*I recently saw a Facebook post that showed an image of R. Kelly with presumably his young girlfriend with the caption “R. Kelly is 49 and his girlfriend is 19, y’all call him a rapist and a bad man.” This image is side by side with an image of Hugh Hefner and Holly Madison captioned by “Hugh Hefner is 90 and been f——g 18 year old girls since the 60s and folks think he’s the man.”
This post is a trap that people often fall into when they are arguing from a certain perspective. R. Kelly is not someone who is getting a bad deal from the public. He actually has a documented track record of seducing underage girls. That’s why R. Kelly is deservedly given certain labels. Similarly the Sylville Smith (pictured above) incident is not indicative of law enforcement officers exercising bad judgment while policing African Americans.
This story could change if the facts are contradicted by video or eyewitness accounts but as far as we the public know, Smith was apparently shot by an officer after a traffic stop which certainly sounds like excessive force. On the other hand Smith was shot because he faced an officer and raised a loaded weapon in the direction of the officer that stopped him. To say that Smith operated in a way that was unwise is not a case of blaming the victim but more a case of simple common sense. Particularly when there are police officers that do not show compassion when dealing with people of color – DON’T RAISE A GUN IN THE DIRECTION OF THE POLICE! In addition there are reports that the Smith and the officer in question had a negative history. In the event that you know the police don’t like you – DEFINITELY DON’T RAISE A GUN IN THE DIRECTION OF THE POLICE OFFICER!! Yet this is exactly what Smith did. So the fact that he was shot is not surprising. Tragic perhaps, but I would expect the police to react with force when threatened.
There have been plenty of instances where black people and white people engage in the same positive behavior or actions. And black people have not always gotten the same kudos; that’s a problem. We should argue that black contributions be recognized. There have been lots of cases where black people and white people engage in the same negative behavior or actions. And in those cases white people have not always gotten the same consequences. But that doesn’t mean the consequences are undeserved. I would not argue that black people don’t deserve to be fired upon when pointing a gun at police (as has happened with multiple white people recently). I would argue that white people threatening officers also deserve to shot. Blue Lives Matter regardless of who they’re policing.
Sylville Smith had a checkered past. And if he was shot simply because of that, I might be writing a different column. The gun that Sylville Smith possessed was apparently stolen and loaded. But that’s irrelevant because the officer could not have known that when confronting Smith. I bring these things up because I want to explicitly discount the idea of character assassination. Smith is dead not because of things he did in the past but because of his ill-advised actions on the night of his death.
There are plenty of individuals that are indicative of problems in how police interact with black people. Smith just isn’t’ one of them.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.