TIME Race

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The Police Aren’t Under Attack. Institutionalized Racism Is.

Two Cops Shot And Killed Execution Style In Brooklyn
Women place flowers at a memorial to the two New York Police Department (NYPD) officers that were shot and killed nearby Dec. 21, 2014 in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. He is also a celebrated author, filmmaker and education ambassador.

The way to honor those who defend our liberties with their lives — as did my father and grandfather — is not to curtail liberty, but to exercise it fully in pursuit of a just and peaceful society

According to Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose.” For me, today, that means a time to seek justice and a time to mourn the dead.

And a time to shut the hell up.

The recent brutal murder of two Brooklyn police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, is a national tragedy that should inspire nationwide mourning. Both my grandfather and father were police officers, so I appreciate what a difficult and dangerous profession law enforcement is. We need to value and celebrate the many officers dedicated to protecting the public and nourishing our justice system. It’s a job most of us don’t have the courage to do.

At the same time, however, we need to understand that their deaths are in no way related to the massive protests against systemic abuses of the justice system as symbolized by the recent deaths—also national tragedies—of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and Michael Brown. Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the suicidal killer, wasn’t an impassioned activist expressing political frustration, he was a troubled man who had shot his girlfriend earlier that same day. He even Instagrammed warnings of his violent intentions. None of this is the behavior of a sane man or rational activist. The protests are no more to blame for his actions than The Catcher in the Rye was for the murder of John Lennon or the movie Taxi Driver for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Crazy has its own twisted logic and it is in no way related to the rational cause-and-effect world the rest of us attempt to create.

Those who are trying to connect the murders of the officers with the thousands of articulate and peaceful protestors across America are being deliberately misleading in a cynical and selfish effort to turn public sentiment against the protestors. This is the same strategy used when trying to lump in the violence and looting with the legitimate protestors, who have disavowed that behavior. They hope to misdirect public attention and emotion in order to stop the protests and the progressive changes that have already resulted. Shaming and blaming is a lot easier than addressing legitimate claims.

Some police unions are especially heinous perpetrators. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s previous public support of protestors has created friction with these unions. The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association responded with a petition asking that the mayor not attend the funerals of officers killed in the line of duty. Following the murders of Ramos and Liu, an account appearing to represent the Sergeants Benevolent Association tweeted: “The blood of 2 executed police officers is on the hands of Mayor de Blasio.” Former New York governor George Pataki tweeted: “Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder and #mayordeblasio. #NYPD.”

This phony and logically baffling indignation is similar to that expressed by the St. Louis County Police Association when it demanded an apology from the NFL when several Rams players entered the field with their hands held high in the iconic Michael Brown gesture of surrender. Or when LeBron James and W.R. Allen wore his “I Can’t Breathe” shirts echoing Eric Gardner’s final plea before dying. Such outrage by police unions and politicians implies that there is no problem, which is the erroneous perception that the protestors are trying to change.

This shrill cry of “policism” (a form of reverse racism) by Pataki and the police unions is a hollow and false whine born of financial self-interest (unions) or party politics (Republican Pataki besmirching Democrat de Blasio) rather than social justice. These tragic murders now become a bargaining chip in whatever contract negotiations or political aspirations they have.

What prompted a mentally unstable man to shoot two officers? Protestors? The mayor? Or the unjust killings of unarmed black men? Probably none of them. He was a ticking bomb that anything might have set off. What’s most likely to prevent future incidents like this? Stopping the protests which had sparked real and positive changes through a national dialogue? Changes that can only increase faith in and respect for the police? No, because the killer was mentally unfit. Most likely protecting the police from future incidents will come from better mental health care to identify, treat, and monitor violent persons. Where are those impassioned tweets demanding that?

