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Soul’s Breath —

December 5, 2014

Fat PoliticsFat HealthFat NewsDickweedMy Boring-Ass Life

Note: The following piece is my own opinion and does not reflect the opinion of the blog as a whole. I will allow our bloggers to decide whether they agree or not.

When I first saw #Ferguson on Twitter, I thought “Ferguson Ferguson?”

I grew up across Highway 270 in Florissant, a city comparable in economic status, but the mirror opposite in terms of racial demographics: Florissant is 69% White, while Ferguson is 67% Black.

Ferguson and Florissant share a school district because they’re so geographically close in North County. They’re two middle class municipalities around the city of St. Louis.

I’ve always loved my city, but suddenly decades of racial injustice bubbled over in the aftermath of a wholly-preventable tragedy. But it wasn’t the first tragedy of its kind in St. Louis. It’s just the one that captured public Mike Brownattention, largely because of the work of peaceful protesters who have been in the streets since August 9.

I do not believe for one second that the death of Mike Brown was justified at all. From day one, Darren Wilson’s actions were suspicious.

This is the police report he “filled out.” And as Vox explained succinctly, Wilson’s story to the Grand Jury is literally unbelievable. But Josh Marshall’s walkthrough of the testimony is by far the most thorough examination of what transpired.

Most tellingly, 16 of 18 witnesses say that Brown’s hands were raised when Wilson shot him.

Chart

Now, I’m not interested in arguing the facts of the case because I know there are people who are just as convinced that Mike Brown deserved to be shot. Nothing positive is going to come of arguing that in the comments. I get that there’s ambiguity in the Brown case that allows people to fill in the voids with all kinds of justifiable qualifiers, but there is none of that ambiguity in the death of Eric Garner.

Like Mike Brown, Eric Garner was a big guy. In both cases, their size was an issue. In the Ferguson case, Wilson emphasized Brown’s size as a reason he feared for his life, despite the two being fairly comparable in size:

“When I grabbed him the only way I can describe it is I felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” said the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Wilson of the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Brown. “Hulk Hogan, that’s how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm.”

Wilson’s account is just the modern equivalent of the “black brute” myth. To be a large Black man is to be seen as a physical threat to some. Garner happened to have that same body type.

Eric Garner

But since there’s footage of Garner’s death, there’s no doubt that he wasn’t a posing an immediate threat. There’s no way to justify a summary execution as the result of a scary Black man that had to be stopped. Garner’s murder was so egregious that Fox darlings Bill O’Reilly, Charles Krauthammer and Michael Steele have expressed disappointment with the Grand Jury’s decision.

And yet, this hasn’t stopped some people from trying to pin this wholly-preventable tragedy on its victim. The most disgusting example of this comes from Congressional Cretin Peter King:

“The police had no reason to know he was in serious condition,” King said on CNN. “You had a 350-pound person who was resisting arrest. The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible. If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died.”

According to the autopsy, Garner died from “compression of neck (chokehold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” The autopsy also said contributors to his death included acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

But as renowned medical examiner Michael Baden explained, “Compression of the neck that prevents breathing for example trumps everything else as a cause of death.”

The reason Garner died is that Officer Daniel Pantaleo used a chokehold that the NYPD had banned in 1993 because as Chief John F. Timoney said, “We are in the business of protecting life, not taking it.”

Lately, the Health at Every Size® (HAES) has been emphasizing the social determinants of health (SDH) as an important factor to consider in discussions of health and wellness, most notably in the recent book Body Politic.

As I said at the time, centering SDH in discussions of health is vital to HAES and our understanding of how health is affected. And these incidents of police brutality against Black people show us why it’s important.

As a fat White man, my biggest “fear” is being feminized for my size. I’m seen as soft and weak and non-manly. That’s it. That’s how stigmatization for fat White men plays out.

For fat Black men who are the same size as me, they are seen as brutes and monsters and something to be feared. This is bad enough in our culture, but add to that the problem of police brutality and you get a deadly combination.

And not only is it the fear of being killed by an overzealous cop that affects the health of Black men, it’s the entire climate of fear that hangs over the Black community like a storm cloud. Every day, Black mothers and fathers have to live with the kind of gut-wrenching fear that their teenage son or daughter may become a victim of police violence.

Take the case of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old child who was playing with Airsoft pistol at the park when police rolled up and shot him in the stomach  before the police car even stopped.

Tamir Rice

When I was Tamir’s age, I played with toy guns on more than one occasion. And yes, if I could make that gun look less like a toy by removing the orange tip, I would. Not because I was wanting to instill fear in others, but because it looked cooler.

People are already trying to cast the blame on Tamir’s family by dredging up records that his father had a record of domestic violence. But let’s face it, if Tamir was a White kid, police would not have shot him no questions asked. At no point, did my parents ever had to fear that me playing cops and robbers would end up with me being killed by the real cops.

