When the protests come to your town

So, I was hoping to have more varied content for these posts, however, in light of recent events, I must revisit topics covered in my last post. Showing how perilous the relationship is between a police force and the community it serves, our little town is now embattled regarding a recent run in between police and a young, black male, a run-in that left the latter dead.

I was raised to believe that the police are inherently good. They are there to protect me. If I ever get lost, I should find a policeman. There is no malice. But then, I have never been hunted by them. As a teen I was stopped, and felt somewhat harassed, during a routine stop after complaints of kids setting fires at the beach. (I happened to be driving through that area when I was stopped). I was outraged. I filed a complaint. I was listened to and validated every step of the way. How dare he? I am an honor student. I work full time. I volunteer. I am an upstanding member of the community and should be treated as such. My audacity, huh? Never did I question that these were my rights. The police work for me. My taxes pay your salary. Blah blah blah. I don’t remember if I got an apology, but it was enough to be heard.

Earlier today I read a news article about Rodney King. In ’92, I was 10, barely 11. These events did not touch me then. But on reflection today, they highlight that this struggle has been going on, secretly, unnoticed by the mainstream for far too long. What made Rodney King different from all the other incidents of police brutality was the independent video tape. It brought the behavior of officers out of the shadows, though it did not improve the ability to hold officers accountable. Even now, with cameras virtually everywhere, there is little accountability. See, in minority communities, there is no safety with the police. The trust that exists is as fragile as tissue paper, torn with the slightest of winds.

Which is where we are now, in my tiny town, embroiled in conflict due to a fundamental lack of trust. The police report the young man shot himself during pursuit. Witnesses report that he was shot by the police. There is no manner or matter of evidence that will allow for many people to believe a scenario where the police did not shoot this individual. Why? Because of trust. They have learned that the police are there to repeatedly harass them, that for them it is guilty until proven innocent. They have also seen, in this new climate of videotape, that police frequently use excessive force and there is little to no recompense. So, evidence can be faked, cover-ups can occur. This truth will likely never be known, just staunchly held beliefs on opposition of one another.

I will say, I am proud of my town.  Protesters have taken peacefully to the streets. Of course, the rhetoric on the internet has gotten very hot, but all in all, this has remained fairly civil. I love the idea that people spontaneously gathered in protest to share their message, something long missing from our culture outside of picket lines and abortion clinics. We have only recently seen the resurgence of protests, sit-ins, and the like. The police have responded, not by shutting it down and arresting protesters, but shutting down streets so that protesters can march safely and traffic is not disrupted. Truth be told, I do not mind any manner of inconvenience brought about by people protesting. The right to gather is one of our most sacred rights, the very foundation that built this country. I don’t have to agree with the message, but I can support the action.

There is no easy answer here, however. The protests are important, but they will not cure this ill. I hope the police remain tolerant, but also open to the message. People will often tell us the very things they need, especially when angry. There is no filter then, no political correctness, just raw honesty. And we owe it to our fellow neighbors to validate these feelings, this reality in which they live, however uncomfortable it might be to accept, denial of this serves no purpose except oppression.

When the protests come to your town

Why #Blacklivesmatter…

… and not #alllives matter. Yet another day, yet another report of a person of color dying in police custody or being killed during a confrontation with police, and yet so few of these incidents end up in the mainstream media. In 2015, a total of 1024 people were killed by police, with 303 of them classified as black (The Guardian’s ‘The Counted’). With African Americans or blacks making up about 12.2% of the population, according to the 2010 census, the staggering percentage of nearly 30% shows how disproportionately people of color are being targeted. Deaths are occurring not just in these interactions between police and alleged offender, but in police custody as well. Most notably we have the death of Sandra Bland, and most recently Joyce Curnell, who was not only arrested in the hospital for unpaid court fines, died after being denied water and necessary medical care. This data does not reflect what I and many feel is the systematic targeting by police of people of color, the Earl Sampson’s of the country, a young man who was harassed more than 258 times, arrested for trespassing AT THE PLACE WHERE HE WORKED, and jailed (This American Life).

So of course, all lives matters. That is not what this is about, though. Just like we have BET and Black history month, leaving people to ask where White History Month or White Entertainment Television is, we have white people trying to balance a perceived exclusion to the privilege they have grown accustomed to having. The answer is this – every month is White History Month, every other station on TV is White Entertainment television, and #whitelivesalreadymatter. What the movement is attempting to convey is that Black lives are being systematically terminated with little to no recourse. According to an article published by the Washington Post in April 2015, in all of the THOUSANDS of police shootings that ended in a death in the last 10 years, exactly 54 have been brought to trial, with almost all acquitted or cleared. 43 of these 54 officers were white, 33 victims were black ( Washington Post article).

If all lives truly mattered, equally in practice and under the law, we wouldn’t need #Blacklivesmatter. Until that happens, we do. We need to be reminded of the systematic injustices, the loss of life, the people impacted. These are not nameless, faceless, criminal numbers on a page but living and breathing human beings. Like Sandra Bland, I was pulled over in Texas while on a road trip in a car with out of state plates. This happened about a month before her death. My often salty sister was annoyed, expressing her displeasure to the officer. She was made to stand in the field while I sat, un-handcuffed in the front seat of the police car. He checked my info and gave me a warning for following too closely and sent us on our way. I am white, and I feel it in my bones, with every fiber of my being, that what happened to Sandra Bland was influenced by her race. Which is why, as a white person, I am trying to stand up and say, this is wrong. A system that denies justice for some is a system that denies liberty for all. #Blacklivesmatter.

Why #Blacklivesmatter…

The Age of Morality

Months ago I was listening to the radio when a promo came on to explore one person’s theory that we are living in an age of morality. I scoffed. There’s no way, I thought. In fact, things are more screwed up now than ever. Thanks to the internet, people can say whatever they want, whenever they want, with little impunity. Upon further reflection, though, I began to agree more with this assertion of greater morality. It is true that the anonymity of the internet has allowed for the more rapid spread of hate speech and fear-mongering, but it has also forced light in to some of the darkest corners of our society, those ills we have been adept at covering for years.

The freedom of the internet has also forced us to exercise more self-control. Just because I can write something, should I? Society has begun to draw a hard line in the sand on what constitutes acceptable behavior. It can also allow for exposure of other’s realities. Facing the viewpoints that differ from one’s own with an open mind and caring heart can indeed provide growth of acceptance as well as an increased tolerance for differences.

There was a tweet by Ricky Gervais that I felt summed up the internet succinctly: “Everyone has the right to be offended. Everyone has the right to offend. But no one has the right to never be offended.” As long as we have differences, we will have offensives, however, with an eye to increased morality, perhaps a duty to limit the amount we intentionally offend. I have heard this degraded as people being “too sensitive”, “wusses”, and worse, but why should that be? Of course you have the right to live with wanton disregard of others, but is that really the world you want? The culture of our country has started to shift, we are paying attention more to that which offends, and people are responding to give greater sensitivity to those things that do offend. If that makes us “too sensitive”, “too politically correct”, tell me, where is the ill in that?

The Age of Morality