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.
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.