There’s only one wrong response to a crisis, and that’s no response.
In a week’s span, Raleigh was struck by two crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and yet another police-involved shooting of a man of color—the second in just 30 days. The community’s elders, parents, students, children, and allies took to the streets last Tuesday night in response to a live-streamed video of devastated kids reacting to the incident, as well as (incorrect) social media reports that the police had shot a 16-year-old boy in the back over a stolen pizza.
Rolanda Byrd of Raleigh PACT spoke out in solidarity with the victim and his family, recounting her own tragedy—the police killing of her son Akiel Denkins four years ago. The protest made its way to the police chief’s front lawn, then through the streets of downtown Raleigh, growing in number with each step. “No justice, no peace! Arrest the police!” echoed from Fayetteville Street up to the halls of the Capitol Building, and the city was finally awakened out of its slumber.
When Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown finally addressed the shooting the next morning, she mostly scolded the protesters, telling them to stay calm.
Contrary to Deck-Brown’s comments, Byrd and Raleigh PACT have been going through the “proper channels” of government to achieve a police accountability board with subpoena and investigatory power ever since she lost her son. City manager Ruffin Hall and the city council made a feeble attempt at justice when they finally created a board last month, but every member will be chosen by the Raleigh Police Department, and it will effectively be powerless.
Yet they still press for calm amid outrageous circumstances, which prompts the question: When people are calm, whose interests are being served?
Over 50 years ago at Stanford University, The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the final analysis, the riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.”
The politically correct Call for Calm is a euphemism, and its true meaning is twofold. The first is the belief that impacted people’s ability to understand reality cannot be trusted—the person calling for calm knows what’s best for them. Secondly, it means what Reverend King said—powerful people and their cronies are more concerned with the status quo than justice because their well-being and status are maintained by “calm.”
The Call for Calm is the language of smoke and mirrors. It is an attempt to control the emotions of the public while the government refuses to govern—or worse, creates policies that will directly harm the most vulnerable residents. Just like the Trump administration disbanding the Global Health Security Team two years ago, Raleigh’s council disbanded the CACs, the single most consistent connection between the council, the Police Department, and Black and Brown community in Southeast Raleigh.
The Call for Calm is the hallmark of the political negligence that not only ignores crises but creates them.
As we have learned from both the coronavirus and the shooting, people in power believed they could protect themselves by selling out their most vulnerable citizens. They thought that the broken promises and neglected responsibilities would not come to their doorstep. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
And if there is any doubt that there is, in fact, a double standard when it comes to the Call for Calm, consider state Representative Deb Butler. Back in September 2018, after House Republicans held a surprise budget override vote, she went HAM, and liberals near and far cheered her on. “I will not yield!” became the mantra of angry white Democrats fed up with Republicans’ games.
But what happened on North Rogers Lane Tuesday evening wasn’t a game. Byrd and the community of protesters weren’t screaming over politics—they were crying out over bloodshed. And yet the Black and Brown community is admonished for their passion and told to be calm.
Those of you who seek to shame the protesters and cast judgment on their methods, I ask you this: How should a grieving community respond to brutalization? How should children respond to the police shooting their neighbor? How should mothers respond when they hear that another person’s son is fighting for his life because of an officer’s bullet?
There’s only one wrong response—no response—and those complicit in the community’s pain keep on giving it