Thursday, July 07, 2016

To My White Friends Today

Today as I drove to the store here in Baltimore, as I saw black men walking from the subway or the bus to their jobs, as I always do, I really thought seriously about what it might feel to be them, to be walking, and to never know how that day might go down. Or how about the many who are working professional jobs, driving their cars to work or recreation, not knowing what might happen at a traffic stop?

As I shopped, my heart just kept breaking, feeling the pain that must be in the hearts of my neighbors here, those I shop with and those who serve me at the store, those who put the food on the shelves so I can buy it, the men and women who check my food through when I'm done, the woman who kindly made sure I remembered to remove my card from the silly new chip reader. How do they feel today? Last month? Last year? Every day?

I know how I felt that one day when police came to my door in bullet proof vests with adrenaline oozing into the atmosphere, guns at the ready, asking if my son was home, asking which room he was in, demanding that I step aside so they could enter the room of my sleeping son.

I don't know what anyone might do who is wakened from a sound sleep to a strange situation. I don't know what policemen "on the ready" might do. So in my fear, I did something which could have been very foolish. When the officer told me to step aside, I just stood there. I sometimes wonder how that would have gone down if I had not been a middle-aged white woman? Yes, I think I'm privileged. It's not a choice I've made, and it breaks my heart that, for someone else, it could have gone differently.

I don't even know where the words came from, but I asked, "Are you sure you have the right person?" Somehow, in that moment, the officer released a degree of his fear and readiness, and brought out a flyer to show me.

Next time you think that surely someone "didn't cooperate", first of all, it might not even be true; but even if there may be cases where it appears that way, please, if you would, remember me, standing there between armed officers and the door to my son's bedroom while I was told to move, and I didn't cooperate; I didn't comply. It wasn't wisdom and it wasn't bravery; it was just what I did in the moment without thinking.

It wasn't my son they wanted. After showing me a flyer, they believed me, and they let me be the one to wake my son so they could talk to him to see if he knew anything about the wanted person (he didn't). It was a case of mistaken identity, the right name, but the wrong person at the wrong address. It happens. It wasn't the first time it's ever happened to anyone; that's why we have a name for it. It happens in homes and it happens with cars.

You might have heard me tell this story before, but I tell it today to share the fear and reactions of a mother, a woman who was brought up in the 50's and 60's in a small town in Washington...brought up to think that all police are always our friend, always there to help, and as long as we cooperate, everything will be just fine. Yet, in that moment, I felt their fear and their readiness, and I was very afraid for my son.

I agree with those who say that many policemen just want to do their job. And yes, of course their lives matter. Of course all lives matter. But when we say black lives matter – at least when I say it - it's my way of saying that we need to acknowledge that there is a problem. And we need to work toward improvement without delay: better training and especially more accountability! And we need to be empathetic instead of defensive about the loss of black lives.  

All I'd like to ask from my white friends for today is a little honesty with ourselves and a little empathy. How would we feel if we were that wife and mother, that girlfriend, that sister, father, brother, or friend of someone whose life was threatened or violently ended over a minor infraction or, in some cases, perhaps no infraction at all?  How would we feel if we were part of a group for which this just kept happening again and again and again?

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