Friday, 3 November 2017

THUG

I have been reading. Not a lot, and very slowly, but there is still reading happening here. I read a review of 'The Hate You Give' by Angie Thomas and the library had a handy copy. It is the story of a young black girl who witnesses the shooting of her friend, and the repercussions it has for herself, her family and her community. But it is also a book about an adolescent struggling with growing up, and deciding who she is, and who she wants to be. Her parents choose to live in a rough part of town, because they see so many decent people abandoning the area and they want to resist the encroachment of the gang culture, but they send Starr, Sekani and Seven to a private, mostly white, school. Starr finds herself torn between the person she is at home and the way she find herself behaving at school to make herself acceptable to her friends. It is a very intense, highly charged book. You feel the tension rising within the community as they see the police officer involved absolved of responsibility for the shooting, and the tension rising for Starr as she feels unable to even acknowledge what has happened or express her anger within the confines of school. Add into the mix a young man asking her father for help to escape a gang and an uncle who is also a police officer, and things get very mixed up. While the repeated references to and adoration of trainer brands was irritating, it was just teenage stuff and I'm a middle aged fuddy-duddy who doesn't get any of that kind of thing. What was so vivid about the writing was Starr's emotional turmoil, and fear, and constant awareness of her vulnerability. There is much on the news in recent years, with random shootings of young black men, about relations between the police and the black community, and as a white person you just can't get your head about what it must be like to be afraid of the police, to view them as a group not to be trusted. This is a story to help you get past that. I still don't know what it's like, but this passage, which is quite long, made me literally shake with anger at the injustice. It is the use of the word 'boy' that is particularly insidious, used during slavery and beyond to demean black men, and used here by a black police man. Everyone inside the system is inculcated into its way of thinking and behaving. Here Maverick and Mr Lewis are just talking outside their respective shops when the police arrive and begin the question what they are doing:

"The black officer looks at him. 'Get on the ground, hands behind your back.'
'But ...'
'On the ground, face-down!' he yells. 'Now!'
Daddy looks at us. His expression apologises for the fact that we have to see this.
He gets down on one knee and lowers himself on the ground, face-down. His hands go behind his back, and his fingers interlock.
Where's that camera operator now? Why can't this be on the news?
'Now, wait a minute, Officer,' Mr Lewis says. 'Me and him were just talking.'
'Sir, go inside,' the white cop tells him.
'But he didn't do anything!' Seven says.
'Boy, go inside!' the black cop says.
'No! that's my father, and ...'
'Seven!' Daddy yells.
Even though he's lying on the concrete, there's enough authority in his voice to make Seven shut up.
The black officer checks Daddy while his partner glances around at all of the onlookers. There's quite a few of us now. Ms Yvette and a couple of her clients stand in her doorway, towels around the clients' shoulders. A car has stopped in the street.
'Everyone, go about your own business,' the white one says.
'No, sir,' says Tim. 'This is our business.'
The black cop keeps his knee on Daddy's back as he searches him. He pats him down once, twice, three times, just like One-Fifteen did Khalil. Nothing.
'Larry,' the white cop says.
The black one, who must be Larry, looks up at him, then at all the people who have gathered around.
Larry takes his knee off Daddy's back and stands. 'Get up,' he says.
Slowly, Daddy gets to his feet.
Larry glances at me. Bile pools in my mouth. He turns to Daddy and says, 'I'm keeping as eye on you, boy. Remember that.'
Daddy's jaw looks rock hard.
The cops drive off. The car that had stopped in the street leaves, and all the onlookers go on about their business. One person hollers out, 'It's all right Maverick.'
Daddy looks at the sky and blinks the way I do when I don't wanna cry. He clenches and unclenches his hands.
Mr Lewis touches his back. 'C'mon, son.'
He guides Daddy our way, but they pass us and go back into the store." (p.190-192)

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