Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I'm trying to gather my thoughts. I just watched a murder.

But please don't think I'm in shock. I'm neither shaken up nor am I confused. And I'm much too numb to be horrified—that one might say the most.

The video was footage from the body camera of a University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing, as he shot an unarmed black civilian, Sam DuBose, in the head. At point blank range. You may have heard of the case. Then again you may not have; these things have a way of eluding some people's radars. Blissful ignorance will always have an appeal.

But, being black, I don’t have the luxury of ignorance. So instead, I’m trying to gather my thoughts.

I want to point to the blatancy of Tensing’s act. Here is a law enforcement officer plainly ignoring standard written procedure; procedure that’s taught and drilled into police officers around the country every day. Procedure that far too many police officers choose to forgo when the face they encounter is African American. But pointing out the obvious inevitably feels empty, especially when we’ve seen it all before.

Over the past 354 days since Michael Brown’s murder at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO we’ve seen what seems like 354 unarmed, presumably innocent black men and women die at the hands of police officers across the country. An endless, devastating crawl of hashtagged names have crossed social media timelines. Tamir Rice. Akai Gurley. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Trayvon Martin.

It’s not even the first time we’ve seen an act of brazen murder on video. The chokehold that suffocated Eric Garner and the gunshots to the back that felled Walter Scott were replayed on endless loops by news programs. Rice’s murder should have trumped all in the world of infotainment, as surveillance cameras focused directly on the scene captured a Cleveland police officer, without warning or cause, firing bullets into a 12-year-old boy who was playing in a park. What more can be said, what more naiveté can be clenched onto when the brutal murder of a child is videotaped, watched, replayed, digested, and forgotten by the mass populace?

I remember being horrified when Rice’s story broke, and the video was released. Eight months and one week later, I’m numb.

I have the strange, at times surreal perspective of being half white. The majority of people who surround me on a daily basis, both professionally and personally, are white. Most are open-minded, understanding, and sympathetic. Some are even outraged. But not all of them. And that’s when this entire dynamic gets awkward. Because that’s when I have to engage in, oversee, or willfully ignore the conversations. The latter doesn’t happen all that often, because I don’t have the luxury of ignorance.

I have one friend, a white male under 30, who met the Baltimore protests over Freddie Gray’s murder with an unyielding refrain of, “You have to respect the police.” No amount of reasoning would move him from this point.

No sensible black man, woman, or child doesn’t know and practice this. The irony is we often have no choice but to practice this. Fear of what would happen, if the mere impression of disrespect was even inferred, keeps us heel-toeing with sweat on our brows the second a police officer pulls us over. But it doesn’t work. Sam DuBose was anything but disrespectful. I dare you to even say he was confrontational. And yet he lost his life.

What’s more, for every case of a docile, respectful black citizen being killed by someone in a police uniform, there are five cases of belligerent, threatening white people unflinchingly attacking police officers and living to make bail.

The flaw in the “You have to respect the police” philosophy is that it’s predicated on a fairytale. It relies on the gullible belief that the police are always, and without exception, offering respect in return. But there are exceptions—thousands of them. And if you’re a person of color, you have to treat those exceptions as the rule.

I have respect for the police. But I also have rights as a human being. And while my friend can rely on his rights being recognized whether he is or isn’t being respectful, I cannot. Instead I have to deal with an armed individual who may very well let his or her thoroughly-uninformed expectations of who I am override the training that he or she has received, and the respect that he or she should instinctively maintain.

I’m not in shock. I’m afraid.

I’m afraid I’ll be Sam DuBose. Or Freddie Gray. Or one of the hundreds of other innocent black men and women murdered by police officers. I’m afraid one or more of my friends will die in a jail cell when all he or she did was change lanes without signaling. I’m even more afraid that a member of my family will suffer that fate. I’m afraid I’ll experience both the joy of having children, and the unimaginable sorrow of someday watching video of a police officer shooting them dead on a playground without provocation or thought. I’m afraid those who defend the police officers will never come to understand why I’m afraid. I’m afraid it’s never going to change.

I don’t have the luxury of not being afraid.

No comments: