Thursday, December 4, 2014

All The People

I took a picture of my middle son today at the endocrinologist's office, as I tend to do. Trying to document this bizarre journey he is on, I usually snap a quick shot of him while we're in there for the current update on his blood sugar.

Today, when I quickly checked the image viewer to make sure the shot wasn't too blurry, I saw something I didn't intend to see.

And it hurt my heart.

I realized in that moment how different my son's life will be than it will be for other little boys his age. The oversized beanie that he pulls down over his ears just so. The jeans with the ripped knees, sagging down below his waist because he's so thin. He pulls them up almost constantly. The most precious, most expensive piece of any outfit he ever wears, his shoes. Around his neck, a ball chain with a dog tag style pendant. Sitting in the chair beside me, his hoodie, always a few sizes too big for his slight frame.


He exudes a level of confidence I couldn't have even fathomed at that age or now for that matter. He has a swagger to him, one that I swear he was born with.

And he's white, so it's charming. It's cute. People think he's cool.

Take the entire wardrobe, the confidence and the swagger, then put it on a little boy with darker skin than his and he might be called a thug.

Thug.

I've seen that awful word tossed around so much in these past two weeks. It stings the most when I hear someone who professes to be a supporter of equality using it. I cringe, flinch, squint my eyes at the screen when I read the words from someone I didn't expect to display that level of bias.

There are mothers of little boys just like my son that will have to contend with more worries than I can ever imagine simply because of the color of their skin. If that truth makes you uncomfortable, I'm sorry to rip you out of your world of denial.

Not really. I'm not sorry.

I'm sorry that it is reality, but I'll never be sorry for forcing people to face it.

There is systemic bias in this country. There are words that are only ever used when talking about certain groups of people. There are groups subject to routine profiling. There are biases inherent in all social interactions, biases that we aren't born with but that we are taught, biases that change how people interact with one another.

To say that we live in a post racial society where everyone is equal, claim that the law is colorblind, is to kid yourself.


This isn't just about Eric Garner. This isn't just about John Crawford III. This isn't just about Tamir Rice.

It's about the fact that a man begged for his life on video, killed by a man wearing a badge using an unauthorized chokehold.

It's about the fact that a man was killed in a store just for holding a BB gun, the same store where guns are sold every single day to white men without anyone getting killed.

It's about the fact that a 12 year old boy carrying an Airsoft gun in a public park, living in an open carry state, was gunned down two seconds after police arrived. The officer that shot him, one that had resigned from a prior department after being found emotionally unstable and unfit for duty.

It isn't just about this one case or that one case because there isn't just one case.

It's about the fact that unarmed black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white men. That's not just a statistical anomaly that can be explained away, waved off dismissively.

It isn't just about one case or one situation or one incident or one death.

It isn't just about the police, either. I know many, many police officers. The overwhelming majority of them are good people doing the very best they can in a difficult line of work. The good ones will tell you that there are people who shouldn't be allowed to wear that badge.

It isn't just about the prosecutors, either. Rather than just file the complaint themselves (which, by the way, they could totally do), they toss these cases to grand juries, passing the buck. They put together what amounts to a defense and the grand juries refrain from issuing indictments precisely because that is the goal. If the prosecutors wanted indictments, they would get indictments. 

Many people, far too many people I know refused to get outraged over the Michael Brown case. They reasoned away his death, found flaws in his actions, were content to blame him for creating the situation. If only he hadn't robbed the store, they said, he'd be alive. Or that he should not have done this or done that. As though any of those things legitimizes his death. They were unwilling to advocate for Michael because he wasn't a saint. He wasn't the perfect victim. They could explain his death away, blame him for what happened.

What will they say this time with Eric Garner? Those ways of rationalizing death don't exist here. This man wasn't violent. He wasn't attacking anyone. He was asking to be left alone. And then he was begging for his life. And then begging. And then begging. And then he went quiet. All of it happened on camera.

We didn't need testimony from eyewitnesses. We can all see what happened with our own eyes.

How will they, the ones who explained away Michael Brown's death justify Eric Garner's?

If they can't justify it, this death that has already been ruled a homicide, where do we go from here?

We know that he was killed. We know that a police officer killed him. We know that he was killed using unauthorized procedures. We know all these things.

And still, no indictment.

How the hell can that be justified?

Simple. It can't.

If you have the time, I urge you all to go to Twitter. Follow two hashtags.

#blacklivesmatter
#crimingwhilewhite

Put them together and you'll have two very different pictures of our society.

Then demand that all cases involving lethal force and police are investigated externally. Push for police departments to better represent the communities they serve. Holding the bad cops accountable, getting them out of the departments, cleaning up the ranks...all necessary steps that need to be taken if there is ever any hope of rebuilding trust between the police and the community. All that needs to happen so that the good officers, the vast majority of them all, can do their jobs safely.

The legitimacy of police authority relies on trust to work as an absolute, and it's a two way street.

Going forward, things have to change. And that change is only going to come if we, the people, demand it.

We, the people.

Not the black people or the brown people or the white people. All the people. All the mothers of all the little boys wearing beanies and hoodies and saggy jeans, no matter how much pigmentation they were born with.

All the people.


“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

~ Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

2 comments:

  1. Kelly, I have tears in my eyes now. Really real tears. The tears are because of the frustration, it comes through your words, so well balanced. The tears are because of not for people like you (caucasian) who get out and who advocate, it's quite possible my son's life will be worse than imaginable because of his pigmentation. I have tears of hope, true utter hope.... And love for those who aren't afraid to speak, who aren't afraid to tell the real truth, who are willing to recognize their inherent privilege because their skin is white.

    Thank you for this piece. Thank you for soaking, for telling the truth, and for honoring the lives of black men/boys/children. Thank you! :)

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  2. Great post, Kelly. I often worry about my boy who, at 10 years old, is still considered cute because of his darker skin and curly hair. I know though, in just a few years, people who don't know him will be labeling and judging him based only on the color of his beautiful skin. It terrifies me to think that he could be profiled by police. It scares me because his heart is so big and he'll never hurt anyone, yet he is likely to be hurt by others because he's not white.
    This insanity needs to stop.
    My heart hurts too much already for all of those people I never knew who have been brutalized and killed by police in our country. It is one of my greatest fears that one day that heart break could be more personal.
    No mother should be afraid for their children's safety because of the color of their skin.
    Yet, here I stand. Fearful for my boy's future.

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