Police in riot gear in a show of force during the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh

Police Officer Comforts White Woman by Saying “We Only Kill Black People”

Dashcam footage released last week shows a Georgia police officer telling a passenger during a traffic stop that cops “only shoot black people.” The video isn’t just a bad joke caught on camera. It reveals layers of historical and present police violence against black people – often in the name of making white women feel safe.

The dashcam footage, which surfaced last week, shows Lt. Greg Abbott standing outside of a vehicle during a DUI traffic stop in July 2016.  After the passenger – a white woman – expresses fear that she would be shot for moving her hands during the stop, Abbott responds: “But you’re not black. Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right?” Lt. Abbott retired last Thursday after backlash in response to the video. His attorney released a troubling statement, saying: “In context, his comments were clearly aimed at attempting to gain compliance by using the passenger’s own statements and reasoning to avoid making an arrest.”

It’s sad to admit that Lt. Abbott’s comments do point to a cold, hard truth: law enforcement disproportionately murders people of color. Just last year, black people were over twice as likely to be murdered by police compared to white people; indigenous folks were nearly four times as likely to be killed. This state murder isn’t something unique to our day and age. As Claudia Rankine writes, be it “Dying in ship hulls […] gunned down by police, or warehoused in prisons,” dead black people are “part of normal life here.”

The state murder of black people is indeed normalized in America – and in case you missed it, this police violence is a feminist issue. Whether or not Lt. Abbott was serious or joking in his comments, they are unacceptable; and they reveal the continued pattern of the state dehumanizing black people — here by treating black lives as punchlines — as a means of comforting white women. As police officers feel emboldened to joke about the black people they kill, how are black people — women, femmes, trans and non-binary folk, men — supposed to navigate our safety and livelihood? And what will white women, even those who like this passenger are seemingly aware of police violence, do to dismantle the police state that will do anything to protect their mutual whiteness? 

Header image via G20 Voice

Brianna Suslovic is a recent college graduate, a current graduate student, and an angry mixed girl. She's originally from upstate NY but currently splits her time between eastern and western MA. Check out more of her writing at her website, briannasuslovic.com. Check out more of her rants and musings on Twitter @bsuslovic.

Just a millennial trying to channel the rage of Audre Lorde every day.

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