In my interview with Dr. Rebecca Puhl, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, she explained how chronic stress and stigma can cause the same health problems that are typically blamed on weight. She also said that most of the research on weight stigma is founded on the long-standing history of racial stigma in this country.

For example, there’s this study on how stigma is a fundamental cause of population health inequalities. We already know that health outcomes are generally worse in Black neighborhoods, and people blame that on Black communities. But the fact is, our country has never stopped oppressing Black Americans — we’ve simply shifted tactics.

Yes, those tactics have been less overtly oppressive, going from racism to Jim Crow to redlining and underfunded schools in Black neighborhoods. But all that means is we have a kinder, gentler oppression attempting to prevent Black Americans from achieving the so-called American Dream.

When a disgraced police officer shoots a 12-year-old child because he might have a real gun and that cop can later tell a Grand Jury he feared for his life and get away with it, that is nothing more than a modern-day lynching.

Police brutality and racial stigma is a HAES issue. It must be. As HAES activists, we cannot stand idly by and allow the health and well-being of Black Americans to be robbed by a system of injustice and disparity.

Yes, personal health issues are still important and we can each take small steps to improving our own personal health, but we must also be vigilant of the ways in which social injustice and economic inequality has ravaged the health of entire communities.

We cannot allow the police to choke a man to death, then blame it on his size. We cannot allow the police to raise the specter of the “black brute” as justification for shooting him when his hands are raised. We cannot allow another parent to mourn the loss of their child because some trigger-happy coward fears the color of his skin.

Ferguson has transformed how I see my city, my childhood home. It has awakened many of us to an inhumane reality that has been just out of sight for the privileged for decades. We must continue to fight for justice and equality, humanity and respect, or we will be complicit each subsequent murder and non-indictment that comes to pass.

We must all do what we can to help our Black brothers and sisters breathe as easy as the rest of us do every day and take for granted. If we don’t, then we must mourn the death of Justice itself.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Twistie permalink
    December 5, 2014 4:05 pm

    Amen.

    And damn, I’ve got something in my eye.

    Yep, that’s definitely a tear.

  2. vesta44 permalink
    December 5, 2014 4:36 pm

    When a LEO, who wears a bulletproof vest and carries a gun, taser, and a Maglite, says he’s afraid of an unarmed black child or an unarmed black man, it makes me wonder why the hell he got into law enforcement in the first place. If he;s that damned scared, that he has to kill that black child or man, then how in the hell does he get up the nerve to get dressed and walk out the front door of his house every day?
    What really scares me is that even when there is video that shows the violence the cop used is excessive, nothing is done, they are not held accountable for the fact that they unnecessarily took a life. So how is it going to matter if every cop in the USA is wearing a camera if no one is going to hold them accountable for their actions?
    And I’m getting damned sick and tired of reading comments that say “if he hadn’t been breaking the law, he wouldn’t have gotten shot.” Since when did the police become judge, jury, and executioner? Since when has it become acceptable to think that only certain people are entitled to the due process of law? This kind of shit makes me ashamed to be a member of the white human race.

  3. lifeonfats permalink
    December 5, 2014 6:18 pm

    There’s been lots of fat shaming with the Garner death, saying that if he wasn’t fat he would have lived. So many people are quick to think fat people die just because they’re fat despite other visual circumstances. A thin person would have died in that type of chokehold too. It’s also interesting that Garner’s daughter said she feels the cop wasn’t acting because of race but that he wanted to feel powerful taking down a big and tall man. He was selling cigarettes illegally and unarmed…that does not warrant such excessive force.

  4. blueiris permalink
    December 6, 2014 2:08 pm

    Thought provoking opinion, atchka.

    When I read about both cases I thought about how/if their sizes played a part in these tragedies. I had not seen that Wilson was 6’4″ & 210lbs.

    Vesta, I wondered the exact same thing.

    I have wanted to say how much I enjoy this blog & and thank all the contributors.

  5. coupondude permalink
    December 7, 2014 7:33 pm

    It’s entertaining to watch FOX News complain about “race arsonists” in these instances, as though they haven’t been using plenty of coded language themselves to whip up their base over race, but I’ll move on.

    Speaking to something Vesta44 brings up, you will find this video relevant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JJRY655978

    It’s obvious that this officer was acting entirely out of fear. If you are going to conduct every routine stop under the assumption that everyone always has a weapon and is out to shoot you, then being a police officer is not the job for you. Now I understand they ARE at risk, and that a routine traffic stop can turn deadly, but you can’t conduct every stop with the mentality that they definitely ARE going to shoot you, so you need to always shoot them first.

    I have no faith at this point that had it not been on video, they would have said Gardner was acting violent, threatening, and tried to assault them, and thus acted in self-defense.