In a Dec. 21, 2014 article about the shooting, the Los Angeles Times referred to the New York City protests as “anti-police marches,” which is grossly inaccurate and illustrates the problem of perception the protestors are battling. The marches are meant to raise awareness of double standards, lack of adequate police candidate screening, and insufficient training that have resulted in unnecessary killings. Police are not under attack, institutionalized racism is. Trying to remove sexually abusive priests is not an attack on Catholicism, nor is removing ineffective teachers an attack on education. Bad apples, bad training, and bad officials who blindly protect them, are the enemy. And any institution worth saving should want to eliminate them, too.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose.” This is the season and time when we should be resolved to continue seeking justice together and not let those with blind biases distract, diminish, or divide us. The way to honor those who defend our liberties with their lives—as did my father and grandfather—is not to curtail liberty, but to exercise it fully in pursuit of a just and peaceful society.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. He is also a celebrated author, filmmaker and education ambassador.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Race

Race Concerns Americans More Than It Has in 2 Decades

San Francisco Public Attorneys Hold "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Demonstration
A protestor holds a black lives matter t-shirt during a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" demonstration in front of the San Francisco Hall of Justice on December 18, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Amid national protests over police use-of-force against African-Americans

The percentage of Americans who consider “race relations” or “racism” to be the biggest problem facing the country is at its highest level since 1992, according to a new Gallup poll.

At 13%, the current rate is only two points behind its peak two decades ago, in the aftermath of the riots that followed the Rodney King verdict. Just last month, only 1% of Americans viewed race as the top concern, proving what an enormous impact the Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice cases have had on the public.

Among nonwhites, 22% named race relations or racism as the country’s biggest problem; among whites, it was only 9%.

“The economy” ties with race among those polled, and the highest-ranked concern is “government” at 15%.

[Gallup]

TIME Sports

Obama Says LeBron ‘Did the Right Thing’ for Wearing ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirt

Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 8, 2014. Jason Szenes—EPA

The President tells 'PEOPLE' that more athletes should use their influence to address social issues

President Barack Obama applauded LeBron James in a new interview for wearing a shirt dedicated to Eric Garner during a recent game and said more sports stars should use their influence to address social issues.

James sported a shirt with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” instead of his jersey on Dec. 8 in a show of support for Garner, the Staten Island man who was killed in an altercation with police in July, during which the officer used an apparent chokehold.

“You know, I think LeBron did the right thing,” Obama told PEOPLE. “We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness.”

James’ decision to wear the shirt came as athletes on a number of other teams did similarly in the wake of the grand jury announcement that the officer involved in the fatal incident would not be indicted, setting off a string of protests against police brutality.

“We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” Obama said. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.”

The President added that he would “like to see” more athletes do that, “not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.”

Read more at PEOPLE

TIME Race

Poll: Obama’s Approval Rating Up Among Latinos

President Obama Makes Statement On U.S. Cuba Policy
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the nation about normalizing diplomatic relations the Cuba in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Dec. 17, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Getty Images

Some 57% of Latinos now say they approve of the job that Obama is doing

President Barack Obama’s approval rating with Latinos has jumped 10 points since he announced a new policy of deportation relief for millions of undocumented immigrants, a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll shows.

The new survey of 250 Latino adults shows that 57% now say they approve of the job that Obama is doing, compared with 47% of Latino voters who said the same in September, before the immigration announcement.

And, when asked if they approve of how Obama is handling the issue of immigration specifically, 56% give the president a thumbs up…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Race

How Broken Windows Policing Puts Fewer Men in Prison

Grand Jury Declines To Indict NYPD Officer In Eric Garner Death
Police clash with protesters on the West Side Highway December 3, 2014 in New York. Protests began after a Grand Jury decided to not indict officer Daniel Pantaleo. Yana Paskova—Getty Images

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Are Cops Racist?

In New York City, more arrests of low-level offenders led to significant drops in felonies, and a decrease in the entire correctional population

The tragic death of Eric Garner last July has fueled a growing campaign against broken windows policing. Garner was selling untaxed, loose cigarettes—a misdemeanor offense—on a commercial strip of Staten Island, NY, when a group of New York police officers tried to arrest him. He resisted, and the officers brought the 350-pound asthmatic to the ground by pulling him down by his neck. Garner went into cardiac arrest and eventually died.

Garner’s death was a grotesque tactical failure. But police critics say that it also illustrates the dangers of broken windows policing, especially for minorities. Broken windows theory holds that enforcing public order laws—such as laws against graffiti, trespassing, and illegal street vending—reduces both the fear of crime and crime itself. According to critics, however, public order policing is a racist assault on poor minority neighborhoods that criminalizes innocuous behavior. Should the critics succeed in reducing or eliminating low-level misdemeanor enforcement in New York City, they may produce a paradoxical consequence: a rise in the New York State prison population.

As the national prison census rose steadily over the last 15 years, New York State’s prison population dropped a remarkable 17% from 2000 to 2009. This drop in the incarcerated population was all the more surprising, since the average New York State prison sentence lengthened considerably during that time and the number of arrests in New York City—which is responsible for the vast majority of New York State prisoners—increased.

The rise in arrests and the lengthier felony sentences (now among the nation’s longest) should have inflated the prison population. The opposite happened, however, because the type of arrests that the New York Police Department was making had changed radically. As Michael Jacobson of the Vera Institute and James Austin of the JFA Institute document in “How New York City Reduced Mass Incarceration,” misdemeanor arrests in New York City shot up and felony arrests plummeted, thanks to the advent of broken windows policing in 1994. (Franklin Zimring reached the same conclusion in his book, The City That Became Safe.) Under then-police commissioner William Bratton, the police started paying attention to turnstile jumpers, aggressive panhandlers, public drinkers, and outdoor marijuana smokers, among other low-level public order offenders. Misdemeanor arrests more than doubled between 1990 and 2009. Yet felony arrests fell, because felony crime was falling so fast—eventually dropping an unprecedented and unmatched 80% from the early 1990s to today.

The plunging felony arrest rate meant that fewer New York City offenders were being sent upstate to prison. And even though the number of misdemeanor offenders being sent to New York’s Rikers Island jail complex increased, the Rikers Island population also dropped, because felony arrests were down so far. (A felony criminal is initially processed in a local jail before he is sentenced to state prison; a misdemeanor offender, by contrast, serves his entire time pre- and post-sentence in a jail.) In fact, the entire correctional population generated in New York City—prisoners, jail inmates, and offenders under probation and parole supervision—dropped over the last decade and a half, unlike in the rest of the country.

Broken windows policing helps explain this drop. Misdemeanor enforcement can interrupt criminal behavior before it ripens into a felony. Arresting someone for trespassing in the stairwell of a public housing project may avert a sexual assault in that same stairwell later that night. Pouring out the whiskey bottle of someone drinking in public can prevent a stabbing a few hours later. Nabbing a gang member for graffiti may foreclose a shooting. The same people, in other words, who might have been arrested for a felony absent misdemeanor enforcement, were now being picked up on low-level charges and serving brief stays in jail or just the station house.

It turns out that if you want to decrease incarceration without increasing crime, the way to do it is through more law enforcement, not less, but targeted at low-level offenders.

Not all quality of life violators are felons-in-waiting, of course. Eric Garner was certainly not one of them. And he most certainly did not deserve to die for the offense of selling loose cigarettes. Yet such activity, if allowed to fester, reinforces the perception that social control in the affected area has broken down, leading to more serious law-breaking. No one understands broken windows theory more intuitively than the law-abiding residents of poor communities, who invariably beseech their local police commanders to crack down on public order offenses. The merchants in the Staten Island neighborhood where Garner tragically died had begged the police to eradicate the drug use, public urination, and, yes, the selling of “loosies” in the pocket park where Garner hung out.

Garner died not because the police were enforcing quality of life laws but because the tactics used to subdue him, interacting with his serious health problems, backfired horribly. Those tactics and police training around them need serious reconsideration; broken windows policing does not. (According to NYPD, only 0.6% of all public order arrests in New York City in the first half of 2014 involved an officer’s use of force, which can mean simply putting hands on a subject; the Garner death is an aberration among quality of life arrests.) But if the NYPD abandons public order policing, the likely result will be more minority men in prison.

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Are Cops Racist?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Race

Why the Road to Ferguson Was a Freeway

two-freeways
Getty Images

Racial inequality has shaped not only the system that governs our society, but also the very landscape that surrounds us

After grand juries in New York and Missouri failed to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men, protestors across the nation vented their outrage by shutting down roads. In our own freeway metropolis, marchers temporarily shut down the 110 and 101 freeways, blocking two of Los Angeles’ central arteries.

Why freeways? Why not buses, streetcars, parks, lunch counters, or other ordinary spaces that have staged historic protests against racial injustice?

