I was sitting in my classroom shuffling through papers one afternoon as two of my male students sat atop desks recounting their weekend. I was half listening to them, being sure to give a reassuring laugh or nod every minute or so. About ten minutes into the conversation, though, they told a story that stopped me in my tracks. The story went like this:
They were hanging out with friends in their neighborhood when a random police car pulled up. Without hesitation, they ran.
They laughed much harder than they had in the last ten minutes as they imitated the unique running style of each friend that ran with them. I stopped shuffling my papers. Clearly, this story raised some questions in my mind.
Did the police chase after you?
Did they catch you?
Were you even breaking the law?
Nope, just hanging out!
Then why did you run?
That’s just what we do. When you see the cops in our neighborhood, you run.
I wouldn't be a good teacher if I didn't tell them the obvious: Don’t run! It makes you look more suspicious! They respectfully accepted my response, but I could tell that they weren’t convinced. Had a police officer walked through my classroom door right that second, they would have immediately become tense with fear. They were afraid of the police.
Given the recent instances of police brutality that made national news (those of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray), I can’t help but thank God that the police never caught up to them. These two boys weren't perfect (who is?), but they were kids – just 14-year-olds who had witnessed and internalized police brutality throughout their short lives.
My life as a black woman has taught me to respect the police, but proceed with caution. I believe that my gender has helped me to regain a slight advantage in comparison to the disadvantage handed to me by my skin tone when it comes to interactions with the police. I wonder what it must feel like to have a full grown fear of the police – to feel like one encounter gone wrong can end your life. I wonder what it feels like to know that the identity born from your race and your gender is one that instills a fear in others that is powerful enough to convince them to use a lethal weapon “just in case” you are dangerous. This is the plight of the black man. This is the plight of black men like my husband who was pressed to the ground and handcuffed during a routine traffic stop simply because, according to the officer, he was big and black.
Our black men should not have to fear for their lives when they see an officer of the law. My students should not be compelled to run from those who have sworn to protect and serve them. Police brutality affects men and women of all races, but there is no question that black men are the most likely target. My heart hurts when I see and hear people who I thought were friends searching high and low for a reason why the black male victims of police brutality deserved to die. Neither selling loose cigarettes, running away, nor being a 12-year-old kid playing with a bb gun justify murder.
For those of you who insist upon labeling the #blacklivesmatter movement as exclusive of other lives: Yes, all lives DO matter. It’s time for black lives to matter too.
Food for thought:
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