Speaker: Brittany Harris, Social Justice Educator; Trainer & Facilitator, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Washington University in St. Louis
Topics: Stockley Verdict, Allyship, Activism Discussion
Today we were extremely lucky to have Brittany Harris speak with us. She is a St. Louis native and joined Washington University last September as a Training & Development Specialist with the Center for Diversity & Inclusion. Though the scheduled topic was Intersectionality, Ms. Harris led us in a timely discussion of the verdict that was announced this morning in the case of former St. Louis officer, Jason Stockley.
Three Main Messages from the Discussion:
1. Summary of the Stockley Case and Timeline: In 2011, St. Louis officer Jason Stockley shot and killed Anthony Lemar Smith. After a short altercation in which Smith struck Stockley’s hand with his vehicle and hit the police vehicle, Stockley and his partner Brian Bianchi gave chase. Audio from within the police vehicle recorded Stockley saying “we’re going to kill this motherf**** don’t you know.” After a short interaction, Smith was shot. Initially defending his actions by alleging Smith had a pistol on him, Stockley was indicted for 1st degree murder 4½ years later, after new evidence came to light. A pistol was found in Smith’s possession, however only DNA from Stockley was found on the weapon. Stockley opted out of a jury of his peers and the judge ruled ‘Not Guilty’ this morning. To note, Stockley was also illegally carrying his personal AK47 with him during this encounter. Also, it is important to note that Smith was an African American man and Stockley is a white man. The implications, power difference, and possible biases presented by this difference in race are of considerable importance. Another account reported by NPR can be found here: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/15/551228046/former-st-louis-police-officer-is-acquitted-of-murder-in-anthony-lamar-smith-cas
2. Why did it take so long for the case to be brought to court and who gets the privilege of a trial? When Ms. Harris asked for questions and reactions to this morning events, we discussed why the indictment took so long. While Ms. Harris admitted her bias, the conclusion was that the system is undoubtedly broken. Systems perpetuate and protect themselves. So, the idea that “maybe people won’t care so much if we delay the process” is a possible reason for the delay in the process. Another potential reason was the new evidence that came to light regarding the likely planting of the pistol. Another issue was the fact that Smith seemed to be dealing drugs at the time of the altercation. A Connections member asked how that weighs into the sequence of events and justification of Stockley’s actions. Ms. Harris asked us “who gets the privilege of their day in court?” She asked this to present the idea that, yes, Smith may have committed a crime, but he was killed for that possible crime, while Stockley was privileged to live to go to trial for his potential crimes. Likewise, people of color are more likely to be killed by police, while white people are more likely to be apprehended without fatal injury and live to go to trial.
3. Allyship requires Action. No matter the political or social opinions of an individual, it is true that to be an ally to a community requires action. Ms. Harris stated she has “revoked” ally cards (hers included) when she notices that we (or she) are harming the community we claim to support. She said we can be part of a community and still harm a community. “We all have the power to sit at the dinner table” but what will we choose to do? Will we let those racist comments slide? Will we engage with an “I love you, but this is not okay”? And most importantly, she asked us, “What are you willing to lose as an ally?”
Near the end of the discussion, Ms. Harris called on us to think about how things like body type, age, race, gender, location, country of origin, etc. can intersect to make us more (or less) vulnerable. She pointed out the difference between misogyny (the hatred of women) and misogynoir (the hatred of black women, where race and gender intersect). While everyone’s vulnerabilities are valid, we are more likely to oppress others in sections where we are not oppressed. Able-bodiedness and neurotypicality (the assumption that there is a ‘normal’ brain) make it easy to “other” people. Be aware of all the factors at play in society and do our best to be present for one another. Ms. Harris ended with a final plea to love on the people in your life right now and always.
We were so grateful to have Brittany Harris share with us today.
Thank you to everyone who could be there.
Written by Kayla Nygaard
Edited and formatted by Leeran Dublin
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