Blocking freeway traffic with bodies certainly heightens the urgency of the protestors’ cause. And while their preferred target creates a hassle for a good many commuters, and might seem less relevant than city halls or police headquarters, freeways are historically appropriate venues for today’s protests. They have fractured American race relations since 1956, when Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act.

The act unleashed armies of bulldozers on American cities, gutting entire neighborhoods to superimpose raw concrete upon city landscapes. For better or for worse, freeways emerged as the centerpiece of 20th century urbanism in the United States, clearing the pedestrian bustle of streets and sidewalks in favor of garages, drive-ins, shopping malls, and parking lots.

This development contributed to the creation of “two societies, separate and unequal, one black, one white,” in the words of a 1967 presidential commission on the causes of racial unrest in cities across the nation. Mass suburbanization, enabled by the automobile’s promise of unfettered mobility, divided the nation into demographic clusters around religion, class, occupation, party affiliation, and race.

While highway construction nurtured the growth of white suburban enclaves, it devastated urban communities of color. In Southern cities like Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta and Kansas City, highway planners were often in league with white supremacist organizations as they designated black neighborhoods for destruction. In his dual capacities as Alabama’s state highway director and executive secretary of the White Citizens’ Council, for example, Samuel Engelhardt routed interstates through the black neighborhoods of Montgomery and Birmingham.

In more “enlightened” cities, highway planners cleared neighborhoods marked by race and poverty in the name of eradicating “blight.” Yes, many white, middle class, and affluent neighborhoods were targeted for freeway construction too, but these often staged successful “freeway revolts” to block the bulldozers, thus leaving poor minority communities isolated in the path of destruction. Thus while we celebrate the celebrate the victories that blocked the freeway from wiping out Manhattan’s Soho or New Orleans’s French Quarter, we’ve forgotten the historic black neighborhoods of Miami and St. Paul that were erased from the city’s map.

Here in Los Angeles, highway construction has shaped a stark geography of racial difference. Just drive through Boyle Heights on the city’s Eastside. It’s almost impossible to venture half a mile without passing under, over, or alongside a major interstate highway. Freeways cast deep shadows over the landscape of daily life, wrapping around homes, parks, schools and churches. Although they organized in opposition to the construction of five intersecting freeways, local residents were unable to muster the wherewithal of Beverly Hills, which stopped one freeway dead in its tracks.

Where today’s protestors have decided to take a stand reminds us that urban highway construction is part of America’s “race problem.” When demonstrators overtook Interstate 580 in Oakland on the night of Nov. 24, they stood over the ruins of what had been a prosperous black community some 50 years ago. In this way, today’s protestors are only the most recent brave Americans willing to seize control of the very spaces that enforced their second-class citizenship.

Whether or not we agree with their strategy to arrest the flow of freeway traffic, today’s protestors remind us that racial inequality has shaped not only the system that governs our society, but also the very landscape that surrounds us.

Eric Avila is Professor of History, Chicano Studies and Urban Planning at University of California, Los Angeles. His latest book is The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City (Minnesota, 2014). He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME White House

Obama Recalls Trouble Getting a Cab Before He Was President

Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The First Couple opens up about racism

Before they lived behind the White House gates, Barack and Michelle Obama dealt with the day-to-day racism experienced by black families across America, the First Couple told People in an exclusive new interview.

“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” Michelle Obama said. “Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.”

“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” President Obama said. “It’s one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It’s another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress.”

Read more at People

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 17

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Terror Threat Nixes The Interview

Some cinema chains are pulling Sony’s film The Interview from their lineups after hackers threatened a 9/11-style attack against theaters who screen the upcoming movie. Sony said it is going forward with plans to release the film, but would support theaters’ decisions

Starbucks CEO Talks Racism

Howard Schultz outlined his concern about the effects of racism and increasing social polarization in America in a letter to all Starbucks employees

Putin’s Influence Wanes

Russia’s worst economic crash since 1998 may force the Russian President to rethink his adventures abroad

Jeb Bush Eyes Run for Presidency

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced Tuesday that he will “actively explore” running for president in 2016. “I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits,” he said, one day before announcing his formal intention to explore a campaign

U.S. Will Bid to Host the Summer Olympics in 2024

The United States Olympics Committee (USOC) unanimously approved on Tuesday a U.S. bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. One of Boston,

Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles will be picked for the bid in 2015

Pakistan Mourns After Peshawar School Massacre

Pakistanis mourned collectively and individually on Wednesday after a brutal attack on a school in Peshawar by Taliban militants that claimed more than 140 lives, including 132 children. But questions remain over the military’s relationship with extremist groups

Angelina Jolie Hires Experts to Protect Her Kids Online

Angelina Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt, who don’t use social media, have hired a cyber-security team to monitor their children’s Internet usage and exposure. “We wouldn’t even know what to look for,” she said

Australia’s PM Demands Answers After Sydney Siege

Tony Abbott has said that everything from the nation’s gun laws to its national security policies are up for serious review after a troubled Iranian migrant on bail was able to evade watch lists, buy a firearm and take over a Sydney café, leading to three deaths

Clifford the Big Red Dog Creator Norman Bridwell Dies at 86

Author and illustrator Norman Bridwell died on Friday, Dec. 12, in Martha’s Vineyard at age 86. His publisher, Scholastic, announced the news Tuesday, but did not give a cause of death. Bridwell was best known for creating the Clifford the Big Red Dog book series

Bill Cosby Won’t Be Charged Over L.A. Molestation Claim

Los Angeles prosecutors on Tuesday declined to file any charges against Bill Cosby after a woman recently claimed the comedian molested her around 1974. The rejection of a child sexual abuse charge by prosecutors came roughly 10 days after Judy Huth met city police

NHL Teams Postpone Seasonal Hospital Visits

Several NHL teams are postponing their annual holiday visits to hospitals, amid a mumps outbreak within the league. At least 15 NHL players have so far come down in the outbreak, including for the Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers

Poll: 57% of Americans Say Race Relations in U.S. Are Bad

A majority of Americans now say that race relations in the United States are bad, according to a new poll, which showed the most pessimistic assessment of racial issues in almost two decades

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A this Friday, December 19, at 1 p.m., with TIME managing editor Nancy Gibbs, who recently selected The Ebola Fighters as TIME’s choice for Person of the Year 2014.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

Get TIME’s The Brief e-mail every morning in your inbox

TIME Race

Poll: 57% of Americans Say Race Relations in U.S. Are Bad

A man stands in falling snow following a news conference where members of Justice League NYC presented a list of demands in New York
A man stands in falling snow following a news conference where members of Justice League NYC presented a list of demands at City Hall in New York Dec. 10, 2014 Andrew Kelly—Reuters

The data showed a dramatic slide from just 18 months ago

A majority of Americans now say that race relations in the United States are bad, according to the latest NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, which showed the most pessimistic assessment of racial issues in almost two decades.

In the wake of protests over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, just four in ten Americans told pollsters that they believe race relations in the United States are “good,” while 57 percent disagreed. And nearly a quarter — 23% — classified the current state of the country’s racial issues as “very bad.”

The data showed a dramatic slide from just 18 months ago…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Race

Police Brutality and Living Out of Fear

butterfly-in-a-box
Getty Images

The one thing that we wear that we can't take off is our skin color

xojane

Finding the right words for this piece was difficult for me, as I am still figuring out a method to write about race in a form that is eloquent and understandable for all. Or perhaps I mean politically correct? Easily digestible? Funny, I’m doing exactly what I aim to argue against in this essay — apologizing for my opinions and my blackness.

It’s so easy to offend someone or a group of people when trying to express the harsh reality of what my group of people endure in this country. Or, quite frankly, it’s so easy for trolls to dissect and misinterpret articles on race and run after the author. The ability to write, intelligently and effectively, is both a brilliance and a burden.

Plus, in light of recent events, I hope I don’t read as a redundant reiteration of what most writers are saying. But quite frankly, this occurrence is redundant and should have ended decades ago. Black men and women must stop being killed at the hands of police officers striving to “protect and serve.”

I’ve been in the presence of a police officer before. I think most people can say that.

My parents commute to work daily, during the earliest hours of the mourning, at the crack of dawn. One morning while we were on our way to the city, an officer stopped us on the road. It didn’t go astray; after checking my dad’s license and registration and asking each of us where we were headed to, he let us go with some simple car advice.

