Free Hugs Save Black People
Ken Nwadike stands in front of officers in Charlotte, North Carolina, during demonstrations. (Video still via YouTube, Free Hugs Project)

Black people are being executed by those sworn to protect us.

But not to worry, because Ken Nwadike has a plan: Give police officers hugs to humanize them and to show that “violence is not the answer.”

It’s no secret that tensions between black people and American police officers are at an all-time high — and rightfully so. It isn’t just isolated incidents of violence against black people that cause this already toxic relationship to increase but rather a history of crimes committed against black bodies that are often exonerated in our court systems.

In 2016 alone, we have Baltimore, Tulsa, Baton Rouge, Washington, D.C., Columbus, St. Paul, Charlotte, and many more, both named and unnamed.

Amid the protests over the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police last week, Nwadike decided that the only way to solve the ongoing conflict was by spreading love in the name of the human race. Not only was Nwadike focused on spreading this peculiar concept of love, particularly in light of how this conflict began but he was also focused on what he considered “humanizing cops.”

We all know that cops do not need humanizing, but the black people that are killed nearly every day — even when complying with police officers’ sometimes abusive requests — need humanizing the most.

According to the Washington Post, a reported 173 black people have been shot and killed by police this year, with Scott being the last reported case (which we can presume will change soon). The Guardian identified 194 black people that have been killed by police based solely on direct law enforcement encounters — for example, death in custody. It’s clear that the humanity of cops is widely recognized; in fact, it is their near-superhuman perceived image that keeps them beyond reproach and above the law.

While Nwadike is fighting to prove that there are some “good” black people who don’t want to perpetuate violence, many of us are focusing on humanizing those who are the most marginalized (hint: not the police).

The police in Baltimore didn’t care about the humanity of Korryn Gaines when they killed her and shot her child in the process. The police didn’t consider the humanity of behavior therapist Charles Kinsey, who was shot while laying down with his hands up. And the police didn’t care about the humanity of Scott and his wife as she yelled, “He doesn’t have a gun!” despite the police insisting that they saw one. It isn’t the police that need humanizing; it’s the many people they are killing — many of who are black, brown, trans, and queer — who need it the most.

The idea that giving a hug to a police officer will somehow heal a tumultuous relationship — one that has been brewing for centuries — is as overly simplistic as the cops who thought it was wise to unconstitutionally stop drivers (many of them black), accusing them of a crime, then to surprise them with ice cream. Many black people have come not to expect much of police officers.

And who can blame us? The hostile actions of police — which are not new, just recorded on cell phones — prove just how terroristic and protected the American institution of policing is.

While it is frustrating to watch police officers attempt to create better relationships over cold dessert, it is even more disappointing to watch another black person fall victim to white supremacist rhetoric of it being the duty of black people to end racism.

It is not.

Hugs won’t solve problems, and they certainly won’t protect black lives. What will protect black lives is disinvesting from the police and prisons—privatized and state-sponsored. What will heal black people are investing in black youth.

What will help to save black lives are institutions that won’t police the righteous indignation of protestors all over this country who are tired of seeing bloodied bodies on the streets. And what will solve problems is creating a restorative justice model that allows communities to grow together, instead of giving widespread authority to judges and juries who have shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted.

Black people embracing police officers places the obligation on black people to heal our own wounds from institutions that won’t even admit that they caused them in the first place. This also assumes that black people are causing an increasing conflict and that if we would be less impulsive, less violent, and less angry that everything would be solved. But we all know that is a lie.

While Nwadike believed he was spreading a good message of loving thy neighbor, it reverted to loving thy oppressor. An oppressive institution that is often given the free range of being impulsive and shooting first and asking questions later. An oppressive institution, despite being trained in de-escalation, who seem to always say “I feared for my life” the moment a black person is killed. Nwadike and those cheering him on are all suffering from the same problem: believing that respectability politics will save us. We must be comfortable with admitting that they won’t and push back accordingly.

Good ol’ boy networks are problems. Cover-ups are problems. Laws in North Carolina that are making dashcam and bodycam footage no longer part of the public record starting October 1 are a problem. But what isn’t the worry of black people is giving hugs to prove we are not angry.

Black people are angry, and we have every right to be. So we will keep kneeling, we will keep fighting for ourselves, and we will stay in the streets until justice is a reality.

Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He has written for the Atlantic, The Root, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, Hello Beautiful, and Think Progress. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.