In America, you can be legally gunned down by the police if you are black. This can happen even if you are a child playing with a toy gun in a park. It can happen in one or two seconds because, as grand juries will tell you, that’s an adequate amount of time to assess a situation and determine that the child standing before you is a dangerous man intending to murder you, even if he really just wants to show you that the gun he’s holding is just a toy.

This shouldn’t surprise us because, in America, not long ago, you could be legally whipped, raped, sold and killed by whites if you were black. These things could happen to you even if you were just a child whose crime was being caught trying to learn to read. The law would tell you this was allowed because, in its eyes, black people were inferior.

So what’s changed? The main thing that has changed is the language. You can’t outright say that black children aren’t worth as much to America as white children are in court anymore, so you say other things like, “I feared for my life,” or “He looked like a man.” What hasn’t changed? The same disregard for black people. The same view that blackness itself is a weapon and something to be feared.

This imaginative weaponization of blackness is what Claudia Rankine had in mind when she penned the following line in her book, Citizen: An American Lyric,

“because white men can’t police their imagination, black men are dying.”

This fear of and disregard for black people causes police to shoot and kill the mentally ill instead of handling the situation in a number of other acceptable and effective ways. It causes them to shoot a 17-year-old boy in the street 16 times and then go to reload in order to continue to shoot his dead body instead of disarming him as if even a dead black teen is a danger. It causes them to let 12-year-olds lay on the ground after shooting them and offer no comfort or aid and even to tackle and handcuff their sisters when they try to come to their sibling’s aid. It causes them to lie and place weapons next to dead bodies so that their claim of self-defense will be more plausible. It causes them to kill by default. Kill quickly. Kill before questioning and before trying other methods.

James Baldwin once said, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” Until they are held accountable, they will continue to kill. Perhaps these men, who so recklessly act on their imagination, don’t realize that no man can be truly human in the fullest sense of the word while trying to keep other men from doing the same.