My parents were antsy about it, although I’m sure the officer was only following protocol. Yet, my dad was annoyed by the questions he asked. For example, the officer seemed incredulous to find that we live in a small suburban town and was surprised to find that, after checking my dad’s license, he has a clean record.

What stood out in this experience is that my mom looked over at me in the backseat and said, with an accusing yet anxious tone, “Alisha, why in the world would you have your hood on?”

Of course this comment was fueled by the Trayvon Martin incident. I understood what she meant. But it bothered me that she had to say that, as if hoods are now symbolism of threat, anxiety, or possible death.

It made me wonder about other things she has said to my two brothers and I about how to present ourselves in this world.

She’s told us not to walk outside late at night (her eyes lingered on me as she said this, accentuating the idea that at night, unpleasant things often happen to women), she’s told my 13-year-old brother not to walk outside with his hands in his pockets. She’s told us all to be polite, compliant, and docile in the presence of police officers.

It’s absolutely normal for mothers to try to pamper and perfect the public presence their children evoke. What’s not normal is that my mother, and other black mothers, I presume, feel they have to warn and coach us on how to be and act in America, to ensure we don’t garner negative attention, feed into stereotypes, and make sure we stay alive.

I asked my friends if they too have experienced this from their parents or someone close to them.

My friend Jackie commented on a recent experience she had in the Bronx with her boyfriend. While walking outside, she got into a dispute with a presumably Hispanic man. She got entangled with the wire from his Beats headphones, causing them to fall to the ground.

“Yo, are you kidding me?” he said, angry and annoyed about the fall of his expensive electronics.

This led to them arguing about how the Beats hit the ground; Jackie believing she was not the cause of it and the owner thinking the opposite. The man began yelling at her, which naturally made my friend defensive and uneasy.

There were some officers posted nearby, but this verbal altercation didn’t catch their attention until Jackie said, “Watch your tone. I know they’re Beats, but I didn’t do s***.”

According to Jackie — I adore this line, by the way — “And the magical word ‘s***’ brought life to the cops like color to a coloring book.” She said that after that profane ignition, the officers walked over to them and told her that she needed to calm down, that she was the one causing a commotion.

Her boyfriend jumped in and tried appeasing the situation. His reasoning? He didn’t want them both to go to jail because of them verbally defending themselves. That, paired with them being black, are the perfect ingredients to complete a recipe for arrest.

But back to mothers and their cautioning advice about blackness in America. Naturally, her mom was upset that Jackie was unintentionally involved in this situation, and condemned her for talking back to white authority. She said to her — another comment worth expressing — “You better watch your a**!”

And I can’t help but think, isn’t that the message that recent events with black men and women and white officers have taught us? Don’t wear a hood outside. Don’t keep your hands in your pockets. Don’t dress a certain way. Don’t talk back. Don’t walk in a particular neighborhood.

For the black community, it translates to: you better watch your a**! You’re black, so you’re already at a great disadvantage in America. Don’t make it worse by perpetuating stereotypes. And definitely don’t take for granted the unfortunate deaths that other black men and women have fallen to at the hands of police officers, whether by being themselves or by making costly decisions.

Another good friend of mine, Sasha, has natural hair, and so do her two brothers. Yet, she said that her mom worries about her brothers’ choice of hairstyle. Personally, I’ve always thought they are all stylish and chic, their natural hair only enhancing their individual style. But the natural hair movement means something different for our generation, and due to cultural and generational gaps, some parents won’t understand this.

“Basically, my mom thinks my brothers’ hairstyles will cause other people to characterize them as bums or uneducated,” she said. She went on to say that her mom thinks people won’t find them professional because of their hair, and “they (her brothers) will be more susceptible to getting shot or taken in as a suspect by the cops”.

These examples only cover up the truth of the matter, which is that being black in America doesn’t feel secure or comfortable right now. And the one thing that we wear that we can’t take off is our skin color.

At some point, the history of and the media coverage of black deaths has left a psychological imprint on the black community, causing us to be apologetic about our existence in this country, excusing ourselves through our behavior, speech and appearance.

Well, that’s what these protests are about, right? We have had enough of the ridiculous deaths experienced within our community. We won’t be made an example of any longer. We won’t continue to die because we are dark.

Alisha Acquaye is a writer and contributor to xoJane. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser