In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.
I have many black friends whom I love dearly and I would never hope or wish the societal oppression and racism that is indeed a reality in this country. But I also have friends and family that are police officers in this country and I fear for their lives every single day. So in the interest of being unbiased for a minute, let me share two real narratives of individuals facing oppression in today’s society. I
The first, a black man who lives in St. Louis city. I don’t know him, but he posted this in a community group on Facebook. Read this description as if it were you, no matter your skin color, profession, etc. What would you think or what would you do? This is the story he shared:
So something happened after I left Twisted Ranch tonight. I was about a block from the restaurant at 7th and Soulard and I could hear a car slowing down and I could see lights coming on. I turned around slowly and to no surprise at all it was a police car on the wrong side of the street. Two officers stepped out of the vehicle, I slowly raised my arms (As I was taught to do because my parents gave me “The Talk”) and I politely asked the officers if there was an issue. They asked me where I came from. I told them that I just left a Twisted Ranch no more than 30 seconds prior and I would be happy to show them the receipt and the Facebook post I made about the place they said it was OK and I didn’t have to do that. They told me that they got a call about “A black male in a hoodie touching doorknobs.” I repeated where I came from and offered again to show my proof. They said it was OK, but asked me if I lived in Soulard. I told them no, I used to for over 10 years and I had a lot of friends who still did. I also advised them that I did spend the day with friends, that I just finished my dinner, and that I was going home; both officers started heading back to their cruiser when the driver said in a snarky voice “Well, then you make sure you get back to where you belong.”
I followed the officers instructions and I went home. Once I calmed down I called the STLPD non-emergency number. I talked to a very sympathetic woman and I explained to her my thoughts what transpired. My main thought was that the dispatch needs to press for more than a race and a generic article of clothing. I said it would be different if the description was a 6 foot tall black male wearing a cardinals ball cap and a “Saint Louis” hoodie over it. At least then that’s a slightly less vague description. She said “We get black male and an article of clothing all the time,” not in a brazen voice, but a weary voice. The voice of a person who felt helpless because she knew what happened was wrong. I said to help, maybe then it should it be the responsibility of the dispatchers to say “I’m sorry we can’t send the police out for such a vague description.” In her same weary voice she said “We tried that; too many people complained. I really am sorry sir. I know you are upset. It’s clear that all you were doing was trying to get home, you weren’t breaking any laws, and you were stopped for no reason at all. It’s not right.” I said to her “Ma’am, I just wanted to go home…” Then I started crying as I said “I didn’t do anything wrong I was minding my own business.” She agreed and told me she again told me that she thought it was wrong too, that again if she had her way no officer would be dispatched for such a vague description. I could start to hear her voice crack as well. I told her that I could hear that she was also tired from hearing similar issues. She said she was, I asked her if she could just pass my complaint on to whomever, because at least there would be one more complaint on file. She agreed to do it, but again from her voice I could tell that even she was weary from having to hear this again.
I can’t even comment on this, because I can’t even imagine what that’s like. It’s because I’m white and I’ve never been profiled that way, because “A white girl in shorts,” would never suffice as an appropriate description of a suspected criminal.
Now, another narrative from a police officer who is on the front lines every single day in the same city the above narrative was posted. Again, think about what you would have done in his situation, no matter your skin color, no matter your profession. Here’s his story:
In light of recent events in Louisiana and Minnesota my heart goes out to all parties involved. From what I have come to understand about both incidents is that the officers involved felt they had no other recourse but to use lethal force. I’m not here to Monday night quarterback either shooting. However, I can honestly say that there HASN’T ever been a night that I came to work and thought, “Hey I’m going to fight, shoot or kill someone tonight.” But after a busy 8 day work week, and a bloody 4th of July weekend I’ve had some time to reflect on a car stop that I had a few days ago.
