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