Saturday, May 2, 2015

Racism and Police

I've been asked this question 3 times today (note: it's 9:30am as I begin to write this) so here is the only answer I have:

Yes, three of the cops arrested in the Freddie Gray case are black. 

No, this doesn't devalue or detract from the conversation about race that needs to happen and is happening since his death. 

First of all, the conversation isn't just about this one case. It's about overall statistics and history and reports that show police brutality is an issue for all people, and a bigger issue for people of color. It's about people who are living a life in fear of our cops. People who know that on a daily basis they could be arrested based not on what they are doing, but what they look like. 

Admitting racism exists is very difficult. It is something many of us who aren't directly suffering from it (aka white people, myself included) struggle with. It's hard to admit that these things are about skin color. Most of us don't want to feel like we live in a world where someone can be killed for skin color, nor do we want to feel like we have any sort of privilege for our skin color. It's uncomfortable. But the facts are facts. We do. And admitting it, accepting it as truth, is the only way to fix it. 

And honestly, I would hope most of us would rather let our egos get a little bruised in the name of the greater good and saving the lives of the innocent than to continue to let these horrific things happen to those around us.  

Again, I can only relate to this by comparing it to the closest thing I have experienced, being gay (which is not equivalent but it is what I have to work with on a personal level.) 

Matthew Shepard was not the first gay man to be brutally murdered. He was a last straw for a community that was being beaten and killed on a regular basis and thus became a symbol for us. Freddie Gray is a symbol in this same sense, I believe. But again, I am not part of the black community and can only speak from a place of compassion and caring for lives of all people. And this is how I am understanding it. 

Overall, no one can say what was going through the heads of these six police officers except for them. What we have to work with are statistics. 

There is one thing I think we can assume, however, went through these cops minds. Just like the men who killed Matthew Shepard, these cops did not believe they would be punished for this. They did not believe anyone was watching or would hold them accountable if they let this young man get injured or die. 

This, from what I understand, is what the riots and protests are about. It's not about whether each individual cop was racist or what color they were. It's about the fact that a group of police officers in Baltimore collectively assumed they would not be punished for this crime, and statistics show us they likely believed this in part because their victim was black and in part because they had seen other cops get away with similar behavior toward the members of that community. 

Let me leave you with this anecdote: When I was nineteen years old, living a very different life from the one I live now, I walked out of a known drug dealer's home with a pocket full of illegal pills. A cop standing outside the house stopped me. We talked about the weather. We talked about the church he went to. And I walked away. 

I have to believe that if I was black it probably wouldn't have ended that way. 

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