Race in America

Safety Recall: A Defective Product of State

Police can’t be reformed

Photo by Ricardo Arce on Unsplash

Author’s note: I originally published this piece on 1 October 2016 on my OG blog http://mystorybotb.blogspot.com and has been minimally edited for grammatical correctness. In light of recent events, I thought I would take the opportunity to say ‘I told you so.’ Just Kidding. Mostly. I am working on something about our current state of global and American unrest, but in the meanwhile, I thought this article serves as a timely reminder of how very long Black Americans have been trying to convince our white siblings that our lives matter.

When I was a little girl, I had a Roller skating Christie doll. Christie was Barbie’s brown friend, for those of you who did not have the good fortune to come of age during the ‘highly progressive’ nineties.

when a product fails to function as intended, posing a danger to one consumer, the entire product line presents a potential danger to all consumers.

Christie was fairly identical to Barbie in every way except coloring. Her lips, hips, and hairstyle were exactly the same as Barbie’s, she just happened to be brown. It is worth mentioning that all my Barbies were Christies — my mother(an Art History major) didn’t believe in the idealized body image that Barbie represented, and made exceptions only because my Aunt (a Black Studies minor) insisted that having black toys was germane to positive self-identity in black children.

Hence, roller skating Christie.

I loved that doll. Her purple roller skates trailed sparks and the slight scent of butane as I dragged her back and forth across the hardwood floor of our living room. If I dragged her fast enough, I could make her long hair flow in the breeze, mahogany locks streaming out behind her like a Soft Sheen Carson ad.

One of the greatest disappointments of my early childhood was the day my Aunt came for a visit and took my roller skating Christie away. She explained that a little girl in Mississippi’s roller skating Barbie has malfunctioned — the sparks from her skates caught her brother on fire, and that the little girl and her brother were hurt and now they were recalling the doll.

Even at eight years old, I was already a bit of a jackass. Although I understood what she was telling me, I was confident that none of these issues applied to my Christie. Firstly, It was Barbie that caught fire, not Christie. And I didn’t have a brother or sister — just my precious dolls. But most importantly, my Christie functioned fine. And just because other people’s dolls didn’t work right didn’t mean she should take my Christie away, that was like punishing me for someone else’s mistake, and that would be wrong.

The individual circumstances do not negate the inherent danger of the product — a Barbie doll is not supposed to set a child on fire. And the police are not supposed to ‘accidentally’ kill unarmed citizens.

I patiently explained to my Aunt that while the incident in Mississippi was unfortunate and I hoped the little girl and her brother were alright, this had little to do with my Christie doll. It was a Barbie issue and a people with siblings issue, and I had neither, so it simply did not apply to this situation.

She laughed, urged my mother to send me to law school (again), and took the doll anyway, promising to bring me a new one on her next visit. I was so upset by the fiasco that I swore off Christies, shaving and removing the heads of all my other dolls so my mother would know I was serious. Who needed a toy to grow attached to when some grown-up could come along and take it away? No, it was better to my eight-year-old mind to stick with books, whose secrets, once revealed, were mine forever.

Twenty-three years and countless hours of therapy has given me a bit of perspective on this issue. As a small business owner, I am now intimately familiar with safety recalls and understand why they exist: when a product fails to function as intended, posing a danger to one consumer, the entire product line presents a potential danger to all consumers. Even if a consumer’s product works perfectly, it could be just a matter of time before it malfunctions and causes someone to be harmed.

I awoke this morning on the cusp of epiphany: This country needs a police recall.

Eight hundred and sixty-six people have been killed by police this year. The circumstances surrounding their deaths are of little relevance, just as the fact that the children in Mississippi were somehow coated in hairspray before playing with Roller Skating Barbie. The individual circumstances do not negate the inherent danger of the product — a Barbie doll is not supposed to set a child on fire. And the police are not supposed to ‘accidentally’ kill unarmed citizens.

Imagine if your toaster set your house on fire with every thousandth slice of bread. If your shower hose strangled you, but only sporadically. If your car exploded when you clicked the doors — every once in a while.

Think about it. If police were a product, one such incidence would be enough to justify a recall of the entire line.

Imagine, if Tamir Rice’s toy guy backfired and somehow killed him, what the consequences would be for the manufacturer. A recall would be issued, amidst public outcry. An investigation would be launched into every step of the manufacturing and quality control process to find out how a defective product got to market in the first place. Other toy gun manufacturers would be subject to scrutiny and would be put in the uncomfortable position of proving that their toys were safe. Tamir’s family would get a check, perhaps even a scholarship fund established in his name, signifying the toy manufacturer’s commitment to product safety.

Why then, do we hold our police to a lower standard of accountability than we do privately held companies?

Police Officers may be individuals (just as my Christie doll was an individual to me), but ‘police’ as an entity is a product of the state (as an entity). Their function (ostensibly) is to uphold the law and protect citizens. They are supposed to be the same, act the same, treat everyone the same — that’s why they wear uniforms. Yet every other day we are reminded that the product of our great nation-state is defective — it regularly functions in a manner other than intended, with dangerous consequences to the (taxpayer/) consumer.

Imagine if your toaster set your house on fire with every thousandth slice of bread. If your shower hose strangled you, but only sporadically. If your car exploded when you clicked the doors — every once in a while.

Would you accept the explanations most of these toasters never set houses on fire at all; sometimes a shower hose has a bad day; millions of people lock and unlock their cars every day, and very few of them explode — or would you demand the manufacturer be held accountable for their defective products?

Unless your name is Ben Brucato, we can all agree that the institution of police as a product of our nation-state is defective. The question is, when will we, the taxpayer/consumers, finally demand a recall?

World Changer. Social Thinker. Business Owner.

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