There seems to be an ulterior arrogance amongst many of the habitants of, arguably, the freest country in the world. I see a lot of denial that black lives being taken by police is anything but justified. Never have I noticed it so blatantly as within the past couple of years. Was I too young to notice it before? Or was I blind to the injustices minorities face because I am not of that demographic? Was there not as much media coverage in regard to black victimization before? Maybe it’s a little bit of everything. But one thing is absolutely certain in my mind, and that is that systematic racism is very much alive today. And as a young, white, middle class female, I’d like to share with you my thoughts.
Firstly, I’d like to explain some of my background and how I have been able to draw some parallels between myself and the victims of our country’s policing policies. Because I think it is important that our society asks ourselves, “Could that have been me?” “What if that were my child, father, brother, etc.?” I urge you to do the same; we are all citizens of this country and deserve equal and fair treatment in every aspect of life independent of our skin color.
I am not proud to say that I committed petty crime when I was a teenager. Police have questioned me. I’ve ran from the police. I’ve broken the law. But I have never been arrested. I’ve never had a “stop and frisk” because of what I wore, looked like, or where I was at. No, every interaction I have had with police, I have been able to walk away and return home safely.
I am thankful that I didn’t have to face the full extent of the law for every time I made a mistake. I am advantageous. I am white. I am middle class. I am female.
My experiences in my teen years would be a much different story were I to alter a few “minor” things here and there. Not changing the situations themselves but things like gender, location, and skin color for the narrative. You know, the things that our society tells us are not the real issue. That punishments and outcomes are not dependent on these variables. But I think with changing these variables, the story likely would have a much different outcome. How do I know? Because I have seen, thanks to citizens of this here free country promoting police transparency, the videos of black citizens, sometimes younger than I was, doing less than I did, and being treated worse than I was. People being killed for things like legally carrying a firearm . Or waiting in a stalled car . Or walking home from a gas station. Or selling CD’s outside of a gas station . Just to name a few. A very few.
I’ve heard people (in the news, namely) try and find any justification on behalf of the officers for using lethal force against these black men. I’ve seen the news media choose to scour their personal histories in the hopes of de-humanizing their image. It’s disgusting, shameful, and doesn’t allow due process to run it’s course in these investigations. Not to mention that a person’s history (criminal or no) has little to do with the present and the incident itself. People change. People are not defined by their mistakes. I am proof to that. But I am white. I am middle class. I am female.
I’ve heard people refute the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement by saying “All Lives Matter”. We are failing to understand the issue if we are busy making sure that the movement takes a backseat to everyone (but let’s be honest, mostly white people). Do people really think that the BLM movement is saying “but no one else’s do”? Well, some people certainly think so, but that’s absolutely not true. This movement is necessary; it’s been going on for much too long that black lives have seemingly less value than white lives in the eyes of the criminal justice system. I’ve read a couple of articles trying to explain this movement to us white folks. This one. This one. And this one. Because, let’s be honest, some of us don’t understand it. It’s hard for some of us to grasp the true depth of this topic. White privilege is bittersweet in that we don’t have to face discrimination because of our skin color, but the downfall is that we are not as aware of the issues our black peers face every day.
So, what do we do about it? I’ve got a few ideas—not answers, but a few things that definitely need addressed in the hopes of minimizing the incidences of victimizations of our black fellow citizens.
First and foremost, there needs to be a change in the protocol for use of deadly force. I, like most people, am seeing that lethal force has been exercised excessively; especially in the cases that we have seen accompanied by BLM movement. Unless there is a gun pointed at a police officer, signaling the intent to kill an officer, there should not be reason to shoot to kill; unless another person’s life is in immediate danger, there is no reason to use lethal force. Police should be combatting killings, not increasing them.
Secondly, there should be more extensive training on de-escalation. Police are called to a scene not to enact justice themselves. Police, as first responders, are responsible for trying to de-escalate, get the facts, and apprehend (if necessary). We are seeing police shooting and killing people at the scene before they even know what is going on. How would it make you feel if the second the police arrive, they’ve already got their guns out and drawn? No words, no questions, just orders. Well, I’d react. I’d feel helpless. I’d be angry. It would appear the police have already made up their mind about the call. From experience, talking goes a long way when adrenaline is pumping and thinking is anything but rational.
**I tried to find a news story from my area from a year back or so of police responding to a call about an armed man threatening to kill himself and his family. Reportedly, the man had been pointing the gun at officers and after a long, tense standoff, the man was taken into custody and received mental health assistance. Would the police have been justified in shooting him? Maybe (a gun was pointed at the officers, and the man was talking irrationally). But the police were being reasonable, they negotiated and talked to the man and were able to help him. The situation was successfully de-escalated. Shot out to the Ankeny Police Department.
But I think the most important thing that we need to see change, lest we see these senseless killings again and again, is positive community policing. It’s a broad, and all-encompassing approach to policing that would include the aforementioned points. One step would be to assign officers to a specific precinct for long periods of time so that there is a greater understanding of the crime and frequent offenders in the area. Things like being able to address people on a first-name basis go a long way. Showing respect and humanity when answering a call. Increasing police presence and interaction in the community is crucial in forging a trust between police and citizens.
In the case of Terence Crutcher, the officer “feared for her life” for no reason of Crutcher’s actions (maybe just because he was a large black man?). I’m tired of seeing this excuse. If you can’t be unbiased and do your damn job (of providing safety and protection in our communities), then maybe being a community servant isn’t the job for you. I understand that police might feel that they are targeted. But so do black people. We have a dichotomy going on where proportions of our society are acting in fear. The only difference is, one side wields power over the other and is able to put down their badge and return to “normalcy” at the end of the shift. The other proportion lives in fear as opposed to just acting out of it.
So, I say “Black Lives Matter.” Because they do. And it’s about damn time that our society acts like it.
If I’ve got your attention, I urge you to dig deeper into this movement and everything else it stands for. Because there are many more components to this effort in raising awareness surrounding senseless killings and lives lost at the hands of our criminal justice system: Also see: Campaign Zero and Say Her Name.
Note: Being white, I am both sensitive and cautious when it comes to discussing the injustices plaguing black citizens and other minorities. Many may say I have no reason to be a proponent for the Black Lives Matter Movement because I am not of the demographic—that I can’t have an opinion on it because I don’t have firsthand experience with racism. Well, I have opinions on just about everything and the BLM movement is no exception. All I know and have learned about the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, the persecution of the Jewish in Nazi Germany, and other historical injustices, is that conformity is suicide—silence is consent. It doesn’t sit right with me to sit back and watch unequal and unjust treatment happen around me just because it doesn’t affect me directly. So I show my support for true equality in this country I love.