I was beginning my senior year in college at a predominantly white, Southern Baptist College in Mississippi. I'm not joking when I say that African Americans made up 10% or less of the student population, and most of those were women. When I graduated, there were only two black English majors graduating. This was the situation I found myself in when that verdict came down over 20 years ago. When I went to class, I was often the only black person in the class, so I had to run interference for every single black person in America. Seriously, I don't know every black person. I was yelled at by my boss when I told her I truly didn't care about the verdict. I'll never forget her yelling, "Those were two human lives taken! You should care!" I responded, "Did you care yesterday, when a black lady in Jackson was stabbed to death in front of her apartment complex in front of her children by her ex-husband? Did you?" She didn't respond, she just turned on her heel and left the room in a huff. FYI, I knew the lady who was stabbed to death in Jackson.
I then had to explain why I wanted to see if OJ would be found not guilty. Nah, I didn't believe he was innocent. I still don't. I fully believed he did it, but I truly wanted to see if the system would work for a rich, black man the way it had often worked for rich, white men. Guess what, it did. There I was having to justify and explain the emotions for practically every black person in America to some rather hostile white people. Needless to say, I didn't tarry outside my dorm room at night if I didn't have to.
This racial divide did not begin in America with the election of Barack Obama, it didn't really begin with the OJ verdict, nor did it begin with Ronald Regan's welfare queen. No, folks, it has always been there. OJ verdict and the election of President Obama just brought that simmering racism to the surface.
I say all of that to get to the events that have transpired over the last few days. I woke up Tuesday morning to hear about the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana which is only a 90 minute drive from my hometown. I saw the video, and I was completely disgusted by it. It brought back Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and all of the other African Americans who have been assaulted before our eyes by people who were suppose to protect us.
I'll admit. African Americans have had a tentative relationship with police at best. Most of us would just rather not deal with police officers. I say this as a person who has family members in law enforcement. Most of us go out of our way to avoid coming in contact with police officers. As a young woman, often traveling by myself back and forth between Natchez and Hattiesburg (a three hour drive), my grandmother gave me the following advice. 1) Do not let night time find me on the road. 2) Clip my license, registration, and insurance on the visor above the driver's seat, so I never have to reach for it (I still do this today). 3) Never drive more than 5 miles above the speed limit and always, always signal. 4) IF you are pulled over, do not make eye contact. Say yes, sir/ma'am. Keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times. Agree with whatever, take the ticket, and we will take care of it at home. 5) If you are pulled over at night, put on your caution lights, slow to a crawl, and drive until you are in a well lit area with witnesses. Then, apologize for not pulling over immediately, and follow the rules for number 4. I never drove home or returned to school after sunset.
How many of you have to give that advice to your teenage son or daughter? You see, my grandmother came of age in a Mississippi where police were not your friend. She saw postcards with the remains of African Americans put on display before smiling white people who sometimes wore police uniforms. She was raising children during the time in Mississippi when Emmitt Till was beaten, shot, and discarded in the river like garbage for just looking/whistling at a white woman. She was raising children when Ben Chester White was shot and discarded like an animal. She raised children during a time when three Civil Rights workers were killed and buried in a dam by police officers. She lived during a time where just being black on a sidewalk after sundown could get you killed, and the police would not protect you. I went to college during the 1990s and graduated in 1997, but those fears were passed down to me by her. It is 2016, and I shouldn't be afraid of my friendly, neighborhood police officer, but I am. Because it seems that my rights end the moment those lights flash. I once had an officer that I taught give me a hug while in uniform, and my heart skipped a beat when my eyes landed on his revolver. It shouldn't be this way, but it is.
I do not hate police officers. They run toward danger when many of us run away from it. I understand they have a dangerous job. I'm not anti-police. Even with the fears, I've just explained, I'm not. I do, however, support Black Lives Matter. Now, before you stop reading let me explain why.
