Black men keep dying at the hands of law enforcement. There are a lot of people who are better informed on these issues and a lot of people whose opinions on this matter a lot more than mine. But I have a few things to say, for what it’s worth.
I’m extremely sad that this happens, regardless of the individual circumstances regarding each case. Even if someone threatened the life of the police officer and the officer responded according to protocol, I am still so sad. Any of this “he deserved it” nonsense is pretty heartless.
I’m frustrated and grieved that my friends who are raising black kids have to consider this whole other danger in the world that I pretty much don’t. Even though I have met a couple of police officers who weren’t very nice to me, I still see the police as someone who would help my daughter if she needed it, and not someone to fear.
I worry about my friends who are police officers. I know how hard they work, how much they care, what good people they are. They are moms and dads cheering on their kids at soccer games where little moppets of many races happily run in laregly aimless packs together. They give high fives and hand out orange slices. They’re not power-hungry jerks who hate people of color. I know cops who have been assaulted on duty and were reluctant to even adequately protect themselves out of concern for injuring the individual. I’ve seen the bruises. I know some who care about the homeless, who have served their country in the armed forces and who have responded kindly to requests for help.
I feel confused about how a group of men can accidentally kill a young man begging for his life. I feel outraged. I feel helpless. How would I feel if I resembled the person that happened to? What if my child did?
I hear people I care about expressing fear, anger, frustration and a sense of hopelessness. I hear grief. I hear a yearning to be heard and acknowledged. I want to stand with them and say “no more!”
And I want police officers to know I appreciate them and am grateful for those who do a tough job well. That I understand the significance of their willingness to place themselves between people and danger.
I am sad that people I love have reason to fear how they will be treated by an armed law enforcer. The very worst thing on my mind if I get pulled over is “Kevin is going to be so pissed if I get a speeding ticket.” Cops don’t hurt white ladies in their 30s who wear glasses and drive light blue SUVs with a car seat and Trader Joe’s bags in the back.
I know that my whiteness buys me a lot I’ve done absolutely nothing to earn.
Just the other day, I watched a police officer pull over a woman of color driving her car. The woman was young, and she seemed confused about where she should pull over. There was no shoulder to pull off to. She was definitely not ignoring him or trying to get away. She just didn’t know the best place to stop. But he responded as if she was doing something very wrong. Lights, siren, zooming up aggressively next to her. He ended up partially blocking traffic in both directions in order to pull her over in a parking lot. When he got out, he just seemed so angry. I pulled over nearby to watch what happened, because I really was worried for her. I didn’t know what I would do if things escalated. Would I have intervened? I don’t know. Maybe take a video with my cell phone, or…what? Call the police?
He glanced at me watching. I tried to look concerned without looking like I was trying to start trouble. I wanted him to see me, but not see me as a threat. I guess I wanted him to feel accountable to someone.
The thing is, I don’t get stopped. I fit the profile of “Boring white girl with slightly memorable hair probably not doing anything wrong.” But when I very rarely do, they are either nice or jerks – but they don’t scare me. One time, a cop was mean to me, and I considered the ways I could have addressed it. Called a friend of a friend. Lawyers. Politicians. Other police officers. I didn’t do anything. But I could have.
Lots of people can’t. Lots of people just have to sit there and get yelled at, and know there’s not a damned thing they can do about it. Now or later.
That girl didn’t get arrested. I think she got a ticket but it might have just been a lengthy lecture. She drove away in one piece. I hope she saw me waiting. I hope she knew I wanted to make sure she was safe. That she mattered to me.
I can’t fix this problem. I am one person. And it’s not a problem that can be fixed by one person. But I am wired to seek out what tiny bit of influence I can exert on even the biggest, most insurmountable of troubles. I can’t do a lot. But I can listen. I can be present and see and watch and care. I can share how I see it respectfully. So can you.