I wrote this post sometime in 2016. I didn’t post it because some things are better discussed in person. But I also know that “writing” is a thing that I do, even if just in blog form. Words keep me up at night if I don’t say them. They spill out of me onto “paper.” (Does anyone write on paper anymore?) I delete a lot of the posts I write here, or never publish them. I understand that sometimes people don’t want to hear my words. But I wrote all these words down, and then left them in a Word document for months. Some of the comments are a little outdated, as a result. But I wrote these words. And I could never bring myself to delete them. It’s a lot of words, y’all. I looked it over a few times this morning, made sure they were firey enough, laughy enough, and humble enough.
The older I get, the more the news upsets me. When 9/11 happened, it did not even phase me. I felt no emotion. Something bad happened to strangers in another city, and had no discernible effect on my daily life. I was in high school, so calm down before you call me a narcissistic psychopath. Teenagers generally lack empathy. It’s like a scientific fact. A scientific brain fact.
But now when I see pictures of refugees in Syria, or a mass shooting somewhere, or violence – it upsets me. I understand these are people and lives on the line. I have a brain now. I think about how I would feel if someone in my family was a victim of violence. I can’t even imagine the sorrow.
I think that “oh my goodness, this is so horrible, I feel so bad for that family” is the appropriate gut reaction to a news story about someone’s death. Any someone’s death.
I am so disturbed by all of the “police brutality” stories on the news. I don’t mean that in a political way. I don’t mean that I’m angry at the police or think they are the scum of the earth. It’s just that each time a new story comes on the news, with another face and another name, it bothers me. I’m not sure what I thought when I heard these stories 10 years ago. Maybe I was one of the people who said,
“Oh great. Another black family complaining about the police shooting someone. Here we go again. Maybe if they stay out of trouble it wouldn’t happen.”
Without delving too much into ALL THAT IS WRONG with that reaction (because, I can’t even), I want to ask you to take a moment to think about the words
It is those words that tell the story. Those words explain the frustration and outrage you see on the news when another black man gets shot by the police again. Hear those words. Another. Again.
If anyone in my family got stopped by the police for something routine – rolling through a stop sign, having a broken light, running a red light – and ended up dead…
I would not rest until I had answers. It is unacceptable. U.n.a.c.c.e.p.t.a.b.l.e. I do not accept it. There is no justification. It doesn’t matter if that person technically broke a rule by rolling through a stop sign. That does not justify death. It does not even come close to explaining why they are dead now. “Well if they hadn’t done that, it never would have happened.”
NOPE. Just no. Absolutely not. Not for my family. Not for yours.
I think I had this idea my whole life that my generation was the one that had risen above racism, and had it all figured out. We are the enlightened ones who don’t enslave people or make them sit in the back of the bus. Slavery was a long time ago. The civil rights era seemed like a long time ago to me, because it all went down before I was born. I’d learn about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. in school and think “They were heroes. I’m glad they were so brave, because now we all get to live in a world where those problems are gone.” I have never known anyone who spoke a cruel word about any non-white people. I must have just assumed the whole world was like my family and friends. I thought to myself that there were probably some ignorant racist people out in the country, or far away from me. I wasn’t foolish enough to think there was no racism anywhere, ever. I just thought for the most part, it was over and done with.
I think that’s because if I had defined racism when I was growing up, I would have said that being racist means you think people of another color are inferior. I can’t name one person in my social sphere who thinks people of another color are inferior. It’s unfathomable to me. Like, no way. So by that narrow definition, I’m not racist! And neither is anyone I know! Great!
I had my head in the sand.
I knew there were some forms of “institutional racism” that existed. I understood this to mean that since I was born to white middle-class parents, I had a leg up in the world. They were able to help me some with college tuition, and that’s an opportunity that some people don’t have. I’ll probably never live in poverty, but maybe some people always will because they weren’t born to white middle-class parents. I can’t change my parents and neither can anyone else. And I do believe that no matter how hard some people work, the system is stacked against them. I hoped that it would not always be so. I moved into a more urban part of the city, so that even if there were gaps between us I could do nothing about (like the wealth of our parents), at least there wouldn’t be relational gaps. At least we could be part of the same community. It turns out I’m awful at forming relationships with any humans, regardless of color. I’m not the awesome neighbor that I daydreamed I would be.
