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The John's Belts Series: A nuanced discussion.

Updated: Jan 30

On February 8, 2023, John Anderton (age 49) was with a group of friends when one of them experienced a drug overdose. John immediately began administering CPR while another friend called 911. When the ambulance arrived, and John saw his friend being cared for, he got on his bike and headed home. A few moments later, John was stopped by a police officer. After what the police called a “brief interaction,” John was shot 9 times in the back for running away.

Our social justice community is comprised of people of all colors who passionately mobilize around stories affecting Black people, other people of color, and marginalized communities. Interestingly, when I discuss John Anderton’s story within our community and inform them that he was killed by the police, the immediate assumption is that he is Black. Some were audibly stunned when they heard he is white. Per capita, Black men have more interactions with law enforcement and, as a result, die at the hands of police more than white men. For a long time in the country, the narrative was that this was driven by the belief that Black people are more prone to commit crime. We have since learned that there are more complex systematic issues at play, including law enforcement over-policing urban areas predominantly inhabited by Black and Hispanic people. However, what is often missed in this public and nuanced discussion is the large number of people IN GENERAL who are brutalized or die at the hands of police each year.

In the broader context of police brutality and criminal justice, media and local journalists continue to play a crucial role. Our country’s recent revelations around police brutality and criminal justice practices are, in part, due to the media sharing these stories. Naturally, we may look to the media as a solution to the criminal justice problems we have in this country, and at times, we may run to the media with cries for help. But community advocacy work has taught me that there are certain realities at play that tug at both sides of the media’s ability to be any true solution. First, journalists and reporters need the police as sources for the stories that literally pay their bills. This puts journalism in a difficult position when it comes to being critical of every narrative an officer may give them on the scene of a police shooting. Secondly, race trauma sells. When any media source is looking for a story, they are incentivized to lean toward traumatic stories about race because it resonates with the unhealed wounds in this country. Needless to say, discussing race alongside police brutality is important to understanding the systematic impacts it has on a group of American citizens who have historically been oppressed by the institutions that are supposed to serve and protect them. Ironically, this arguably well-intentioned discussion has seemingly overpowered the conversation about the overall human impact of police brutality beyond racial lines. It has fundamentally distracted from the real issues embedded in local use of force policies that put everyone at risk. Navigating these narratives requires a nuanced understanding and a recognition of our shared humanity.

So, a story like John Anderton’s and many others just like his will never be heard on a grand scale. This blog series is dedicated to telling the story of John’s death and his family’s experience.

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