Let me set you the scenario: I observed a silver [car] with heavy tint going a little over the speed limit, so I decide to run the plates. After running the plates my computer inquiry revealed that the plates didn’t go back to the vehicle. I activated my roof lights and siren to signal to the driver that he needed to pull over, and he did just that. I call over the radio and give the specifics of the stop and they dispatch an assist car. I then approach the vehicle and put myself in the best position possible to see the driver as he rolls his window down. I asked him for his ID and insurance card and I informed him that I stopped him for his plates not going back to his vehicle. He tried to reason with me as he started looking around his vehicle for his ID and insurance card. While doing this the driver informed me that he had a firearm in his vehicle. All of a sudden I felt my heart rate was elevating and my adrenaline pumping through my veins, and a calm focus over took me. He then proceeded to reach for the glove box. Without drawing my weapon I commanded him to stop, turn off his vehicle, and to step out of the car. I directed the man to the back of his vehicle to pat him down. After that I told the driver to place his hands behind his back. He complied with all of my commands. I told him that the cuffs can come off as easy as they went on.
It was at this time that my assist arrived. After he was cuffed I was able to retrieve his ID from his pocket. I then searched his vehicle and located his insurance card and his .45 silver and Springfield semi-auto pistol with a fully loaded 13 round clip and one on the chamber. Where I located the gun is what has me analyzing this car stop because it was between the driver’s seat and the center console. I seized the gun, made it safe. As I walked by the driver he informed me that he had a couple of warrants for his arrest. I then asked if he has had any prior felony arrest and if the gun was legally purchased. He said that he has never been arrested for a felony and that he purchased the firearm legally. So after walking back to my patrol vehicle I ran both him and his firearm. He had three warrants for prior traffic violations, no prior felonies, and the gun was registered to him. So, I finished the stop by putting his firearm where I found it, magazine in the glove box, and the round that was in the chamber I placed in his pocket. I took the handcuffs off of the driver, I told him to call and get new court dates for his warrants, and sent him on his way.
Now comes the fun part where everyone puts their two cents in about what they would have done. But riddle me this what would happen if he thought he was going to go jail and he had other planes, what if he made a movement towards the gun which at the time I didn’t see. I very well could have ended up on the national news as another officer killed by gun violence, and would have been quickly forgotten by the general public a few weeks later. And my family would be left to pick up the pieces. Or the reverse could have happened. I could have shot and killed this man and I would have been another bigot officer just keeping the black community down who indiscriminately shots innocent people. I would be a villain. And this mans family would be left wondering why an officer killed him over just a couple of traffic warrants.
But lucky for me and him that both of us treated each other with respect, and in doing so we both got to go home to our families that night.
Wow. I couldn’t even imagine what that’s like either. What it would feel like to know someone is armed — maybe not dangerous, but armed nonetheless — and there’s been some recent history to support that maybe I should fear for my life… Because I sit at a desk every day. I don’t put my life on the line. I don’t go to my job every day knowing that there’s no one else to protect and serve me in case anything goes awry; that I’m responsible for making sure that it doesn’t.
Everyone is scared right now. Black men and women are scared because it is a reality that they face racism, prejudice, and stereotyping every single day. And now they’re scared that if they make the wrong move (or even if it’s just suspected that they could make the wrong move, regardless of whether or not it actually does), it could end their life. And now police officers are scared. They’re wondering if they don’t make the right call (whether it’s right or not, because we’ll never know what could have happened), that someone else could take their lives first.
If we learn to respect one another, communicate with one another, and make an effort to know one another — truly empathize with all parties, maybe, just maybe, we’ll stop fearing one another. Maybe we’ll be a little less fearful, and maybe we can work to put an end to all of this violence. We all have families. We all have people to go home to each day.
At the end of the day, there is no winning or losing. We’re all already losing. We’re losing progress, control and worst of all, innocent lives every single day. I think once that we’re all the same — we’re all human — then, we can move forward… as a human race.
In case you didn’t know, it’s 2016. We should be progressing, yet we’re setting ourselves back 60 years. In case you forgot, here are some words that are still ringing true, 53 years later:
“We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”
And my favorite, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Love one another. Stop the hate. Stop the violence. Be a good human being. Be empathetic, even if you know you’ll never understand what it’s like to be black person or other minority in a society full of white people making assumptions about who you are or how you should act… or what it’s like to put your life at risk every single day as a wo/man in blue. Empathy, respect and communication/conversation. These are necessary to progress. Maybe, if we focus on what’s necessary, some of the unnecessary will fade away. It won’t be easy, but we need to remain hopeful.
“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”