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Sleeping While Black

Willie McCoy did not even get to wake up before he was prejudged a threat and killed by six police officers.

Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old black man was murdered Saturday night by six cops in Vallejo, California.

What was Willie’s crime? His crime was to be asleep in his car in a Taco Bell drive-thru with a handgun in his lap. And his crime was egregious enough to warrant police cars and officers surrounding him – again while he was sleeping – and executing him when, as he stirred awake, his hand moved six inches in the wrong direction.

“But he had a handgun” everyone will say, and if it comes out it was an illegal handgun, they will say, “But he had an illegal handgun!”

Besides the obvious that the cops clearly couldn’t have determined Willie McCoy had an illegal gun until after they shot him, please remind me when it was decided that now is the time to forget the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

The NRA sells us a message that to be a valiant American worthy of respect, you own a gun and you are willing to defend your ground with that gun from terrorists, from someone illegally crossing the border or from a government trying to take your right to sovereignty away.

But when that gun-toting American is a 20-year-old black child who is not quite yet a man, he is no longer a valiant gun-toting, NRA wielding American worthy of being approached with respect but rather a menace to society, a threat even as he lay sleeping, and you must only approach him with guns drawn.

It is a joke to think that the cops don’t judge a threat by race, skin color, sex, clothing worn or any other physical identifier. It is a joke to think that we all don’t make judgments as we see people every day. It is human nature to judge people by how they look. The idea that someone doesn’t see color is a joke, it’s a lie. We all see color and we all make snap judgments of everyone, of all colors, sexes, shapes, sizes, heights, hair colors, weights and so on.

Making a prejudgment is so ingrained in human nature, it’s like a reflex. I am not a psychologist but I’m pretty sure there is an evolutionary reason why we judge people instinctively and how we judge them. My guess is it has to do with our past experiences, cultural messages and survival instincts.

But fortunately not only are we instinctual beings we are also rational beings with an ability to think before taking action.

And for the most part, most of us do. I am pretty sure I’m not the only person who has made friends with or had a positive interaction with someone that initially rubbed them the wrong way. That positive interaction was made possible because we used our rational brains and chose to not act on any negative prejudgments we made. That is for the most part what all of us do all the time.

When our instinctual prejudgments become a problem, when you become a racist, a sexist, a classist, or any other -ist is when you act on your prejudgments and actually treat someone in a negative way solely because of race, sex, religion, ethnicity or any other identifier.

So let’s stop the lie that police officers or any of us don’t judge a person by their appearance. It is actually ok that we and police officers do because it is simply human nature. But the problem is when we let our prejudgments determine our actions, and it is a very big problem when those people are entrusted with guns and the power to apply the law.

If it was an 85-year-old white grandmother in a flower dress asleep in that car with a handgun in her lap don’t tell me the situation would unfold the same way. How many white men who have been both awake and armed or have even fired their gun have the police brought in alive?

And if you are convinced it is the gun and the police would kill that 85-year-old white grandmother just the same as they killed Willie McCoy, then how can we live in a country that plays by two sets of rules?

In one set, we say it is your birthright to own a gun and stand your ground and in another set, we say merely sleeping with a gun in your lap makes you a credible threat worthy of being approached with fingers on the trigger.

Willie McCoy was killed because he was a victim of prejudice and because we have a war between cops and civilians.

The war means for too many cops and police force their sworn duty is no longer to “protect and serve” but to “eliminate the threat.” So when they approached Willie they weren’t there to ask him if he was ok, ask him if he was a diabetic, ask him if he was sick or if he had mental health issues, they were there to eliminate him if they determined he was a threat.

Willie did not even get to wake up before he was prejudged that threat.

Nobody wants to be in a war. Granted there are some sadistic people on both sides who want to kill cops or kill civilians because of whatever mentally unwell reason; but otherwise, cops don’t want to shoot civilians and civilians don’t want to shoot cops.

(I will interject that there is a proven history of white supremacists entering the police force and that aspect of violent racists purposefully entering the police force to harm minorities is a problem, but I’m lumping that into the group of sadistic mentally unstable people for the sake of this article.)

So when I or anyone calls out a cop who unnecessarily shoots a civilian or uses excessive force it is not because anyone enjoys pointing the finger or enjoys the war, it is because if you don’t call out the bad behavior it goes unnoticed and when it goes unnoticed it continues. And if it continues more civilians and more cops will die.

As long as there is a war there are casualties on both sides. And if you say there is no war, that Willie McCoy was shot because he had a gun then just know you have made your decision that gun ownership, regardless of whether or not the gun is legally owned, labels you a criminal. I’m pretty sure EJ Bradford and Philando Castile got that message loud and clear.

Lastly, while we can keep screaming about the injustice of yet another police shooting what we really need are the thousands of good cops out there to stand up and say they want a different way forward.

The person who can make the most difference is the first cop that steps up and says, “Why don’t we try something different?”  


This retired autoworker, age 82, and UAW member participated in the original Civil Rights march in 1963. Photo taken at the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 2013, near the Washington Monument. (Photo by Djembayz)

This retired autoworker, age 82, and UAW member participated in the original Civil Rights march in 1963. Photo taken at the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 2013, near the Washington Monument. (Photo by Djembayz)

Lauren von Bernuth

Lauren is one of the co-founders of Citizen Truth. She graduated with a degree in Political Economy from Tulane University. She spent the following years backpacking around the world and starting a green business in the health and wellness industry. She found her way back to politics and discovered a passion for journalism dedicated to finding the truth.

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1 Comment

  1. ri`se April 10, 2020

    A gun with an extended magazine on private property passed out with the engine running and the car in drive at the drive-thru. and didn’t stir for 30 minutes of employees banging on his car.


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