The Aug. 13 shooting of Patrick Harmon by a Salt Lake City police officer marks another day in America’s hostility toward black lives and its people. Jose Luis Magana AP
The Aug. 13 shooting of Patrick Harmon by a Salt Lake City police officer marks another day in America’s hostility toward black lives and its people. Jose Luis Magana AP

Jeneé Osterheldt

Another black man dead, another white cop free: Why we sit, kneel or raise a fist

By Jeneé Osterheldt

October 06, 2017 05:40 PM

I wondered if he knew riding a bicycle without a light could get you killed. Not by traffic, but by the police.

Did Patrick Harmon know that his black skin was something to be feared? Surely it’s something he’d learned in his short 50 years.

Is that why Harmon ran away when, on Aug. 13, the cops went to arrest him in Salt Lake City? They said he threatened them. The video shows him complying. They said he had a knife; one officer said it was “the scariest situation he had ever been in.” But Harmon looked like he was crying. Then he was fleeing for his life. Then he was dead. Less than two months later, the courts ruled the killing was justified.

Did Harmon know the next time Chiefs’ cornerback Marcus Peters sits during the national anthem to protest oppression and brutality, he’d be one of the brutalized?

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Did Harmon know that we are not this country’s people? Did he know that black men in 2017 account for more than a quarter of police killings of unarmed people and only 6 percent of the population? Did he know that black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police?

And they get away with it. Ask Jason Stockley. He killed Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, in St. Louis and claimed he had a gun. But the gun found only bore Stockley’s DNA. Stockley said he was scared but as he chased Smith’s car, he can be heard saying, “We’re going to kill this, mother**”, don’t you know?”

We know, Jason. And you got away with it. Just like the cops who got away with the killings of Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and I could keep listing names but we’d run out of space.

The judge overseeing Stockley’s case said it would have been an anomaly if Smith did not have a gun. A judicial validation of white fear.

White fear says he shouldn’t have been running. That if you just comply you’ll survive. Because it worked out great for Castile, who was pulled over while driving in Minnesota and was shot seven times.

White fear says if you just stay in your place and stand for the anthem and salute the flag instead of protest brutality and oppression, that everything will be fine.

White fear says All Lives Matter and act like #BlackLivesMatter is a hate group. And act like it’s completely normal for St. Louis police to shout “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” Because controlling a city has been confused with protecting its people.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs organization says it has found no evidence that anyone called Washington Redskins’ Terrelle Pryor a n----- at Arrowhead, as if their own Peters hasn’t been threatened with racial slurs and violence since he started sitting during the anthem.

Did they think not a single Chiefs fan could be involved? (See: Confederate flags flying at Arrowhead Stadium’s parking lot.) Maybe they did. Just like Chad Dearth of KC Trends Motorsports believed rallying local businesses to refuse service to Peters carried no oppressive subtext. But, you know, he says he didn’t know Peters was protesting brutality. Okay.

A screenshot of Chad Dearth’s Facebook page with his comments about Marcus Peters.

It’s not a stretch to believe that Pryor was responding to racism. But it is telling that he was expected to apologize for flipping the bird at a racial slur. Just like lawyers must prove beyond the shadow of a doubt a cop wasn’t acting out of fear, but the assumption of a black threat comes naturally. They’ll pay out settlements like masters paid for slaves but to convict a killer of a black person would require recognizing our humanity.

But this is a country where President Donald Trump will call a black man a son of a bitch for protesting but won’t call a white mass murderer a terrorist. Brutality and oppression are why the athletes kneel, sit or raise a fist.

Like James Baldwin said: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”


America loves its guns more than its people.

America loves its flag and its anthem more than its people.

America loves its police more than its people.

America loves its people as long as queer people, immigrant people and people of color aren’t its people.

Colin Kaepernick started the movement to sit out the national anthem last year as a way to protest racism and inequality. For their first games this season, several more NFL players followed his lead.