Action Required

Imagine yourself a Black man somewhere between the ages of 17 and 50, being pulled over by a police officer, believing that the chances you’ll be shot in the next 15 minutes just went up astronomically.  That police officer will most likely follow protocols, asking you to do some really simple things, things a 4 year-old could do.  But now your mind is in “fight or flight” mode – you’ve lost some ability to behave rationally – following simple instructions just got harder.  How will the officer respond to your agitation, or your lack of compliance?  What if he’s racist?  What if he’s scared?  Or both?  You don’t know.  I can’t imagine what that’s like.

I appreciate our police force.  I live in Denver – you can’t not have an armed police force in a city like Denver.  I appreciate their courage and commitment to keep myself and my family safe.  I know from time to time there will be accidents, very unfortunate ones.  I understand that it’s common for white cops, especially those in urban areas, to have some fear of Black people.  Especially now.  The guy that just pulled you over might be as scared as you are.

However, of the unarmed people shot and killed in 2015, 40% were Black.  There’s something going on that transcends “accidents.”  You might be tempted to offer some statistics about the crime rate among Blacks in the US, blaming them for this outrageous statistic.  You might be outraged about the outrage, citing the very rare occasion when a Black cop shoots an unarmed white man and nobody says anything.  But if you’ve been responsible to study the statistics, and fail to see the injustice here, regardless of what’s underneath – racism, fear, or both – you should be outraged at yourself.

Everyone’s Problem

Ask most white people about racism in our country and you’ll get something akin to “We put that to bed,” or, “I love MLK.”  I’ve never gotten anything like that from a Black person.  From their perspective, systemic racism is alive and well in our country.  The more I study this issue, the more I find it to be true.  Either way, there’s a huge chunk of our population that feels powerless.  Now add fear.  So many of these people believe that there are armed government employees who, for whatever reason, are likely to shoot them for the slightest infraction.

Regardless of where you stand, understand the negative effect this will have on our world if unarmed Black people continue to die in outrageously disproportionate numbers at the hands of our police.

If we don’t deal with injustice, we will very quickly find ourselves victims of it.

If you’re a religious person, especially one that gives some weight to the Bible as I do, there’s another layer to this.  There’s an episode in the Old Testament where God sends messengers to His people, begging them to cease whatever injustices they’d embraced, and if they didn’t listen, they’d be punished.  Really punished.  They didn’t listen.  They weren’t slapped on the wrist, or infested with frogs, they were removed, all of them, to enemy countries, to places where they’d now be the victims of injustice.

If we do nothing, this problem will actually go away, sort of like forest fires go away – when there’s nothing left to burn, problem solved.

I dare you – attend an event hosted by your local Black Lives Matter chapter and get to know a few people there.  Listen to them.  Engage.  I know, the internet’s crawling with all manner of vitriol for this movement, but don’t listen to what others say about BLM, go hang out with them and judge for yourself.  I have, and I’m none the poorer for it.  My wife and I have made friends with BLM Denver activists.  We marched with them in the MLK marade this summer.  The most violent think BLM did during the marade was to break off from the main route, beat the mayor to the stage, and call the city to account.  He turned his back on them.  Symbolic.

These are good people, they’ve got something to say.  Hang out with them.  They’re not perfect, and yes they’re angry, and scared, but they’re doing something that we should all be part of.

My problem is that I land squarely on one side of the issue.  I’ve rubbed elbows, heard stories, mourned, lamented, and considered opinions of the people who agree with me.  If I’m to figure out my role in all of this I need to know what I’m talking about.  So I’ve been reading, watching videos and hopefully soon I’ll be rubbing elbows with people from the other side.  There are stories there, and ultimately, people.  Sure, I’ve come across some stupid stuff, there’s stupidity on both sides, but I think there’s truth on both sides as well.

Ultimately I’ll have to do something, something costly.  Problems like this will cost something to rectify.  I’m not going to excuse myself from responsibility with “Cops just hate Blacks – there’s nothing you can do,’ or, “All lives matter – BLM just needs to shut up.”  I just hope that when I get to that point of action, I have the maturity and courage to do something, and lead others to the same.

