethical and emotional discussions surrounding these murders, along with the issues embedded in police systems, will continue to be ignored.
Respectability politics are pertinent for people of color, and for marginalized persons, the respectability of their very identity is questioned when they are victims of police misconducts. There is, for our cultural purposes, no “good” black man; if he is unarmed, as Eric Garner was, he still deserves to die and his murderer will not be charged. If he is armed in an open carry state, as Philando Castle was, it is asked why he even had a gun, or what he was doing prior to being pulled over. These men – employed, fathers, worthwhile members of their communities – are reduced to “thugs” in the wake of their deaths. As the horrific deaths play across screens, the feeling of inequality and shame arises in some while others choose to dehumanize and delegitimize the lives of victims. Even one’s commitment to serve his or her country is ignored, like the case of Anthony Hill, a veteran of the US Air forces who was killed in Georgia. There is no shield from pervasive racism, even serving our country, something that is normally highly venerated.
Perhaps “bad cops” and those who support them unwaveringly are engaging in some form of culturally disseminated ‘gaslighting’. The methods behind this tactic, normally perpetrated by domestic abusers, can be used to warp reality for the masses. As Shea Emma Fett notes, “every time an obvious hate crime is portrayed as an isolated case of mental illness, this is gaslighting. The media is saying to you, ‘What you know to be true is not true’.” The media, police departments and their ardent supporters present the same message: a victim of police violence becomes a criminal; a father becomes a criminal, a teenager becomes a man and a boy like Tamir Rice, barely 12, becomes a threat.