I’ve been trying to figure out how to put this week into perspective and I’m just failing. How do you reach out to a woman who is begging the police to not shoot her husband. How do you reach out to a woman who tries to tell the police that her husband has a traumatic brain injury, that he’s on medication, that he’s not going to hurt them and then sees them shoot her husband in front of her eyes. How do you reach out to a family who’s father/brother/husband/son was shot with his hands up? He had no weapon. There was no reason. The only true reason that can be seen was that they were big black men. Being black in America feels like it is a crime.
How do I explain to my nieces that life is safe when I don’t believe it myself? How do I explain to someone I love that one day her hair might cause an employer to say that she is too different and that she can’t work for them anymore.
I grew up in a small town in NM. From the age of 4 or 5 I was in the middle school helping the teachers. I ran the mimeograph for them, making copy after the copy. I probably learned to count off of the number of mimeographs I made. I knew every teacher and my mum knew every teacher I ever had. When I wasn’t there I was at the university playing on the campus while my dad worked. I was one of the few gringas in my class, in my school. When we had Spanish homework most of my classmates parents were fluent while mine had studied French and German. We lived 5 miles out of town and I never really even met the few kids that lived relatively close to us. My introduction to them was when they kicked in my brother’s bike. We saw them occasionally, they would bully us, or watch us from a distance. They would leave dead crawfish on the dam that ran through our property. We had a small ranch. When my babysitter went to college she sold us her horse, the one she used to bring when she babysat us. I grew up riding and I grew up fairly alone. I knew the prejudice that came with having a different color of skin.
I was never afraid of the police but I never felt security at the idea of their appearance. What I remember is mum saying that when she brought a police officer into her class to talk to them about his job he told them that what was different about his job from any other was that he could kill them. That was the message that was given to pre-teens and teenagers. Watch out because if you do not obey you will die. I never felt safe growing up, not in the way I feel in my home now. My sister and her mom still live in NM. My sister will not go to a protest because she worries for her safety. She’s isn’t afraid of the protestors. She’s afraid of the police and she is probably right. When Trump visited the media portrayed the protests in a very different way than her friends who braved that event actually experienced it.
So how do we change this? How do we change the relationship between whites and other races? How do change the relationship between police and some of their citizens? How do we decide that a large black man is not a threat but simply a man broken down in the road? Or a man in car, in an open carry state, with a gun or a book is simply a man in a car? How have we decided that guns can be everywhere, every type, with as many rounds firing at whatever speed? And yet that policy applies only to white men. It’s one of the double standards that live in this country. Women face the same.
How do we juxtapose the image of white men holding rifles on federal officers and not ending up dead. It was a standoff that happened for weeks and it’s happened more than once. Can you imagine that happening if the men holding those guns were black? Can you imagine them living for even an hour?
I don’t know the answers. There are no easy answers. The one thing that I know is that this isn’t in the imagination of black and brown citizens. You hear it from everyone, from everywhere. My friend’s husband who is terrified that he might not come home one day. That his broken foot might make him slower to answer a command if he is pulled over. You hear the despair in a mother’s voice as they try to come up with what to tell their child. Keep your hands in sight, put your hands up. Don’t move, follow commands, don’t freeze. Don’t be a child trying to understand the screamed instruction to drop the gun, when you are playing with a toy and then seconds later you are dead. If you don’t have a gun, how do you drop it? If you have no time to understand. If you have a brain injury and are on medication, what do you do?
We need a conversation on race. We need a conversation on guns. We need a conversation on America. We need to remember that we are not governed by fear. We are not governed by religion. We are governed by a belief that freedom and equality is what we are. We are better than fear. We are better than hate. We are stronger when we work together. We are stronger when we don’t demean others. We are stronger when the police protect and serve and do not shoot first and ask questions later. We are stronger when we believe our neighbor. We are better when we trust one another. We are better when we stand tall, not duck and hide.
We’ve seen to many people die on our TV screens. We’ve seen the man with his hands up. We’ve seen the woman dragged from her car. We’ve seen the man running away. We’ve seen the child playing in the park. The man shopping in Walmart. We’ve seen the man selling loosies in NYC.
We can’t be desensitized. We have to stand up and say no. This is not acceptable. We are better than this. I can’t watch this again. None of us want to watch to watch this again. I want to say that this will be the last time but I know that it won’t be. Another officer will be afraid and another black man will die. What do we do? How do we stop this.
I just don’t know.