43 Replies to “Action Required”

  1. The problem with movements such as BLM is that often the most vocal “members” give the movement a very bad “name” to outsiders/onlookers/potential joiners. Take for instance the numerous social media posts telling people to call 911 at midnight and say BLM and then hang up. Those are the type of vocal minorities that give credence to the idea that this movement is more harmful than helpful. If you cannot understand that barraging emergency services that way is a horrid idea then you need to be re-educated on a fundamental level.

    Also anyone that believes violence is the answer is lending more harm than good to the movement. While I do agree that an ALARMING amount of police brutality is focused at black people there is really nothing that is going to change it unless America as a whole changes the way we value certain professions. As of now emergency services in general but especially police officers are generally paid a very low sub-par salary almost non-livable in most areas and as such the screening process for hiring is inadequate. Until we place more value on those jobs paying them more and SIGNIFICANTLY increasing hiring requirements we will continue to have this blatant fear and needless brutality.

    I firmly believe that it is 100% unacceptable for a weapon to even be drawn unless under the threat of immediate violence(in terms of cops) and if they are not trained in tactical combat without the use of weapons they should not be on the police force. Your firearm should be the absolute last line of defense.

    1. “The problem with movements such as BLM is that often the most vocal “members” give the movement a very bad “name”. The problem with ALL organizations is that often the most vocal “members” give the movement a very bad “name”. Take Nationalism, Republicanism, Democraticism, Catholicism, Islam, right-wing Evangelism, on and on. The extreme wings, while being a problem, do not invalidate the mainstream. BLM has legitimate concerns. that are not invalidated by its extremeists

      1. I would never say a group is invalidated by its extremists I was merely pointing out that groups are often misunderstood by said vocal minorities. I specifically said movements such as not just BLM. It is hard to understand tone in text of course I realize this. I completely believe they have the right to protest and they have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. I am absolutely appalled at the instances of cop on black crime and honestly I am glad that we live in an era of technology where we can see videos of just such INSANE brutalities occurring just so we can open people’s eyes to the very real issue of police brutality as well as discrimination.

        Am I naive enough to think that black cops do not discriminate against whites? No but it is a far more common occurrence the other way around and it is a serious issue that needs to not only be addressed but actively worked on to prevent.

      2. ” The extreme wings, while being a problem, do not invalidate the mainstream” bodies of those systems.”
        An objective, and reasoned perspective. Appreciated.
        Both sides have ‘bat-shit crazy’ on their fringes. But you gotta accept that an apple might have bruises. Throwing out the apple would be asinine..and why people starve. Do what I do and eat around the bruises.

  2. Yes, imagine you are a Black person and if you do how would you feel.

    Also, rember the they did not ask to come to America or come by their own accord, they were forcibly removed from their counrty of origin (Africa). They were then placed in the holds of boats and shackled in unhygenic conditions and transported to the West Indies and America, which in those days took many weeks, many did not survive. While those that did survive had to watch their compatriates in close proximity die before them. When they did get to their destinations they were made to work all day long no matter what the weather was and if they did not they were punished by flogging. There was no end in sight for them to this life, only by death. Honestly, how would you feel?

    They have fought for their freedom, but are still abused racially. But for the majority, their only wish is to get on with their lives, surely this should be their right to have and not still be fearful of being killed.

    If this was you, how would you feel. Do not listen to the racists, but go to them and show your love, understanding and listen to them and prove to them not all people are racists.

    While all lives matter, to some they have to make the point to others that the lives of them do matter, while for the majority of us we do not have to, remember we are all the children of god.

    The people who originally made them slaves would have been Christians, I wonder what God thought of them, with their unchristian actions.

  3. I concur whole-heartedly. If we do nothing, it’s just going to get worse, and very few of us will be untouched by the consequences. It will be worse for our children.

    Jesus offered the only tactic that will keep human civilization alive as more and more of us live in less and less space: love. Paul describes it in great detail, and his articulation goes well beyond the watered-down approach that Christianity has diminished it to: charity.

