Saturday, December 6, 2014

No Justice, No Peace

I’m struggling to put together my thoughts. I’ve been processing this for days—really, for months. My conscience tells me there’s something I should be saying. My brain tells me there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said—that hasn’t already been ignored.

I’ve been impassioned by the measures of the minority acting on behalf of a minority, those protesting peacefully-but-forcefully in Ferguson, MO and the glittering metropolises like New York City, Los Angeles, and London. I’ve been horrified, in turn, by their counterparts, a much more minor minority, that has attempted to lay siege to the former’s legitimacy by burning buildings and looting livelihoods that never truly stood in their way.

I’ve been intrigued by the intelligent study of the few, men and women of education and understanding who’ve lent their thoughtful analysis to the evidence put forward. And I’ve been haunted by the words of fewer still: my fellow members of this odd first-and-a-half-person-perspective citizenship. Like them, my flesh didn’t absorb the bullets and my neck didn’t get squeezed free of air, but my soul has nevertheless felt the weight of hopelessness and sorrow.

I can only speak on behalf of those with whom I share this bond, this feeling of disenfranchisement. And for us, the emotion of it all is an important factor. It’s what’s missing for those who coldly deny our right to anger, our right to express outrage. For them, the topic has nothing to do with emotion. It’s a police officer using his standard-issue weapon or training to bring down an aggressive suspect. For these people, the situation is cause and effect. It’s black and white.

It’s black and white for us, too.

As a black member of American society, you feel eyes on you with every moment that you live in public domain. I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be a white face in an American crowd, moving unnoticed amongst a sea of similarity. To walk one city block without feeling like the people walking past, the people driving by, and the people looking out of their windows are looking directly and most specifically at you. I’ve had white friends spend a couple of hours in a nightclub or a part of town that is predominantly black, and express to me how out of place they felt. How they felt like everyone was staring at them. And they’ve told me this without a slightest twinge of irony, and with no insinuation that maybe it felt so weird for them because our roles had reversed. Not once did they manage to observe the greater truth: That this minor inconvenience, this brief moment of uncomfortableness that might have accounted for 0.05% of their day, was the feeling that I had throughout the other 99.95% of it.

For white Americans, a police uniform is a symbol of safety, honor, and protection. When trapped in an uncomfortable situation, whether race-related or not, a white person—I assume—would gravitate toward that uniform, no matter the skin color of the person wearing it. To a white American, a cop’s uniform is a knight’s armor striding towards them.

For black Americans, a police uniform is a symbol of absolutism, oppression, and tyranny. When at peace in a comfortable situation, whether in a black neighborhood or a white one, a black person—there’s no assumption here—will feel a cold chill at sight of that uniform, no matter the skin color of the person wearing it. To a black American, a cop’s uniform is a menacing storm cloud advancing upon us.

So often, in the past several weeks, I’ve seen white men and women argue that this trepidation, this fear of the police is entirely our own fault. Why surely, if you’re not doing anything wrong, if you’re not acting like a “thug,” if you’re not committing a crime, then you have nothing to be afraid of. Until you understand that this line of thinking has no bearing when you’re black in America, you will never understand our fear.

Obeying the law does not guarantee your safety when you’re black in America. Until you’ve been pulled out of car and searched, while your friends—who are all white—sit in that same car, unmolested; until you’ve been stopped on a sidewalk and questioned, for no other reason than you were there; until you’ve been handcuffed and sat on the curb in front of the house you earned with years of blood, sweat and tears because you “look suspicious,” you will never understand our fear.

Tamir Rice was playing with a toy. Eric Garner was standing outside a store (and, though he was allegedly selling loosies, that deed is a misdemeanor that rarely attracts the attention of one patrolman, let alone six). Akai Gurley was walking down a stairwell with his girlfriend. These are not thuggish, menacing acts. Absent of race, these behaviors would barely register a raised eyebrow. Yet each has resulted in a loss of life. These are not hardened criminals taking their lives into their own hands. These are people going about their own business, just as white Americans do every day, without fear of losing everything that the Rice, Garner, Gurley, and Brown families, and countless others like them, have lost.

In these days, these hours, these nights, these lifetimes, we’ve found ourselves tied to the victims’ families by an unfathomable blood bond, one that goes deeper than last names and family trees. We feel one with them and their pain, if only because we know that they understand.

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