This past Tuesday, an older white colleague of mine walked into my office and asked for my thoughts on the incidents that took place last week. For the first time, I was forced to opine on the matter, and really put my thoughts together. Before I go any further, I wanted to first clarify that at this juncture, no one really knows of the totality of circumstances in both the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile shootings, or the Dallas Police incident. For that reason, my opinion is strictly based on the information that has been disclosed to the media. Based on the information revealed, it does not appear that deadly force was warranted in either the Alton Sterling incident, or the Philando Castile shooting. Secondly, I want to acknowledge that being a law enforcement officer is an extremely difficult job to hold, and that I truly respect and appreciate all those who choose these career paths. With that being said, however, I can’t say that I am one bit surprised, but rather rudely awoken, by the events that took place last week.
It is not proven that either of these police stops were racially motivated, although it appears that race played at least somewhat of a role in each incident. Based on the premise that it played somewhat of a role, the following account applies. As a young black man, I am well aware of the fact that racism and racial stereotyping against my kind is still an issue in this country. While I like to think that we have made a lot of progress in that regard, there is still a lot of work to be done. It is no secret that blacks are considered by many to be more of a threat to society, than our white counterparts. It is also no secret that higher ratios of blacks are more likely to be involved in a life of crime. Nevertheless, the stereotypes that some close-minded people have of blacks are simply inaccurate. I am a living example of this fact.
As a 24 year old black male in this country, I like to think that I have done a pretty good job of defying the odds against black men. I graduated college with a 3.7 cumulative GPA, work a full time job as a settlement agent, and go to law school at night, on a merit based scholarship. On paper, it is fair to say that I am doing very well for myself; but on the surface, one could never guess. When I am not dressed up in a suit for work, I like to wear skinny jeans, foamposites, low brim hats and earrings. I listen to loud “trap music” with my windows down, drink Henny on the rocks when I go out, and watch funny vines of black comedy. Based on my appearance outside of the professional setting and my conduct in my personal life, no one would be able to foresee my academic and/or professional accomplishments.
Now, I am not here to write a mini-bio on myself; instead I am trying to make a point. The point I am trying to make is that it is completely unfair for us to essentially have a target on our back, simply for looking the way we do. As cliche as it sounds, you can’t judge a book by its cover; and as a black man, it hurts to know that these are still the circumstances that many of us have to live under. While Northern Virginia is a very diverse area to live, and consequently safe for people of our kind, many in other parts of the country aren’t as “privileged” to live under such conditions. The fact that the freedom to live freely as a black man is essentially a “privilege” is baffling. This country has come way too far to have this issue remain prevalent.
As a reaction, many get mad. They may protest, they may fight back, they may be even shoot back. To me, that is not the solution. In my opinion, the best way to put an end to this view of blacks, is by being the change we want to see. First, we have to put ourselves in position to impact public policy. This starts by doing the little things such as voting. By voting, I’m not referring to the presidential elections per se (although that too will help); instead, I am referring to the local elections. Partake in elections that directly impact your community. After all, these people that you elect will ultimately play a role in how your community is shaped, more so than a president will. In addition to voting, we must also aspire to be in position of power. Go to school, get an education, become someone influential, that way you too can have a say in how things are run. Who knows? You could even be put in position of large scale authority.
Secondly, we have to better ourselves. Yes, I believe that some of us black people contribute to the stereotypes out there. A lot of officers look for probable cause for traffic stops, because they hope the stop will lead to more discoveries. Many times, this is in fact the case. We have to put an end to that. We have to conduct ourselves in a better manner, stay away from a life of crime, get respectable jobs, and stop looking for the easy way out. We have to prove the doubters wrong. Interact with people who aren’t of the same upbringing as you, show them that you aren’t half as bad as they may assume.
Lastly, we have to refrain from retaliation. By retaliating, we aren’t helping ourselves, as we are only conducting ourselves in the manner in which some close minded individuals expect us to. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and taking our anger out on those who, as a whole, believe it or not, work tirelessly to protect us all, is not the answer. Not all cops are out to get us, and we shouldn’t conduct ourselves as such. This diminishes the desire for these officers to better serve our community, and quite frankly increases the paranoia that they may already have, making them more susceptible to react to our actions, violently. Not all law enforcement officers are close minded, and to do anything that jeopardizes their safety is a big slap in the face.
In sum, while we do not know of all the circumstances that went into the two police shooting incidents that took place last week, it appears that race may have played a role in both. If that is the case, this should come of as no surprise to anyone; instead it should motivate the blacks in this country to take steps towards being the change that we want to see in society. That is the only way we can turn things around. All things being considered, we cannot let the darkness of the most recent events overcast the overall good work that law enforcement officers do for the nation as a whole. As I previously mentioned, not all cops are crooked. Likewise, not all whites are close minded; in fact, many aren’t. We must not lose sight of these facts. Much like we would like to be judged based on our character, and not the stereotypes formed by the close minded, we too must be open minded and not assume that all whites are out to get us. We’ve got to better ourselves, to eliminate these stereotypes.