OPINION: 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' Echoes Through Black History and Our Lives by Tef Poe

By Tef Poe, member of Hands Up United

If you see the video of our brother Walter Scott being shot in the back by a policeman in South Carolina and are still waiting for image enhancements, a federal investigation or some appointed authority figure to tell you what is true, then you still don’t understand what it’s like to live in a community under siege by the police.

Few things capture the emotional toll of the occupation of our streets better than the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot!” You may think that this protest refrain is merely a literal interpretation of Mike Brown’s final gesture, but that would be a misreading. 

The significance of the line emerges from centuries of being demonized because of our race, being more familiar with execution than due process and living in fear of being confronted by a person - brandishing a lethal weapon - who sees us as another black body to be controlled.

To some, it captures the essence of the dividing line between the police and local communities. Its presence is so pervasive that it features in our childhood instincts, cautionary advice from family members and in shouts that ring in our ears from nightmares or memories. In every case, they are two words that unite black and brown people around the world as we struggle to live under the constant presumption of guilt because of the color of our skin.

When we say “Hands Up,” its similar to when we promise that we will never die on our knees. Our arms may not be raised the moment we are shot down and we cannot help how we fall, but we still maintain that we do not deserve to be mercilessly gunned down for our blackness and we will stand proud until our time on this earth is over. 

Time and time again we see that minor offenses by a person of color lead to their murder, disguised by a claim that the white man pointing the gun feared for his life. Having a broken tail light, crossing the street just before the light changes, playing your music too loudly or putting up your hood are just some examples of the petty rationale used to harass, arrest, over-incarcerate and even kill our loved ones.

In most cases, this wrongdoing is not even acknowledged and racial bias is completely obscured. Its only because of a citizen journalist that a police officer is facing charges for murdering Walter Scott, an unarmed black man in South Carolina, after a traffic stop. The initial police report had nothing to do with reality. If a recording hadn’t surfaced, there would likely be no documentation of the killing, no charge and no consequences. 

If you don’t see what is happening in the world as an unjust systemic pattern, you aren’t paying attention to the communities in your backyard or to the violence perpetuated by unchecked state power abroad. The premature end of every black life won’t be captured by a phone camera, supported by scores of eyewitnesses and verified by the government but we will not go unnoticed.

“Hands up” may not resonate for everyone, but the impunity with which black lives are taken should outrage any conscience. March under any banner you want, but march. Take power back where you feel robbed of it. Everyone with a voice should use it, to express our grief and our solidarity until we are feared only for the unrelenting way in which we hold our institutions to account.