Opinion Editor Amelia Robinson’s Note: Local attorney Kyle Strickland was invited to expand on his thoughts on a Facebook post following the fatal shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a Columbus police officer. Strickland’s comments, made before he was inducted onto the city’s civilian police review panel, met with both criticism and praise.
“Don’t let anyone tell you to wait for all the facts while they create their own narrative of what happened.”
This is the first line of my Facebook post after Chauvin’s verdict and the police murder of Ma’Khia Bryant. I wrote about the power of racist narratives and police violence in America.
I spoke to my community, people who know the painful truth that systemic racism is at work in every institution we interact with, including our police system. Too often we are told to “wait for all the facts” while narratives are being filmed that criminalize, dehumanize and blame the victims.
Some have misquoted and misrepresented my Facebook post, leading to some controversy over my membership in our city’s first Civilian Review Board (CRB). This demonstrated in real time exactly the argument I first looked at: narratives have power, and those in power often use their platforms to craft a public narrative to maintain the status quo and serve their interests.
The controversy was a distraction from the story of police violence in our community and the need to recognize the humanity of children like Ma’Khia Bryant.
As a trained attorney, I know how to take facts into account, review evidence, and make recommendations based on the law. I also come with the values and perspective to believe that a black girl’s life shouldn’t be smeared in the days after her death because I know that racist narratives about black people and people of color are dangerous and can be deadly.
The historically oppressed have always struggled to make their voices heard, to value their lives, and to build enough power to shape their own narrative. This is often faced with backlash by those who feel threatened by a deeply misguided belief that improving the wellbeing of a marginalized community inherently jeopardizes their own wellbeing.
As the author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi said: “The heartbeat of racism is denial.” Some continue to deny the existence of systemic racism and refuse to face the pervasive effects of racism and discrimination. We must not allow those who benefit from the division of our communities to distract us from addressing systemic challenges. Racism costs us all. When our communities are healthy and protected from government violence and oppression, we are all better off.
We must have the courage to admit that there is a worrying pattern of police violence and racism against black people here in Columbus. This is not an indictment against one person, but against the larger system. Our leaders must take meaningful steps to redefine public safety and work together to save lives.
I hope the Civilian Review Board can be an important step towards independent oversight and accountability. To do this, it must have different experiences and perspectives, including voices willing to question the status quo.
As the work of the CRB progresses, I strive to serve with integrity, speak harsh truths, and always explain that black living is important in a society that often denies our humanity.
Kyle Strickland is Associate Director of Race and Democracy at the Roosevelt Institute and Senior Legal Analyst at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity.
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