I spent yesterday writing my post for this week. It’s a thoughtful piece about memories and traditions. I actually cried while writing it, which is usually a good sign. However, there have been too many troubling events that have occurred in the last 3 days for me not to address them. This post was originally written on July 7th and edited on July 8th to keep up with current events.
In the last 3 days, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA; and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, were both shot in cold blood by police officers who had sworn to protect them. Alton Sterling was selling CD’s from outside a store where he’d been selling items for years. Philando Castile was pulled over for a taillight that was out. He informed the officer he had a conceal carry permit and was reaching for his id when he was shot.
I am appalled and I am sickened. How can these travesties continue to occur? The conservative media and the justice system keep making excuses for why and how the police are shooting so quickly and with such deadly force. I keep seeing articles and videos on why the police were justified in shooting so quickly. I keep hearing how the officers are justified because they felt there was an imminent danger to themselves and to others.
I was married to a cop for eleven years and I am well aware of the danger of their job. I am also well aware that after a few years on the job even the best, most open-minded cops can become cynical and biased. They spend most of their days and nights seeing people at their worst, and as a result, they come to expect only that worst from people.
That does not mean it’s okay to shoot someone who is being held down by two police officers. It does not mean it’s okay to shoot someone who is reaching for their identification AFTER TELLING THE OFFICER THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE DOING.
It’s also not okay to shoot police officers for doing their job. Last night, five officers in Dallas were killed, with at least seven more being shot by snipers. The shootings occurred towards the end of a protest march in Dallas. According to reports, it had been a peaceful protest and the shootings occurred at the end of the protest. Just like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, these officers were shot in cold blood.
The last time I remember feeling this sickened and discouraged was on a June morning in 1968. My family was visiting my grandparents and I got up that morning not knowing what had happened during the night, but as soon as I walked into the kitchen where the adults were, I knew something big had happened. The night before, Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in California, only months after Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Tennessee. The world as we knew it was shifting and no one was sure what the next step should be. There was rioting in many cities across the nation and I remember the adults discussing where the families could go to be safe. My family, like most of America, did not know where the violence would pop up next, they only knew there would be violence. That is how I feel today.
As a white woman, I also know with great confidence that if I am stopped by a police officer they are not going to react to me the same way they will towards a person of color. I know that my white children and white grandchildren will most likely be treated with more courtesy than the black children and black grandchildren of a good friend of mine.
I was raised in an era and by a family where prejudice and bigotry were a given. There was “us” and there were “others.” Jokes making fun of other cultures and beliefs were a given and told with relish. Cruel phrases were thrown around carelessly with no thought of intent or background. I can’t say I was outraged by all this, but even as a kid, the jokes and beliefs in superiority didn’t make sense to me.
While the unthinking prejudice didn’t ring true to me, neither did the statement “I don’t see color.” Whether us liberals like to admit it or not, there are differences in cultures. Unless we grew up in the exact same house, at the exact same time, with the exact same experiences, we will view the world differently.
Despite these differences, we’re all people who are born with human bodies and the right to the same treatment as the person down the block or across town. I cannot tell you how it would feel to send my black son out in the world, knowing that the likelihood of him being treated the same as your white son is almost non-existent. I do know that it outrages me that this difference exists, even though it doesn’t impact me directly.
Doubt, fear and concern are overwhelming me this morning and I believe much of America, regardless of color, is experiencing the same emotions. I am frustrated that I do not know what I can do to help manifest change. I have tried to think of ways I could help, but my mind tends to go blank when faced with this challenge. I think this brain freeze infects many of us, and that doesn’t do anyone any good.
Yesterday, a young black woman whom I consider a friend posted on social media asking her people to help her problem solve on what could be done to help change things. In response to her well-considered post, the YMCA she and I both work for is hosting a forum for a discussion about how the neighborhood can help come up with solutions. I am proud of her for posting the questions and I am proud of the Y for offering a safe place for these discussions.
I was scheduled to work at another YMCA at the time of this forum, but I talked to my boss about it and changed my schedule so I can attend. I know it won’t be comfortable and I expect to stand out tomorrow, but if we don’t all work together change can’t happen.
I will spread the word about the meeting and I will write further posts about this issue. If anyone reading this wants more information about the forum, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.