  4. Currently I have no African-American friends. I have African friends, but that is very different (they actually moved back to Africa, so they truly do not count.). I am so excited for my kids to make friends at their new school with some African-American students (the new school is very diverse) so that hopefully our families can get to know each other and truly build some real relationships. My son already has a few non-white guys he hangs with at summer school. Hopefully that will turn into something more…

  5. Thank you. For you and your wife to have stepped across that invisible, but no less real boundary (barrier?) to attend a Black Lives Matter event, to speak with those present, especially to listen is a grand human witness to the hospitality of openness. Again, thank you for your action.

  6. These days, it is a sad state for our entire society here in the US. I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends and acquaintances who fall into a wide range of headings, and I am better for it. I wish we could all stand arm in arm behind “all lives matter.” May all these families find the peace they need to move forward with their lives after they put their loved ones to rest..

    1. All Lives Matter.
      If you want to put discriminatory and segregationalist tactics behind us, then “All Lives Matter!”
      And, the onus is on you, and us, all of us.
      Dispose of , “I’m ham-strung because of color, or, “I am privileged because of color”
      Both are either crutches or excuses, and do nothing to sort out the issues.

    2. Hi Judy. Your discussion of your feelings about your, ah, colored friends and acquaintances are…well, it’s problematic. Please read below if you’d like an explanation from one colored person.

      I’d like to suggest thinking about it from another perspective. It’s quite irksome when white people view us and our culture as something to enrich and improve their lives, like a quirky exotic spice. It’s also irksome when they go on and express how glad they are that they have gotten to experience us/our food, etc. However, while it’s nice that they might have learned to appreciate a new culture, we are not here to make YOU better or to educate YOU. The purpose of different cultures is not to entertain or educate white people, and while you may not intend to mean that it does, your recounting of your experience is reflective of a lot of white people who indeed view “foreign” cultures that way–an unusual delight to round out their palates.

      As far as peace, these families whose members were brutally murdered, and whose murders will never be prosecuted, will never find peace. You can’t just move past repeatedly watching your husband or father or sister or child be treated worse than an animal, especially when the threat to the entirety of the rest of your family remains as long as they are black and the police continue to target black people.

      As far as “all lives matter”, the problems with that phrase have been explained time and again. I’d like to point you to some sources, if you’d like to learn more about why:

      Tons more explanations on this on the Internet out there.

  7. I will never be at a black lives matter rally after 5 police officers were killed in Dallas. Personally I think it is both hap hazard and very insulting that the rallies didn’t even slow down for this tragedy, the very officers who were guarding the BLM rally.

  8. To tell you the truth, this whole thing makes me so aware of my privilege as a white woman. I just tears my heart out when I see the videos and there was no reason for the police behavior. In the 1980’s I got my B.S. in Criminal Justice when the powers that be thought that just maybe they would actually hire educated people to be police. We see how that turned out, it was too expensive to put into practice. Instead, states are paying millions in wrongful death and incarceration suits. As they should. I really fear for my country. I think we’re racing down a road of no return. Very sad, very shameful.

      1. Well, I don’t get pulled over when driving while white. I usually am not treated like a criminal when I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t think that people cross the street to avoid walking near me. Does that help?

      2. I’m white. I’m hoping you can put me on to the whole ‘white privilege’ fast-track thing so I might take advantage of it. I have never experienced it, so far.

        White privilege is something most white people don’t appreciate – you’d have to have it taken away to notice it I think.

    1. Tax payers have to give governments permission to invest in good public servants. We have problems in the UK, too, because government doesn’t want to pay decent salaries, because they fear they won’t be elected if they put taxes up for wealthier people. It’s not the same problem, but time will tell if it becomes as serious.

  9. Neither, will I feel guilt for something that I cannot change -like my skin color- unless I myself have committed faults, personally, in that respect.
    Taking on ‘baggage’ that is not legitimately yours’ impairs you, and involves you in a selfish struggle… whereas unburdened you could carry other peoples weights -which I believe you do.

  10. I heard someone on the radio saying that often black people live in the city centre and the police officers live in the suburbs so never meet black people as neighbours. Also many police have been trained in the army and still think of “the enemy”, often seeing black people as “the enemy”.

