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.

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When the protests come to your town