Would Jordan Edwards still be alive if neighbors hadn’t called the cops with a noise complaint? I don’t know who made that call, but someone did.
Tonight, the cop who shot Jordan in the head with a rifle for no reason has just been charged with murder. I am overwhelmed with relief to see the justice system maybe start to work this time. But we need to stop for a minute and think about the person who made that call in the first place. Who was it? Was the person white? Was there another way this could have been resolved? Does the person who called realize what he or she has done?
We need to talk about this. We need to talk about the fact that we – especially we white people – need to carefully consider the impact of calling the police. One phone call can and will have much further-reaching consequences than we may ever know. (Or maybe we will know when it’s on the news that night.)
If calling the cops for a noise complaint can cause the death of an innocent Black child, we need to STOP.CALLING.THE.COPS.
Would the best-case scenario have been one more Black male sent into the prison-industrial complex? (See the documentary 13th if you haven’t already. Like now.) And the worst-case scenario is an innocent child murdered by a police officer in front of his two brothers. Who were then locked up in jail all night for no reason. While the father of those three boys drove around town searching for them.
I’m not going to describe Jordan with any word other than “innocent.” We know he had no drugs, no alcohol, no guns, and certainly no “driving toward the officer in an aggressive manner.” He was trying to leave. Jordan was undoubtedly innocent. But I refuse to describe him any other way. I’m not going to say he was well-liked. I’m not going to say he was a sports star. I’m not going to say he was popular. I’m not going to say he came from a good family. And I’m sure as heck not going to say he was an honor-roll student.
Every single article I’ve read about him has said all those things. As if that’s a way to prove to white people that he didn’t deserve to die. NO CHILD DESERVES TO DIE. If he was unpopular, socially awkward, from a broken home, or in Special Ed, or flunking out, maybe living with autism or was intellectually disabled or wore his pants too low, then what? Every time the media says he was an “honor roll student”, we send the message that any child who isn’t any of those things isn’t worthy of protection from police violence.
My own son is sleeping safely in his bed right now. He’s seven years old. It’s nearing midnight on a rainy Friday spring evening. We live in the woods and the sound of the frogs is mesmerizing right now. We have soccer practice tomorrow morning. His white parents will drive him there in our stupid beige minivan. His grandma may come cheer for him. He’ll eat a dye-free and preservative-free organic lunch when he gets home. Will those things keep him safe from a police officer’s rifle through his side-window of his dad’s car when he’s a teenager who is trying to leave a party?
What if my son isn’t popular? What if he isn’t on the honor roll? What if he’s not good at sports? Then will the media report on him at all if he encounters police brutality in his adolescence?
One of the many reasons I can’t get Jordan Edwards out of my head is that I recently went to a Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) teach-in about – you guessed it – NOT CALLING THE COPS. SURJ is a nationwide network that helps “organize white people” and educate them to help make changes. I see it as a way to teach white people how to support (and not take over) the Black Lives Matter movement. I try to go to their monthly meetings, where I have been learning so much. I’m just a baby in my own progress and in my understanding of the organization*, but so far, SURJ is a very valuable resource to me, and thus, to my son.
Anyway, after the teaching portion of the class (which always detonates all I thought I knew about the world and makes me rearrange my entire brain), we had to get in small groups. We were given various scenarios describing reasons for which white people might call the cops. Our assignment was to brainstorm all the different ways we could handle the situation instead of calling the police. My group was given the scenario of “there’s a loud party in the apartment next door and it’s really late” or something similar. I was in a group with my brother (who takes to radicalism very well, by the way) and a good friend. Being the shrinking violet that I am, I really had nothing to offer, other than something super helpful like, “put in some earplugs?” My brother and my friend were far more competent and, well, brave. They added things like:
-knock on their door and talk to them yourself
-call the building manager
-publicly shame them the next day with a letter on the communal bulletin board
-make more noise yourself to drown them out
Okay, okay, these were silly and tongue-in-cheek. But it was a brainstorming session. Now? Now it doesn’t seem like anything to take lightly. Now it seems like life and death.
BECAUSE IT WAS LIFE AND DEATH FOR JORDAN EDWARDS.
As a white girl, I have always believed – and been taught – that police are the good guys. (Okay, okay, maybe not completely – my parents were hippies!**) We can go to the police for any help we could possibly need. That they can find my parents, fix my boo-boos, drive me home if I’m lost, and of course, “get” the bad guy. I am not anti-cop. Like most of us, I have friends and acquaintances who are police officers. But I DO have to unlearn what I’ve been taught. And I DO have to be careful how I teach my sons about police officers. I DO need to have “the talk” with my Black son. And I DO need to consider what could happen if I ever called the cops on my neighbors.
We need to know our neighbors. We have a responsibility to build a community. Not just live in a community, but build one. We need to solve our own problems. We need to lean on each other, instead of getting authorities involved unnecessarily. If we knew our neighbors better, wouldn’t we be better able to knock on their door and ask them to keep it down?
I’ve never called the cops on anyone. I’ve also never needed to call the cops on anyone. But now, my mind is opened. Thanks to SURJ, and thanks to Jordan Edwards, I can see farther. I know that one call could possibly put my neighbors into a system that could be inescapable.
And it could also possibly put a bullet into their heads.
We need to be accountable. If any of you white people have been saying that you want to help and you want to be an ally, well, this is one way: think twice before you call the cops. You may be protecting my child. And Jordan Edwards would still be alive.
Say his name.
*I want to point out that I do not speak for SURJ and I do not necessarily represent their beliefs.
** I want to point out that I do not speak for my parents and do not necessarily reflect their beliefs. My parents would counter my hippie statement by saying they are too young to truly have been part of the hippie counter-culture. But you get my point.