    This fat shaming, where victims of crime is concerned, is part of a larger narrative in this country. You’ve seen it brought up by any of a number of commentators on TV, to say nothing of comments on websites, about how black victims of violent crime are most often victimized by black offenders. They won’t mention that this is also true of whites or hispanics, because crime is generally communal. It’s done in an effort to deflect blame and give them cover when they then basically assert “Well, if black people would stop being so violent towards other black people, white cops wouldn’t have to go to their communities and crack heads”.

    How many times have you watched the talking heads on TV play this passive aggressive game of partially blaming a women who is the victim of abuse? It’s partially her fault, she should have left. Was she raped? It’s partially her fault, she showed cleavage. Sure, they won’t be so direct in this game as to be obnoxious, but they’ll use plenty of code here as well. It’s part of an impossible tightrope women are expected to walk, in that they are can be devalued if they aren’t deemed attractive enough, but don’t dare dress too attractively because then it’s partially their fault if they are raped. That’s when they aren’t also moaning about how men are being diminished as a result of women today having more power than they used to.

    If you’re a gay male who is the victim of abuse or rape, don’t expect much support either, although to be fair the law and our culture drops the ball in general where male victims of rape/abuse are concerned anyway.

    Our media and culture blames poor people for any of a myriad of things. We pass laws that give tax cuts, credits, and exemptions to low income people or families, then complain bitterly when those same people dare to avail themselves of those laws to reduce or negate their income tax. They’re part of the 47% moocher class, don’t you understand this? Diminishing and dehumanizing the poor is a recurring aspect of the narrative.

    Cynically, I can’t say I’m surprised then that fat shaming then is being used where excessive force or victim blaming is concerned, it’s been getting used in plenty of other ways for decades. In the case of Gardner, we have Peter King, some in the media, and even the NYPD Union President saying, in effect, “well, if they hadn’t been so fat they would have lived”. As though overweight or sick Americans need to lose weight or get perfectly healthy ASAP, so that in the event police use excessive force on one of us, we have a better chance of surviving.

    Maybe the public has gotten weary of some of the code words of the past, like when certain political spooky words get so overused, they have to try new variations. So here’s a new demographic we can play the passive aggressive blame game with where crime is concerned. Fat people! Oh, and I do consider what happened to Eric Gardner a crime. We’re already blamed for other things, and blaming the victim is nothing new, so it’s easy to copy paste the two sub-narratives to create a hybrid.

    Eric Gardner wasn’t just a black man, he was a BIG black man, so that makes him especially scary. Oh and he was poor. Holy Trinity Batman, he was black, AND poor, AND fat! Jackpot! Was the victim of an assault also overweight? Well, maybe if they hadn’t been fat and out of shape, they could have ran away away from their assailant, or possibly survived the attack! So it’s the victim’s fault. See how that logic works?

    Better still, since fat people exist among all races, genders, and religions, they can blame the victim without being seen as racist, sexist or homophobic. WINNING! (Yeah I’m being sarcastic)

    – coupondude

    P.S. Ya know which demographic is generally not a target of this larger narrative? Straight white guys, like me, which is amusing since they also tend to be the biggest whiners on TV about how they’re under attack from poor minority lesbigay feminazis. That they are also the demographic that controls the majority of wealth, power and media is purely a coincidence I’m sure.

  6. coupondude permalink
    December 8, 2014 3:50 am

    Just to add, I often use the word “you” in a third person sense when I write, so rarely am I ever addressing a specific person when I type it. Alas, if my post is deemed inappropriate, please do delete it. I get wordy when I rant, sorry. This site has been one of the few places I’ve felt safe or comfortable reading (lurking) the past year or so, so the last thing I want to do is alienate people in what I see as your all home, so to speak.

  7. fab@57 permalink
    December 8, 2014 10:16 am

    I support, stand up for, and embrace everything you have all said – both in the article and in the comments below it.
    There are days when I am on the verge of tears for how far we, as a society, have slid downward and away from the idealistic, peaceful, harmonic views of the future [we] baby-boomers / hippies envisioned as a possibility… WTF has happened to us??

  8. Dizzyd permalink
    December 9, 2014 10:04 am

    Coupondude – you totally got it right! My husband and I talked about that exact same thing. Fat shaming is the catchall for bigots and bullies everywhere, cuz then you can get away with dissing any and every group with impunity and even worse, people will generally agree with you who usually would hesitate to say anything denigrating about any other demographic. And therein lies the rub, so to speak. We as a society have become selfish, greedy and cruel, and it’s no longer seen as a bad thing, but is instead celebrated. Compassion is now seen as weakness, as a “lib’rul” thing that is so not “real America”. And like coupondude said, fat shaming is part of the narrative of this country, especially with Fox news spouting off to tittilate their base.

  9. January 5, 2015 4:01 pm

    I haven’t been able to read and post much lately, but I wanted to belatedly thank our host/author and everyone else in these comments. Corny as it sounds, if this were an old-style USB board, this is the kind of post and comments I’d want stickied. That way, if somebody asked, “Well, why are you into this FFF board anyway,” I could just point to this column and tell them, “Read here and you’ll know.”

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