    So I’m wondering why part of police training isn’t for all of them to meet regularly with trusted members of the local black communities and get to know them as neighbours and even friends, to listen to the problems they and their children have with the police and discuss solutions to the problems. It sounds like police training should involve more time undoing some of army training, such teaching police men & women that people in your local community are not “the enemy”.

  11. Mark, As always I enjoy reading your posts. I beleieve one of our greatest gifts is “authenticity” and when I read your work I have a great sense of a man who is not only emotionally intelligent but HONEST.

    I am unapologetically a black woman. And I unapologetically believe in the black lives matters movement. My experience of “blackness” was blessed to be raised among children of color who were 1st generation Americans to immigrants from South East Asia, Mexico, and the Middle East. So I have a huge appreciation for culture.

    I also am a Criminal Justice graduate and have been afforded with opportunities to learn a lot about policing.

    That being said I like to look at the issues from both sides of the coin. Without writting a complete dissertation there is a major disconnect. If we had more people who were willing to be HONEST about what we are clearly seeing as injustice, possibly then we can move forward for change. The first step to move toward healing is being willing to admit, “We’ve got a problem.” That is the prayer that I present to GOD without ceasing. We are so much more alike than we are different. And being empathatic to the plight faced on both oppositions is of vital critical importance.

    I thank you for writting this. My life matters. The black pearl (my daughter) that I raise matters and I never want to meet the day of burying my child for an unjustifiable reason. It’s been a really TOUGH week and my heart literally feels a slow throb. We need to ban together in admitting there is a problem and move forward for change.

  12. I have very strong mixed feelings about this post. Firstly I have to applaud you for having the compassion to understand the fear a cop may feel when approaching by a black man, because they’re such scary creatures. Even though the cops are the ones with the weapons and possess that creepy “greater than man” persona. Especially when, in most cases, in my life, cops pull over blacks for absolutely no reason but to pick at the black passenger, to scare them. Even with though history cops have of shooting unarmed black people, yeah THE COPS should be scared. Yeah… that compassion is completely beyond me. As a little black girl who’s been here her whole life, as a granddaughter of former sharecroppers, as a daughter of someone who has had spit balls being thrown in someone’s afro and more physical abuse due to racism, as a nice of a big big black man, the sister of a black boy, as a young adult who lives with racism everyday and yet faces so many people that still deny it exists, I have to say, I don’t think it’s ever just going to go away. The BLM of course will go just as all other movements have gone in the past but the injustice will always be there. This country since colonization has been built by white men who think they own literally everything. Look what they did to the native population. It still baffles me how you discover a land with people on it and claim it yours. But then again they saw any race other than their own, below them. Honestly not much has changed today. For instance the all lives matter movement, why do people feel a need to be apart of it. Is it okay that black people have a itty-bitty bit of something of their own for once. It’s a black lives matter movement not ONLY black lives matter. It’s sad times, we would love if we were not apart of it but it’s not really a choice we have. We are dying and you’re upset because we bring attention to that, really? noooo white people I’m sorry but you can’t be apart of everything, you can’t own this. And sir it’s really nice that you take the time to actually meet the activist and be involved but you as a white man preaching about being in a black man shoes is kind of a hard pill to swallow. I appreciate the sentiment though and will like the post because it brings awareness regardless. #BLACKLIVESMATTER

    1. I’m sorry I’ve offended you. I do think white people are going to have to spend some time at least thinking what it must be like to be non-white if we’re going to responsibly and effectively engage nationwide, systemic racism. I’m also not calling us to have compassion on racist police officers, but I personally do have compassion for the good cops, and they’re not always the only ones with a gun. Suggesting that all police officers are not racist doesn’t take away from the injustices that have been perpetrated by the racist ones.

      I’d recommend that you get to know a few good cops, hear their stories, become friends etc. I’ve recommended something similar to my white friends, especially the conservative southern ones who need to hear stories like yours, become friends with people who have fallen victim to something that seems to be so invisible to white people.

      Your story makes me sad, and as a father of Black kids, frightens me.

  13. I love this post, Mark. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr.,”There are those who ask civil rights devotees, “When will you be satisfied?.” We can never be satisfied as long as [blacks] are victims of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Much remains to be done, and we must walk ahead and never look back until positive change is implemented. Happy MLK Day!

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