“The victims were Black, and the reports are so written as to make it appear that the helpless creatures deserved the fate which overtook them.” – Ida B. Wells
The myth of the perfect victim is an absurdity demanding the victims of police killings prove — from beneath the barren wombs of unmarked graves — that only one death is sufficient. It summons the dead to argue that R.I.P. is more than a cliched acronym but an ethical duty owed to them. However, when it comes to the dead, particularly those of a darker corpse, the police live to haunt this mantra.
For the police, the perpetual reenactment of death — such as lying on the street for four hours of death, the deadly denial of paramedics as she is still breathing until death, the death of “it looks like a closed casket, homie” after death — is a public ritual demonstrating the cost of imperfection. Because only when the victims of police killings can prove their humanity does this myth come to life.
Of course, the dead cannot speak for themselves. Public opinion cannot hear them. Their line of communication was left off the hook as the police cradled to form a quorum unanimously deeming them a threat, and voted to then perform the state execution — “public safety” style. So this myth is as dead as the Black people the police kill with impunity. Yet, the police act as the spokespeople for the dead by perpetuating this myth:
Okay, yeah, Breonna Taylor might have been murdered cold in her home but she shouldn’t have dated a drug dealer nor have lived in a neighborhood that was prime for gentrification. Okay, it might be true that Dreasjon Reed was running away, but he shouldn’t have been running! And you know what? He had a gun! A gun we believe was fired in a completely unrelated and irrelevant drive-by that occurred months prior to us killing him, but a weapon nonetheless. You know, a gun like the Subway sandwich *oops I mean a weapon* that Casey Christopher Goodson Jr. was twirling before we had to kill him too.
Each reference implies that it is because of the alleged imperfections of these victims that they now belong to the dead.
Police are bred with a warrior mentality that bestows a birthright upon them to cleanse our world of its imperfections. These imperfections harvest the marks of Blackness, Black maleness, homelessness, mental illness, queerness, etc., all conspiring in tandem as perceived threats that serve as potential stains to the sanctity of the state. These threats must be explained away through cop talk:
“The police feared for their life”
“Unarmed vs. armed”
Cop talk conditions us to see each “officer-involved shooting” through the eyes of the police. This gerrymandered view exempts us from critically asking what the victim’s state of mind was, or if they “feared for their life” while fleeing the pursuit of an officer like a helpless creature on the verge of becoming prey. Police officers are always “armed” with the propensity to hunt — yet the idea of the prey shooting back is seldom rationalized as “justifiable.” The law does not permit such consideration for “disorderly populations” purged to the bottom of the food chain.
Unfortunately, the only perfect victims are the police. It’s the police for whom the law morphs to sanction their complete latitude to kill. It’s the police for whom the state authorizes to make the “right decision” they claim no one else has the elective courage to make. It’s the police who have the unmitigated freedom to kill Black people, investigate themselves, feed the news media their propaganda to parrot as gospel and still fund a union to defend their murderous behavior in court, providing none of the aforementioned protections proved satisfactory — our last line of defense against the imperfections of society.
In America, Black people are scourged as the imperfections. Not because of our skin but because of the threat we serve to expose the contradictions of the capitalist system. Our exploitation is necessary for social relations to function properly. The denial of our humanity is essential to the order of racial capitalism. It is the police who are hired to protect and serve this order. And it is against us, the imperfections, that the police are hired to kill.
Too Black is a poet and host of The Black Myths Podcast based in Indianapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @too_black_ on Twitter.