My alarm jolted me awake just before 4am, as usual, I put on my running clothes, as usual, and made my cup of coffee, as usual; I had a track workout on my training schedule, so I knew I’d need to leave home before 5am. I settled in to do my morning reading and discovered, thanks to a news alert on the home screen of my phone, that there’d been protests last night in Charlotte, North Carolina, following the murder (I’m calling it a murder, you can call it whatever you’d like) of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, and that the protests “became violent.”
Huh. My first thought was, “well, what did they expect?” My second thought included the chorus line of a particular tune by the old school rap group N.W.A. I opened up my Twitter feed and I saw the tweet below, posted yesterday, by my friend Courtney. She is an all-around fabulous person; I’d like to sit with her and ask what impact this is having on her, personally, because I can never experience events like this as anything other than a privileged, white woman.
I have a conflicted relationship with individuals who work in law enforcement; I work side by side with them, during difficult situations with hospital patients (and their families), and I can promise you that I’m never the one who calls them for assistance. They are not provided with the proper training to compassionately, or even effectively, assist with individuals who are suffering due to grief, drug addiction, abuse, mental illness, or myriad other issues.
My relationship goes deeper than that, thanks to the two years that I spent stressed out about whether I would be prosecuted for a crime that I’d already admitted to and then, subsequently, observing while Secret Service and FBI agents scrambled to be macho and cool around both one another and a well-educated, well-dressed, privileged white woman. The day that I turned myself in, for my “official” arrest, is one that I may never fully be able to describe; it has led to a loss of trust in those who have been employed to protect us, as both individuals and a nation, and that’s really sad because I’m hopeful that this was an isolated incident and not representative of these agencies as a whole (but I’m awfully cynical about it). The thing that is most sad about it, for me, is that I am guilty of a crime; I can’t imagine going through something like this while being innocent…or any color other than white.
Earlier this year, I read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; I listened to the audiobook version and hearing the author tell these stories that he’d written, his own experiences, was so powerful. There were days that I couldn’t get out of my car and walk up to work without having to rummage around for a napkin to clean myself up and get it together before anyone could see me; it was tough for me to hear.
In one of the early chapters, Stevenson recounts a personal experience and his retelling is beautiful; I’ll try to shorten it: he’s working ungodly hours, for almost no pay, driving hours and hours each day to visit death row inmates who have exhausted their resources and are seeking legal representation before their execution date (Stevenson is an attorney) and, on the long way back home late one evening, the radio in his old car mysteriously begins working again. Instead of hopping out of his car when he parks in front of the apartment he shares with another attorney, he sits in his car for a while, listening, because he knows when he turns the car off…well, that radio may never come back on again.
Meanwhile, an SUV begins moving its way slowly down the street toward him, the wrong way on a one-way street, and he notices that it has SWAT emblazoned on the side in giant letters; the headlights flash on, and then spotlights on top of the vehicle, as it makes its way down the street, and he doesn’t make much of it...until he gets out of his car and is quickly accosted by one of the officers (he tells readers that one officer is black and one is white). Long story short, and I’m not doing it justice, he is told that “there have been some robberies out here and we are patrolling, looking for suspicious activity;” he is treated harshly, his vehicle is searched without cause, and he is finally released. Oh, wait, did I tell you that he’s black? Thank goodness he didn’t look in the wrong direction or move his hand the wrong way; he might not have lived to recount this experience.
And then there’s the situation with the man who has been arrested for the bombings in New York and New Jersey; I’m not advocating for the guy, there is a mound of evidence against him, but I’m upset that his name was released to the public, without an accompanying photograph, while law enforcement officials were searching for him “so that the public can assist in our search.” I’m pretty sure when you tell everyone that you’re looking for a man named Ahmad Rahami, without a picture to identify him, you’re placing a lot of undue attention on quite a few men with brown skin.
I don’t believe that every person who works in law enforcement is uncaring, racist, and hungry for power; I believe that the system is broken. Well, that would suggest that the system had worked, at some point, and I’m not sure that it ever has; it definitely does not seem to be serving us very well right now.
What I want to say is that I am guilty. I am guilty of so many things: I am guilty of racism; I am guilty of using my education, my resources, my privilege and the color of my skin to my advantage; I am guilty of jumping to conclusions; I am guilty of transferring my own beliefs, expectations and biases onto my experience of situations; I am guilty of wire fraud; I am guilty of being a flawed human.
What I am NOT guilty of is pretending that I am not part of the problem that has led to the current racial climate in our society; of acknowledging that there are people who are treated differently than others, based on the color of their skin; of refusing to admit when I’m wrong; and of failing to recognize that we, as a nation, are moving backward in our acceptance of those who are different than we are.