A few months ago I had a run-in with the Jeff. Parish cops. I'll preface this story by saying I'm a white man, college educated, from California, and I generally have all the socioeconomic privileges that keep me from being a target of police profiling. When these JPSO cops stopped me though, I feared for my safety. I was simply riding my bike along the River levee and decided to cruise through Kennar (sic). Big mistake. The two JPSO deputies that followed me for three blocks and then pulled me over first physically threatened me when I asked, "is there a reason why you stopped me?" Then after searching me and running my ID, they informed me to leave the area or else: "this is a crack neighborhood." They said. "White people don't come back here." I was riding not four block off Kennar's main strip.I experienced Steven Seagal: Lawman vicariously through other folks tweets the other night and caught some of it through posted episodes on A&E's website (A&E, people. How the mighty have fallen there...but that's another post altogether). It's funny mainly because of Seagal's monster ego being fully on display in a Cops-like context, so stopping people for "existing while black", among the other terrible things the West Bank's Finest (ahem) may either create for themselves or have to deal with after the fact, are shot through with the action movie actor's constant emphasis on his martial arts background and punctuated by many, many zaps of multiple Tasers. It's so bad, it's almost badder than bad. Almost.
The message was, 'don't ride through black areas, white boy'; 'don't come into Jeff. Parish at all.' JPSO enforces segregation in order to further criminalize the black poor that live in Kennar and other parts of the mostly white Parish. I was outraged but powerless. Seeing Seagal playing police man to bolster JPSO's image upsets me deeply. That is a terribly troubled and violent police force that need a different kind of exposure.
When one looks deeper into the entity that is the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, however, the comedy does fall away, hard and fast. The same show that will keep Seagal in the public eye will also subject the JPSO to greater scrutiny - you know, the department also cited in a lawsuit filed against the Gretna police department who turned back people trying to escape from a flood-ravaged New Orleans on the Crescent City Connection shortly after 8-29-05** - an action singled out for condemnation by Congress; the law enforcement entity once headed by now-deceased sheriff Harry Lee, who once proclaimed that blacks in white JP neighborhoods ought to be stopped by the police (check Carnival 1987-on in the timeline for that policy in action). It's crazy for a police force to be perpetuating such policies, but to be turning them around and applying them in the service of white supremacist idiocy: this is a crack neighborhood...white people don't come back here...well, who are they to perpetuate segregation?
Although white Americans often think we've had few first-hand experiences with race, because most of us are so isolated from people of color in our day-to-day lives, the reality is that this isolation is our experience with race. We are all experiencing race, because from the beginning of our lives we have been living in a racialized society, where the color of our skin means something socially, even when it remains largely a matter of biological and genetic irrelevance. Race may be a scientific fiction - and given the almost complete genetic overlap between the persons of the various so-called races, it appears to be just that - but it is a social fact that none of us can escape no matter how much or how little we may speak of it. just as there were no actual witches in Salem in 1692, and yet anti-witch persecution was frighteningly real, so too race can be a falsehood even as racism continues to destroy lives, to maim, kill, and, on the flipside, to advantage those who are rarely its targets.*The JPSO has a terrible track record of perpetuating this thinking and imposing it on everyone...the imposition of its racism on everyone no matter what color they are is ironically the only equal right they afford to us all - the right to harass everybody.
And Seagal has bought into that with every episode of his show.
Just something to remember in the midst of all the Zen Taser madness.
*White Like Me, Tim Wise
** changed to correct factual errors; my bad.