Check It Out: The police compliance wager

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Recently, Ibram X Kendi, Director of Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, wrote an essay in The Atlantic called—Compliance Will Not Save Me. Kendi’s essay was about the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago on March 29, 2021.

Kendi stated: Chicago Police Officer Eric E. Stillman responded to reports of gunshots. Stillman chased a boy down an alley. The officer yelled at Toledo, “Hands. Show me your hands. Drop it. Drop it.” Stillman’s body camera shows Toledo apparently complying. He appears to drop something. He stops. He turns around. He shows his hands. Stillman fires a single shot, killing Toledo. Afterward, Stillman’s attorney justified the fatal shooting, “The officer was put in this split-second situation where he has to make a decision.”

Kendi rejected the defense attorney’s assessment and stated, “It was Stillman who put Toledo in a split-second situation where (Toledo) had to make a decision. Toledo decided to do everything the officer asked him to. He complied, but he is not alive today. For Black and brown people, this is the terror of American policing. When we do not comply, we die (like Daunte Wright). When we do comply, we die (like Adam Toledo). Compliance will not save our lives.”

We all are aware that compliance, on its own, will not save anyone from a police officer’s reaction or overreaction, nor will compliance save anyone from a host of other situations.

For example, last year, a headline stated: Some Fear Racial Profiling During Pandemic.

The article said racial profiling during the pandemic was a growing concern among African-Americans. Kendi was interviewed. He explained, “To be young and Black in America is to be, on some level, fearful every time you step out the door with or without your mask.” Then Kendi said, “It’s a concern for myself, even when I go out and I run in the morning with a mask on. I’m always concerned whenever I pass the police car.”

In other words, Kendi complied.

He wore the mask to decrease his chances of infection and ran the risk of being racially profiled by the police because it was in his best interest. However, in Kendi’s essay—Compliance Will Not Save Me—he said, “Black and brown people’s defiance is not the problem. Our compliance is not the solution.”
But under some circumstances, there are no solutions—only tradeoffs.

Now, wouldn’t the same tradeoff that was in Kendi’s best interest during the pandemic, also apply to the police? Of course, it would. It’s no different than Pascal’s wager, the religious doctrine that states it’s best to behave as if the savior exists, since the possibility of damnation outweighs non-belief, but in this matter, compliance with the police outweighs the outcome of non-compliance.

Since this is hardly a debatable issue for non-academics, the question becomes why is Kendi so dismissive towards compliance? That’s because Kendi is an activist scholar, and his arguments either advance a critical theory or promote a social justice cause, and the best interest of Black and brown lives is not his primary concern. Here’s a passage Kendi strategically inserted into his essay. “Within their cloud of fear, they (White people) have come to believe that police violence is caused by a lack of compliance, rather than seeing it as the violent son of American slavery.” Activist scholars make slavery analogies in order to advocate for the elimination of whatever it is they deem synonymous with the institution of slavery.

Here’s how Kendi finished his analogy, “Police defiance of our humanity is the problem. American defiance of our right to live is the problem. Political compliance—to abolish American policing as we know it—is the solution … To believe otherwise is to comply with an alternative history, with a fantasyland, with wishful thinking, with an American dream that is my American nightmare.”

There’s an old saying: Some people have ideas and some ideas have people. Hopefully, Black and brown people won’t be—had—by ideas like: Compliance Won’t Save Me.


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