I’m coming to understand that I live in a generation where we have more than just problems with economic inequality. There are some things need to be protested, because people are being treated unfairly and not just by “the system.” I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I live in a period of time where things need to be protested. Protests are just in history books. Not here, not now. (And just to be clear, I am only a supporter of non-violent protest…)
I used to live in a neighborhood where there were sometimes gunshots in the middle of the night. And if I’m being totally honest, when I imagine who is shooting a gun – I imagine a black man. I’m ashamed of this. That little image that forms in my mind without my permission, for just a second, is a kind of racism.
It’s the same kind of racism that some police officers might experience when they encounter black men. If they see a black man reaching into his pocket, their first thought might be that it’s for a gun – not an ID, or car registration. If I got pulled over and reached in my pocket, no one would shoot me. They wouldn’t shoot me if I resisted arrest. They wouldn’t shoot me if I argued with them. They wouldn’t shoot me if I ran away. There’s this unspoken assumption that black men are aggressive and guilty, and that assumption is what makes people angry. The terrorist from the New York bomb situation the other day was arrested without being fatally shot, and they already knew for a fact that he was violent – he had just set off bombs. It is possible arrest people (even if they are aggressive) without deadly force, so I understand why the black community is frustrated and angry that so many of their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers are being killed by the police. It does not justify violence or retaliation in response. It is possible to acknowledge that anger and frustration and also respect the men and women who serve in the police force, simultaneously. I can do both. (Although, if I am being honest, I’m not really one for “hero worship” – there is currently no law that says police officers are gods that require my devotion and fealty without question…I happen to believe that people in positions of power have signed up for more scrutiny and accountability than the rest of us, and should be questioned, but my post on secrecy and transparency shall wait for another day).
I think when I am bothered by these stories, it is because I have come to understand that this darkness is not far away from me. It is sometimes found in my own heart. When gunshots wake me up in the middle of the night and I roll my eyes and think some black people are shooting some other black people again, that racism is right there inside of me.
The stories on the news make me upset that lives are lost, but I am also upset because I had my head in the sand. I brushed off the stories a decade ago because there weren’t smart phones recording all of it. I can’t believe I brushed it off and disregarded the cries of my black neighbors just because they didn’t have video evidence. How arrogant of me. I am so deeply sorry for this. I am so sorry that it took such a horrifying number of hashtags to change my perception of what happens.
The following statements are true:
The police put their lives on the line for the community, and deserve our respect and support
The police have a problem that needs to be addressed
Both are true at once.
50-100 years ago you could say “the police put their lives on the line! They deserve our respect.” That has always been true about the police in America. But in the past, those police have also allowed citizens to be lynched or beaten. There were people saying “The police put their lives on the line, they deserve our respect” while the police were allowing people to be lynched, or while the police themselves were beating people. Statement one does not negate statement two. Statement two does not negate statement one.
If a police officer pulls someone over with his 3-year-old daughter in the backseat, tells him to get his ID, and then shoots him dead as he reaches for it – that’s not okay. And that is a thing that happened. That police officer decided he felt threatened. Threatened enough to shoot a man (for doing what he was told) while a 3-year-old watched.
The police were not given a badge and a gun primarily to protect themselves.
Even one of those hashtags about a white person would have resulted in shock (probably even outrage) by white people in Franklin, TN or Kingwood, TX (where I grew up). If you think I’m delusional, um, JonBenet. Apparently the death of a cute white girl captivates us for twenty years, but suggesting the death of someone at the hands of a police officer warrants an investigation is preposterous.
I don’t know what the answer is. It’s not possible for police to be wrong in every case, and it’s not possible for the victims’ families to be wrong in every case – it just wouldn’t be rational for me to suggest that one side is always wrong, without question. So maybe what I am suggesting is that we just allow people the space to have questions, and grief, and even anger – without rolling our eyes. Because if even one of the deaths was a police error (and it is rational to say that at least one of them was, due to the sheer volume of cases), then anger is appropriate. Expressing that anger with violence is not, but the anger and grief is. Asking questions about how it happened, is appropriate. Investigating what happened is right. It is not crazy.
I believe that Jesus Christ has been so unspeakably good to me. He has shown me so much grace. My cup is so overflowing with grace and mercy that I have received from Him, that there will never be enough days or words to thank Him. Because I have been shown grace and mercy, the very least I can do is not shake my head at people or roll my eyes, even if I don’t understand their perspective. At the very least, if I am too much of a pansy to actually join in a protest, I can choose to not look down on another person’s anger or grief following the loss of their loved one. At the very least.
(I can also acknowledge that writing about racism, as a white woman, is maybe the dumbest thing I have ever done, and it’s possible I said a bunch of ignorant nonsense in this post that I am unaware of because of the head-in-the-sand situation. I am open to hearing about that, if that is the case. Be gentle, internet.)