I may be too emotionally close to this to write objectively, and I’m also flooded with some serious pregnancy hormones on top of everything here. If I’m missing something major, please feel free to point it out in a kind manner. Please note that all of this is mostly a rambling of me trying to make sense of the cognitive dissonance that has become my life!
One side of my brain knows that we can not dismiss the stories and experiences of an entire group of people just because we haven’t experienced them ourselves. Sorry, but if you’re white there is a certain privilege that you have rather you admit it or not. There are many things that you have not experienced not because they don’t happen, but because they generally don’t happen to white people.
I personally didn’t know what I didn’t know until several years ago when I called the parents of one of my black students in to let them know about some comments that a white student had made to her in my earshot. I had just been calling them in because I wanted them to know that the issue was being addressed and discipline was being handed out. I was also asking for any perspective that they might have on how to handle those things best in the future. What followed was one of the first and most frank and open discussions about race that I have ever had. I will be eternally grateful for their gentle honesty and perspective. One line from the conversation still stands out to me specifically. I didn’t have kids at the time, but the mom looked at me and said, “ You will never have to make sure that when you buy your son a candy bar at the store you make him wait until the cashier puts it in the bag before he can have it.” I honestly didn’t even understand what she was saying at first until she explained further. See while I would think nothing of handing my child the candy bar and letting him eat it while I checked out the rest of my groceries, she had in her lifetime seen enough young black kids wrongly accused of stealing that she automatically went through a process to try to ensure that her child wouldn’t be. He would have the bag to prove that the candy had been paid for. This my friends is the privilege that we can’t ignore.
All of this to say, that there is something to be said for some or maybe even many of these stories of police brutality and the wrongful deaths of African Americans. We can not deny an underlying bias in our system. We also can’t deny an underlying bias in ourselves. That last sentence was hard for me to write. I try to be a very open person, but ignoring or dismissing our own cultural or internalized bias just makes things worse. I don’t know what the answer is. I read an article that I can’t find now that preposed some very nice concrete ideas on how to curb some of this violence, and I think that many of those ideas would be worth implementing. Yes, we need inquires into police shootings and there need to be convictions in wrongful deaths. I also think that one of the biggest things that we can do is LISTEN to the experiences and stories of other people.
Now for the other half of my brain. I’m not saying that all or even most individual officers are acting out of blatant racism. In fact I know that the vast majority of officers really do want to protect and serve their communities. Trust me I know this because this is the reality that I inhabit. These are the experiences that I have. My husband puts on a uniform every day. To be fair he’s not a sworn officer, but to the average person he looks just like one. He works in animal control for our county and does everything that a sworn officer does except seize animals and carry a gun. He is out there confronting sometimes unstable people, and he doesn’t have a gun for protection. (Though I’m not sure that I want him carrying.) I try not to think about this!
I read a quote on a friend’s page that has been bothering me a lot. She reposted it from another source, and while I see what’s trying to be said about sacrificial love, it still misses a major point. The quote said, “What would it look like to have police officers so dedicated to their communities that they would rather die than kill?” it was by a friend of hers named Nathaniel Grimes. Tell my little boy that his daddy should care about the community so much that he stops valuing his own life.These men and women do risk their lives on the daily bases because they care about their communities. My husband said that most of the cops he works with are torn too. Don’t forget that a lot of these decisions are made in split seconds with life long consequences either way. They don’t want to make the wrong decision and shoot a person not actively trying to kill them, but they also really want to go home and kiss their wife goodnight and tuck their kids in. They put themselves in situations that the rest of us would run away from.
For example, my husband told me that one of the sworn officers was dealing with a man (I don’t know his race, but this is the type of decision that has to get made either way.) that refused to take his hands out of his pockets. That might not sound like much to you and me, but in an escalating discussion, it could very well mean that he was concealing a weapon. When the guy got irritated and more agitated with the officer, he pulled his hand out and was holding a cell phone. If that had caught the light the right way or if they had be farther from one another, it could have very easily looked like a weapon. The man being questioned could have been shot while not holding a gun, or if it had been a gun and my husband’s friend had second guessed himself we could have had a police officer dead in the line of duty.
I try not to think about my husband’s safety to much because it bothers me when I do. He had a scary incident the other day when trying to deal with a guy that wouldn’t show him his id. My husband had to call for backup, and it turns out that the guy had several warrants out for violent activities for what it’s wroth the guy was white. I spent a lot of the evening after that praying for his safety.
I look at those cops being targeted in Dallas, and well this article is being written at 4 am because I can’t sleep thinking of him working when his alarm goes off in a few hours. I also know that there are moms and wives out there that can’t sleep tonight because a person that they love was killed by an unjust system. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that something has to give, and I know that I’m going to keep losing a lot of sleep. As the days go on, I’ll better educate myself. I’ll also do my best to listen and to support sensible changes in policy that make everyone safer. I’ll do my best not to judge too quickly on either side which can be really hard when you have a guy in blue. For now I’ll pray for the families, for all of the families, for our country, for peace, for understanding, for open dialogue, and for change.