Let me tell you a true story.
One Sunday afternoon, I swung a wide arc and nimbly banked my little FORD Fiesta into our driveway, at a good speed. My daughters enjoyed the quick ride. As I jumped out of the car, a glance right pricked an alarm in my gut. Two cop cars were turning the corner and approaching slowly. Honestly family…I thought I was about to get pinched for speeding, right there in front of my daughters. The first car slowly rolled up to my driveway, while the second car cut off the intersection two houses down. I slowly walked toward the cop in my driveway, as his passenger-side power window lowered.
“We’re looking for a black male wearing an orange shirt,” the white officer said. There was a momentary awkward pause. “He just broke into a house, and was seen running through backyards.”
There wasn’t much for me to say, since I was clearly wearing the same green polo I’d worn to church 30 minutes prior. The officer slowly pulled off. There was no further incident or interaction between us. For me, that was just another moment in my life where I’d come into contact with the police. Nothing bad happened. In fact, I barely noticed when the same two cop cars slowly circled around my house several times.
But my white wife noticed. For the first time in her life, she really noticed…and it scared her. For the first time, she got a glimpse of what black folks all over this great nation of ours experience regularly. Reality upset her.
That police officer was (and is ) probably a good cop. I did nothing outside of the law. He didn’t harass me, and I never antagonized him. But watching them circle our block and constantly slow down in front of our home several times showed her something she never had to face before; something she’ll never forget. She didn’t like it one bit. And now–in light of recent events–my wife is genuinely afraid for her husband and sons. She sent me a text message this morning, when I expressed sorrow over the second shooting in two days. It was simultaneously sweet and heart-wrenching at the same time, because now I see that my love understands a harsh truth that most of America blatantly denies.
“You be careful out there. I NEED you to come home everyday!”
I am angry. I am sad. I am frustrated. I think it’s a shame that an underlying mentality still exists in which an individual race is constantly subjected to treatment that simply is not tolerated among other races. Since the shootings of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have gone viral, I’ve seen photos of Sterling and his children holding pistols toward the camera. I’ve read rap sheets. I heard people get on the radio and try to speculate about the events that led up to both shootings, before the “cameras began rolling”. I’ve seen and heard enough material over social media to recognize that people are actually trying to paint a picture of men who got what they deserved, based on their life choices.
Not all cops are bad. But, there are always a few bad apples that cause enough damage to prove that bad apples do exist within the barrel of our government’s law enforcement. I don’t care how unruly a “suspect” may turn, lethal force should be the last resort; not the second or third option.
I witnessed the shooting video of Alton Sterling before I realized what I was watching, because the original footage had no flashy title across my social media feed. I had no idea I was about to witness a murder. I really wish I could tell you I was stunned and at a loss for words. But the truth is this: in recent years, this type of injustice has happened so much to my race that each new occurrence no longer invokes paralytic surprise. It invokes rage. Jesus help me, I’m angry. I’m not angry with those who actually uphold the law, no matter what color they are. I’m angry with a 21st century system that continues to fail at upholding equality for all of its citizens, despite their ethnicity.
If you actually believe racism doesn’t exist in the greatest country in the world, you’re blind. When I was a kid, and teachers would ask us what we might choose to be when we grew up, there were always a few kids who wanted to be cops. Today, I have to diligently teach my sons to respect authority, not only because it’s the right thing for them to do, but because their lives could literally depend on how they respond to officers. That’s a scary thought. The reality that a routine traffic stop could escalate to death by gunshot is troubling.
People, we have to do better. I’m not just talking about some of us. We all have to be better. I don’t know what that looks like in this day and age, so I really can’t offer advice. That’s not what I’m writing about anyway. I’m just tired of seeing or hearing about another case of injustice against folks who look like me. Let’s be clear: it is happening everywhere, whether cellphones are recording or not. And I’m sick of it happening. We’ve got to do better. We have to stop it from repeatedly happening.
I seriously don’t want my wife to get a call explaining the unthinkable has happened to her husband or one of her sons. I’ll bet to some of you, that sounds a little dramatic. Ten years ago, I’ll bet the idea of witnessing a murder seemed like the stuff of movies didn’t it? Tell that to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Today is reality.