This is a reblog of a post I did last year with a few new touches. While some of the references are a bit dated, the sentiment of the post is still applicable.
I didn’t want to write about my reaction to the lack of indictments of police officers in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases. Didn’t really feel a need to express myself on the topic, particularly since this well-written, well-reasoned, rational take on the #Ferguson decision appeared on Facebook:
This post said everything I wanted to say…or so I thought. I thought it had it covered-the frustration, the hope, the EVERYTHING that I felt.
But after seeing some of the most idiotic, insensitive and downright wrong things some people have said on social media has caused me to rethink my reticence in writing about this. I’m going to try to be as reasoned and rational as Mr. Watson was with his Facebook post-if it sounds a bit off-I apologize.
Let’s get this first thing straight right off the top. I have no grudge against police officers. I appreciate the job that they do, often times having to make split decisions in situations most of us would rather not find ourselves in. I have several friends who are policemen, and they do their jobs well. However, if and/or when they cross the line, they should be called out on it. Not saying that the line was crossed in the above mentioned cases-I wasn’t there and don’t have any idea what evidence there was in either case. The video in the Garner case though was troubling to me, because who among us wants to see a man be choked to death? I support the police, but if they do wrong, their behavior should be called into question. And like most groups, when there are bad cops, they make the rest of those who are doing their jobs and serving their communities in the right way look bad also.
As far as those people protesting-I understand the sense of frustration; but vandalizing public property only undermines any point you are trying to make. Peaceful protests of these lack of indictments is acceptable; destruction of people’s businesses and livelihoods while “protesting” is not. Public property seemingly always loses when crowds of people gather outside, whether in frustration over the news in these cases or even in victory by the local team in the championship game. Even more disturbing to me, seeing faces that look similar to mine “burning and looting” gives rise to any number of negative stereotypes that many people like myself are trying to eradicate. And seeing those negative stereotypes brought up in comments on social media (along with just plain old wrong-headed thinking) doesn’t do any of us any good.
Finally: as a black man, in this society, it pains me to be looked at by someone who doesn’t know me as a threat, simply because of the color of my skin. Whether I am “suited and booted” or “saggin’ and draggin’”, to some people I could be that person who can cause them or their family harm. It has nothing to do with my personality; anyone who knows me knows what I am like and what I am about. But this is one of among many things some people have no clue about. Do you have clerks keeping an eye on you in stores? Have you ever been stopped from leaving an amusement park, because someone “thought” you stole something in a gift shop? Have you ever tried to do your job as a resident assistant at a predominantly white college and had people call you a “nigger”, sometimes right in your face? These are some examples of the things that I have had to deal with, and I’m sure many others like me have also been though similar situations—not from people we know, although sometimes it is them too—but by people who only see “black and male” and have instantly formed an opinion and a rationale for how things will go or should be.
All I can say is—get to know me, and you might like me—but don’t minimize my experience or the experience of other black males who have had to deal with the same types of situations. I don’t have sons, but if I did have a son, he would get “the speech,” much like I got when I was younger. Don’t disrespect the police; if you are stopped, speak clearly and make no sudden movements. Follow orders and don’t talk back. Always be aware of your surroundings and try not to look or act threatening; it makes people nervous. These and many other things I was taught early on, it’s another thing most males of my race automatically know.
What I hope happens after reading this post is that you take my words and think about them, and think about this different perspective. I hope someday we can all have a civil conversation about race, and learn from each other as to what is insensitive, what is wrong, and what we all can do to fix the issues. We all need to remember we have more that unites us than divides us.
P.S. Benjamin Watson has a book out that was based on his Facebook post entitled Under Our Skin. The book is available at most book retailers as well as a Kindle book at Amazon. I have my copy and will be hopefully reading it soon.