I didn’t plan to take a week off from the blog recently. In fact, in the nearly five years since I started it, I’d never taken a week off before.
But I had a lot of family in town to celebrate my husband’s birthday (it was a big one). So that consumed a bunch of time. And my kids are off school.
But something else happened as well. I was gripped by sadness following the shootings of two black men by police in as many days.
I knew these things happened (it was only last year that the country had to absorb the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland). But I naively hoped that those deaths would cause institutional changes. That they would not be in vain because real changes would occur to make sure such horrors would never happen again.
As a lawyer and former appellate prosecutor, I care a great deal about justice. I know about our country’s history of racism, but I get seduced into thinking those days are behind us (or mostly so).
But the increased presence of camera phones and police work on tape has brought into harsh relief the fact that white people and black people, rich people and poor people are too often treated quite differently by those charged with protecting our citizenry.
And, of course, police are not trained in a vacuum. They are raised in the same culture as the rest of us. They are subject to the same media presentations of different groups of people. As a white woman, I am the beneficiary of many of these stereotypes. I can’t remember the last time I was stopped by police (and that’s not to say I’ve never sped or broken other traffic laws during that time). To hear that Philando Castile, the victim of an officer’s bullet in Minnesota during a traffic stop for a broken tail light, had been stopped at least 46 times in 13 years stopped me in my tracks. Of all those stops, only six of them were for things police officers would notice from outside a car. What justified these stops? And what justifies the differences in treatment we’ve received?
One thing: stereotypes.
To then learn of the caliber of individual Castile was, the lives he affected as a cafeteria worker at the J.J. Hill Montessori school (where he learned the names and remembered the allergies of all 500 students), made the unfairness of his treatment all the more gut wrenching.
To learn, following these shootings, that police officers have been targeted and killed made my stomach drop further, because, of course, violence is never the answer. And targeting police with violence won’t help the situation in the least. In fact, it may only increase officers’ fear and then lead to harsher treatment and more mistrust between police officers and citizens.
After sitting with these words on my computer for a few weeks, as I tried to make sense of it all, or think of profound words to help bring about some kind of change, I woke up this morning to see that another black man, Charles Kinsey, had been shot by police, this time as he lay on the ground next to an autistic man he was attempting to help return to the group home where Kinsey works.
My heart hurts, and I am praying that our country is able to find a way forward that acknowledges the value of all lives in this country. That we find a way to eradicate the racism and classism that are deeply ingrained in our country’s history.
This can’t continue. Black lives matter. Yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are equally in danger. As a white woman, I do not worry that I will be unfairly targeted as a danger by police. I do not worry that my children or husband will be the victims of police violence. This video helps break down exactly what the issues are and is a great primer on the facts.
No one should have to bear these worries. We must do better.
I have been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how I can make a difference. So far, I have not come up with anything profound, although I have decided that I want to make my support of the Black Lives Matter movement more vocal. I also want to look for ways to open my mind and to find ways to be supportive of people in my community, regardless of their background or what I might perceive as differences between us.
We are truly all in this life together. And we’re going to go down together if we do not find a better way.
Photo by Julia Noni for Teen Vogue