In the past two days there have been two black men killed by police officers in two different cities in the United States. It scares the living crap out of me, as I parent Eli. As I sit here, writing this, he is upstairs napping in his crib. Everyone tells us how cute and precious he is, how adorable he is, how much fun he is, and the list goes on. These are things that people tell most parents about their children. When I take him to the playground or to the park, he plays and has a good time trying to play with other children, as he is at the stage now where he is aware of others and is learning how to engage with them. For the most part, I take a back seat and let him figure it out, as that is part of his social and emotional development. Obviously, I am physically there and am observing him, making sure he is not hurting others, redirecting when he needs it (or another child needs it), etc. But, I am becoming increasingly aware that things will be changing soon and that I will need to be so much more vigilant to make sure that Eli is not punished or whatever for things that white children of his same age/development are also doing. As long as treatment is the same, I have no problem. I will have a problem when he is singled out for the same things.
But, I also am becoming so much more aware that we will also have to educate him about how to react and what to do when (notice I said when not if) he is pulled over or confronted by police or other authority figures. I am grateful that we have black men and women in our circle of family and friends that we can seek advice from regarding this as we, as whites, have never had to worry about this sort of thing. My husband nor I have ever had to worry about getting dirty looks in a store when we come in to shop, getting followed surreptitiously by store employees, getting pulled over or confronted by police while black, and the list goes on. Yes, we will have to have “the talk” with him about this.
And don’t tell me that if we just teach him to comply, follow directions, etc. that everything will be alright and he won’t be one of those statistics. The case of Philando Castile disproves this argument (as do so many others). He was sitting in a vehicle. He was carrying a gun, for which he had a permit, and informed the officer of such. His identification was requested and when he went to reach for the id, he was shot and killed. And he’s just the latest in a long list of black men to die.
Historically speaking, “the talk” is one that has been passed down from generation to generation of black men (and women, too, though that one is probably a little different) to their sons and grandsons, nephews, cousins, brothers. I would imagine this is a similar talk that slaves gave to their children. That freed slaves gave to younger generations about how to live in a town, city, state, or country that was hostile to their new freedom. That those generations continued to give to the next ones as they lived through the Black Codes and Jim Crow, lynchings, etc. That they gave to their children during the Civil Rights Movement and achievement of the passage of the Civil Rights legislation. That those that marched, were beaten, were jailed, etc. gave to their children about what to do when confronted. That they gave to their children about going to desegregated schools with predominantly white teachers and administrators. That those generations now give to their children about being pulled over by police or confronted by authority figures. And that we and our black friends and family will give to Eli.
And please understand that I am just as concerned about other crimes being committed in the black community. I am concerned, as I have posted previously, about the enormous numbers of young black men being murdered in the streets of almost every city in the United States. I am concerned and outraged about the prevalence of violence committed by anyone and that it is viewed as a viable option – in fact the only response many times – to a problem or conflict. It is clear we have not done an effective job of showing that there are other responses to conflict, problems, arguments, etc. and that life – all life – has value. The issues are rampant and we need to find meaningful ways of confronting them and not simply wait for the government to do it. Because, really, they’ve shown that they can’t or won’t.
Here are the things young black men could (and have) been killed for by police officers:
supposedly selling “loosies” – single cigarettes from a pack – Eric Garner (which he was NOT selling)
selling music CDs – Alton Sterling – the store owner did not have an issue with Sterling selling his CDs at the store or outside of it – not a saint, but who among us is???
playing in the park – Tamir Rice – 12 years old
shopping in Walmart and picked up an air rifle off a shelf at the store – John Crawford III
riding in a car with a taillight out, with a gun for which he had a permit and informed the officer, reached for his ID – Philando Castile
And let’s give some cases where a white male was NOT shot…let’s see…
Shooting and killing 9 unarmed black individuals in a church – arrested Dylan Roof – then proceeded to take him to get some food because he was hungry
Shooting in a movie theater in CO, killed 12, injured 70 others, some severely – arrested James Holmes – did not tase or shoot Holmes during arrest
Unabomber, Oklahoma City federal building bombing…I’m sure I can come up with more given time…
As I was in the middle of writing this post, last night 5 Dallas police officers were shot and killed and several others wounded in a targeted, planned attack. This, too, is not how we need to respond to what is happening. Again, the large majority of police officers do their jobs well, treat people with respect, keep their own emotions in check, and have no issues during their careers. I am in no way saying that all police officers are bad or corrupt or power hungry or abusive or anything of the sort. They do a VERY difficult job that most of us would not choose, yet they have chosen it, and do so in order to keep their communities safe and protected. And it is admirable that they do this, day in and day out, with very little thanks from the community, often being second-guessed for everything they do or don’t do. Please hear me correctly. I AM SO GRATEFUL for the police officers that do their jobs well and serve and protect us across this nation. More than words can say.
We all must come together to speak up for those that don’t have a voice. We must show them how to use their own voice to speak out. There are so many that believe they don’t have a voice or that their voice doesn’t matter because they have been systematically shown, throughout history (both their own and the greater story of history) that it doesn’t. We must remind them of the movements in history where the voices of those that were oppressed, viewed as inferior or less than, etc. were able to make change. As a white person, I must use my privilege to be an ally and an advocate for them. I should not do it FOR them, but rather WITH them. We must come together and figure out solutions to these enormously complex problems. We can not allow these problems to further separate us from each other, but use them as a reason to work towards common goals.
Some common goals I can think of right now:
– Physical safety
– Judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin (MLK)
– Building relationships with people that are different than me in order to see people as God sees them
– Having open and honest conversations with others, especially those that are different than me, in order to figure out how we can work together towards solutions, being open to hearing something I might not like, in order to do better. When you know better, you do better (as the saying goes).
– Participate in marches, demonstrations, and the like in order to show solidarity with those organizing such events, to support them, and to give action where my words are