Yesterday I came across vitriol spewed on social media toward strangers by an acquaintance. (We’ll stick to acquaintance for all intents and purposes). It disgusted me. It made me question how someone who grew up with the same background as me could think so differently and have such misconstrued thoughts they believed were built on facts. Here are my facts. Here are my beliefs. It’s hard for me to be silent when I feel so strongly.
I fully understand how videos can be edited, how they can have selected start and stop points, how they can come from different angles. I have a degree in broadcast journalism. I get it. I fully understand how news stories are biased, how journalism is politicized and how statements can be skewed as facts. I nearly completed an advanced degree in public relations. I get it.
The treatment of blacks in the United States has become a politicized issue, but it is a human issue. It is not red and blue; it is black and white. If you aren’t afraid of being assaulted when pulled over for a minor traffic issue, or mistaken for a criminal when out for a run, or apprehended strictly for the color of your skin, do not judge the feelings of those that do (here’s looking at you, privileged white people!) Racial inequality and systemic racism are real. If you don’t believe it, look around you. Read up on this country’s history. Not the history you learned in cookie-cutter WASP grade schools, but the true history told by the people who lived it.
Did Anthony Diaz deserve to die for hitting a car with a football and resisting arrest? Did Amadou Diiallo deserve to get shot at 41 times for being mistaken for a rapist and running to his apartment door, reaching for his wallet while in the vestibule? Did Abner Louima deserve to be beaten and sodomized for interfering in a fight? Did Sean Bell deserve to be shot to death after 50 rounds were fired for driving away from an undercover cop? Did Oscar Grant deserve to be held to the ground and shot in the back for being involved in a fight and resisting arrest? Did Walter Scott deserve to be shot and killed for having a break light out and running away from an officer after a physical altercation? Did Laquan MacDonald deserve to be shot 16 times for not dropping a knife, while walking away from officers, and after dropping to the ground after the first shot? Did Terence Crutcher deserve to be shot and killed for his car breaking down and reaching into the vehicle, where there was no weapon?
How many more names could I mention? Far, far too many more. Stories we’re all familiar with. I wonder what it takes for a person’s first instinct to be to draw a gun and fire to kill. Not to stop or to injure, but to kill. I am a hunter. I understand very well the different placement of a kill shot and a shot to injure. All police officers should as well. And they should have to go through more rigorous training. If they have the ability to hold someone’s life in their hands, they need to be ready for that circumstance. Doctors have to. Pilots have to. Teachers even have to. Police officers should have to go through training and education that is thorough enough that if they are faced with a difficult situation, their first instinct is not to pull a trigger because they are fearful. Unless someone is firing at them, an officer should never fire their weapon. Unless you are absolutely certain your life is at stake, how dare someone fire to take someone else’s life? And 16 shots? 41 shots? That one I need explained because I will never understand.
I whole-heartedly support the men and women who put on the badge every day and head to work to serve and protect us. It is a dangerous job. One I don’t think I would ever want to do. However, they made the conscious choice to enter that occupation. They joined the force knowing their life could be in peril. Their bravery every day is applauded. But they do not have the right to take a life. Just as no one should fire at them, they should also not fire at another human being. If a criminal gets away because the police can’t apprehend him, fine. There’ll be another chance to catch the person. Criminals are dumb. But that criminal does not deserve to die for all the petty theft, or because they look suspicious or because they reached for some unknown object. And no one deserves to be brutalized because of the color of their skin.
My great-grandparents grew up in the time of Jim Crow. My parents grew up in the time of desegregation. I grew up in the time of Rodney King. Today’s children are growing up in the time of Black Lives Matter. What do we need to do make sure the next generation doesn’t go through their own version of this? How do I assure the 18 to 22 year-old students I spoke to this week that they matter? How can I assure my friends that their beautiful three-year-olds and baby-to-be won’t have to go through this mistreatment?
We judge people based on their appearances. We make instant assumptions based on what others look like. Sadly, it’s human nature. But you know what’s also an innate human trait? And perhaps the strongest of all? LOVE. Let’s strip away our differences and recognize that at our core we are all human. Black, white, red, yellow, purple, green, it doesn’t matter. 160 IQ or 61, it doesn’t matter. Work in a plush corner office or unemployed using drugs to cope, it doesn’t matter. Has never even uttered a swear word or has a long past of wrongdoing, it doesn’t matter. People don’t deserve to die. It is not our role as humans to take another life. It is not natural, it is not right, it is not just.
I only wish we all could understand this. I’m at a loss of what to do. So, I write because it’s my therapy, and I pray because I believe in a higher power. And most of all, I love because I am human.
"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." --Anatole France