I have been stopped by the police a number of times in my life. Once, it was because I was actually speeding. Once, I was jaywalking. Once, I made an illegal turn when I was new to town and couldn’t see the “no U-turn” sign in the twilight. Once, it was because somebody didn’t renew the registration or fix a tail light on the car I was driving. A couple of times, to be honest, I did not actually do anything wrong. On one of those occasions, I was legally carrying a concealed firearm on my person at the time and told the officer as much as required by law in that jurisdiction. In not one of those encounters did I ever feel like my life was in danger. I was never asked to step out of the car, never forced onto the hood or to the ground, never put in cuffs, never put into a squad car, never taken to the station. I got a ticket or maybe a warning and went on my way. Obviously, I always made it home safely.
I know and care about far too many people, though, for whom every one of those incidents would have been understandably terrifying. People who drive by the book but have been stopped far more often than I. They were stopped for entering a college campus where some officer thought they didn’t belong or for leaving it, for being in too nice a car, for being in too ugly a car, for dressing too well, for dressing too casually, for driving too slow, for driving too fast, but really, if we’re honest, for “driving while black.” And in many of those incidents, it was far from clear that all would end well. After all, so many such incidents don’t.
There are many good things about the history of the United States of America, things we should celebrate. How this country has treated and thought about people who are not “white,” however, is not one of those good things. That has always been and remains to this day a story of horrific evil, with shockingly few moments of partial redemption.
You say we have made progress? That’s true, but from what starting point? You say we have to “move on” or “give it a rest?” I doubt very much that you would feel the same if you, your parents, or your children regularly felt fear for their lives and freedom based solely on skin color. No, it’s not the 1760s, 1860s, or 1960s. That’s not the point. The point is that injustice still abounds. If you overlook injustice on the grounds that “things used to be worse,” all you’re really saying is that a particular level of injustice is okay by you.
I can’t always speak to current events. Being an attorney (or at least, trying to be an ethical one) means that I have to be very careful what I say, especially about particular cases. But I can say this.
It’s never necessary for four able-bodied men to choke to death a man who is laying on the ground in handcuffs.
It’s never reasonable for anyone, including the police, to deploy deadly force just to respond to an alleged forgery in progress or an alleged instance of public intoxication.
There really are differences in how people are treated by law enforcement and the justice system based on skin color. There just are. There are countless men and women of all races who serve honorably in law enforcement and in our entire legal system. Yet the fact remains that it is much safer for me to encounter law enforcement than it would be if I simply had a different color skin. Why is that?
We all need to speak up.
We all need to care.
Those of us who haven’t been on the receiving end of injustice all need to start listening. You may not agree with literally everything another person says, but if you actually care you will listen.
And then, if you really care, you will do something.
God, have mercy on us.
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