- The Black Lives Matter movement is not about upholding criminals as martyrs. It was never that. Some of the names were not criminals. Jonathan Ferrell had a severe car accident. He crawled out of the back window of car and made it to a house to ask for help. The woman thought he was there to rob her and called police. Officers claimed he was acting aggressively. The injured man was then tasered, shot, and killed. One officer was indicted, and later, found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Tamir Rice was a 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun and shot down in front of his sister. No charges were brought against those officers, including the shooter who was not hired by another police department because they felt he wasn't mentally stable enough to be an officer. A person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but some officers are literally jumping the gun, and it is not just happening to black people; it is happening to every type of person, but it just so happens that 25% of the officer involved killings occur with African American victims (who only make up 13% of the population), and many of these officers are never prosecuted for non-justifiable acts.
- "What about the cops who fear for their lives? They should be able to protect themselves! You are supporting these criminals!" I have no doubt about that. They do deserve to protect themselves. By that same token, if a "criminal" has been subdued, they should not have to die. They should not have to die. If you or I, even a stand your ground state, kill a person who is subdued or nor longer posing a threat, and we are going to jail. Yes, we would go to jail. Renisha McBride had a car accident and knocked on the door Theodore Paul Wafer, who told the police that he thought she was breaking in, he feared for his life, and he shot her through the door and killed her. She had no weapon, and there was no evidence of a break-in. Wafer was charged with 2nd degree murder, convicted, and sentenced to 17-32 years in prison. If a police officer committed a crime, they should be held accountable. They should not get a free pass because they are a police officer. They should be held to higher standards than a non-officer. By that same token, a criminal has the right as an American citizen to get their day in court. Officers should not be judge, jury, and executioner. Take Jonathan Ayers, a young, white pastor who was killed by Narcotics agents who mistakenly believed he was a drug dealer. Ayers was actually ministering to a young woman who had previously bought drugs from an undercover cop. It was called a justified kill by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The Black Lives Matters movement is just the title. They are bringing the issue to all of these types of events. It concerns us all. We should respect police officers, but we should not have to fear them.
- "Blue Lives Matter!!!!" Black Lives Matters would not have to exist if the good men and women in blue would stop protecting the bad men and women in blue. Practically every profession is required to report a person who is detrimental to the profession. Why can't you stand up to the bad men/women in blue and tell them to take off the uniform? They don't deserve to be in your ranks. Stop protecting those that kill with no regard for human life.
- Here is the major difference between the criminals who kill cops and the cops who kill people they are suppose to arrest. Most of the criminals who kill cops will be punished. Some are killed in the commission of the crime, like the sniper in Dallas last night. The others will find themselves behind bars posthaste. Yet, many of the officers, even with videotaped evidence of their crimes, never spend a day in prison for their actions. That is not right. This movement is putting names and faces on people who would otherwise disappear without any justice to the back page the next day. A person selling cds, cigarettes, or simply reporting his 2nd amendment right should not receive the death penalty for those actions.
- One final point. Taxpayers are always complaining about the money that they spend for this, that, and the other. Keep in mind, for every one of those officers who are not convicted, most often in an attempt to get justice, the families take it to civil court. Guess who ends up footing the bill-us the taxpayers. We end up paying for this misconduct. For example, Boston spent $36 million in a ten year span (2005-2015), Chicago $521 million (2004-2014), Cleveland $8.2 million (2004-2014), Dallas $6.6 million (2011-2014), Los Angeles $102 million (2002-2011). Seriously, this money could be made to help these communities improve their schools or provide better training for their officers, but instead, it is used to clean up messes that these officers have created.
The Black Lives Movement does not lessen the lives of others. Yes, all lives do matter-citizens and police officers alike. The purpose is the root out the bad cops, so we do not fear the good ones. Last night, started as a peaceful protest. There were even pictures of the protestors and police officers smiling and posing together. That is the way it should be. We should not be afraid of each other. We each want the same thing-to end an encounter with the other with our lives intact.
Until that time, I pray for all of the dedicated men and women in blue who protect us every day. I also pray for those who have lost their lives at the hands of those who do not deserve the uniform. I also pray for those who are using these events to polarize and further drive us apart for their own agendas. I pray for our country. Maybe someday we will live up to the name the United States of America.
Until next time, "I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated."- Malala Yousafzai