Thursday, April 9, 2015

Assumptions and Protection

Sometimes I wonder about the silence. I wonder as national and local news unfolds, and protests flare up and then back down, I wonder about the hush that seems to come from certain areas.

Are people not interested in the news of unrest? Are people quiet because some news has zero relevance to their lives? Are people unsure of how they feel, unsure of how to even begin to combat such huge problems as prejudice and they choose quiet instead. Maybe quiet is safer....but maybe it is not.

But I also have to remember that quiet people are still thinking. In todays 24 hour news jungle, it is hard to escape the current stories of anger, death, and force. The stories that again and again more recently involve black males and police. Today, I won't go into the unreported stories of gang wars and other crimes that zing back and forth and are killing thousands a year.

I am no expert. I am a 29 year old African American woman. Living in the South. Loving my life.
But I have gone to graduate school and spent time studying social justice. I had to search my own soul many, many times to even begin to try and tackle some of the complexity that lies behind race and prejudice and assumptions. And in life most people are just not going to do that. Who has the time? Who has the passion it takes? Who has the compassion it takes too?

I have had exactly two run ins with police in my life. But you know what, I have worked at schools where my students had run ins with police ALL the TIME! If you have never had an incident, small or large with an upset or angry police then you might not get what I am about to say. But, maybe you will still keep on reading. My two run ins were minor, and I do mean minor. One, an alleged shoplifting accusation during my teens at Walmart, and one a very brief interaction as I was driving in a construction zone. But in both cases I had a fear in me. A fear that the police did not see me as Sabrina Stewart, but rather as "another" young black woman. And all the assumptions that come with that label. Kids but no husband. Attitude but little education. I am neither of these, but when you are in certain groups in this country, and you encounter certain police, there are sadly certain assumptions that are made.

Why I keep wondering, do the recent news stories have people running from police, fighting with police, arguing with police? I could never dare to answer for anyone but I know that if I could feel this small fear, that others have felt far more. What if during a routine stop, the voice that is only supposed to be authoritative, what if it starts asking you demeaning questions, questions that hint that you are "just another punk", "just another man or woman who deserves to be in jail, like the other men and women who look just like you and therefore must be just like you"? What if what is supposed to be protection, you feel is far more than that? Judgement replaced by protection perhaps. And what if the judgement is dead wrong (the wording was completely intentional there)?

The thing is, the time to have these discussions on race and violence is now. It is not later, when you have been stopped for an alleged crime. Now, we have to open our eyes to some truth. Someone has to talk about the fact that there is a generation of young black men who are seeing lives like theirs killed repeatedly by police officers. We don't yet know, how that will play out psychologically. We have to talk about the mothers, daughters, and friends who carry a worry in them that their family member is going to have a run in, and they won't live to tell the tale about what actually happened. Certain families are having difficult conversations all over this country, and those conversations are very rarely crossing over racial and socio-economic lines, so the chasm grows and deepens. The misunderstandings blossom more and more. Confusion and silence reign.

I get scared and I get angry during these cases. Because one person is alive and able to testify and give vivid details of an encounter, able to describe their feelings and their concerns. They get a chance to reel in positive public opinion and support. And the other person, they are silent, because they have been killed...not just injured but KILLED. And no one, no bystander, no video camera, no nothing can speak the entire truth of a dead man.

It's heavy stuff. I feel it stirring up all sorts of emotions in me even as I write. Emotions that are not shared by everyone, even though we so desperately want others to rally together with us for change. But is it possible for a family who looks a certain way and earns a certain amount of money, who has never and will never spend one moment worried that their child will make a mistake and encounter an angry police, let alone come into any contact with the weapon that the police carries; is it possible that, that family and another family who looks a certain way and earns a different amount of money, who has and will continue to worry constantly that their child might not make it home because they made a mistake and encountered an angry police, and came in direct and terrifying contact with the weapon that the police carries; is it possible that both can understand the other? Join together and say somethings are wrong no matter how you look at it? I believe it is possible, but it will be difficult.

Whew! This is one of those times where I just needed to write to get it out. Not to offer solutions, and not to cause unrest. But to clear my head and heart so that I can keep on believing in change and having hope that life will be seen as precious and created and purposeful verses a burden, nuisance and unnecessary.

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