I stifled the urge to write after the last instance occurred in which I felt such heartache at the sting of injustice in our nation. In the back of my mind I knew I would soon enough see another window of opportunity where my feelings would still be relevant. I knew it would not be before long that I felt the need to express the same feelings, to speak against the same injustices that stem from the same spirit of racism, oppression and discrimination.
A few weeks ago a friend was meeting me in front of my house in north Minneapolis. My friend is a young, black male, whom I have known since he could be considered a child and have watched him grow into an exceptional person and leader. This particular day we were on our way to a football game to support the high schoolers that we work with. As he was driving down my block and past my house, I noticed a police vehicle pursuing him. He turned around to park at the end of the block, the cop car pulled around too, and seemingly right as they pulled over with police lights flashing, two officers got out and approached my friend’s car. The aggression with which they moved was all too familiar to me. Sitting in my car watching all this, I had an immediate decision to make. I could either sit in my vehicle in fear, or drive down the block and make my presence known to the officers in hopes that I could help clear up the situation. I decided to drive down the block. As I pulled up I could see my friend’s hands outside of the driver’s side window (as he was most likely prompted to do) and two officers were approaching him, one officer already had a firearm drawn. Thinking that the only explanation for this interaction with the police for my friend could be a mistaken identity, I pulled up and rolled my window down and inquired as to what the problem was. I was prompted to wait, so at this point all I could do was get out of my car and stand in the street and be a witness to what was happening.
Now you’re probably wondering what was going through my mind at this point (because I KNOW you can’t possibly believe this was a normal traffic stop):
- My friend had complied and followed every instruction given to him by the officers up to this point.
- BUT we have seen situations where men of color were killed by police for less in our community and around the nation recently (not to mention the history of black death at the hands of police).
- My friend’s life could be in jeopardy at this very moment, not based on his actions, but solely based on the degree of which these officers may fear him.
The tension in the moments between when my friend was pulled over, and when the two officers pulled him out of the car and handcuffed him were some of the most terrifying moments I have ever witnessed. Now imagine those moments as if you were in my friend’s shoes– being mistaken for someone else, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine not ever having the benefit of the doubt. Imagine that it’s always the wrong place, the wrong time to be black and have an interaction with the police.
My point in sharing this story is to put a face to a feeling. After this incident, we both rode in silence, and the few words he could muster up were simply “That could have easily gone the other way.” In agreement I could only nod my head and fight against tears that wanted to stream down at the thought that this is our reality. The current majority of our nation’s population will never know or experience anything like the situation I described, which is not the sad or frustrating part. What’s even more sad and frustrating is that the majority of our nation’s population can continue on with their day-to-day lives completely unaware and unaffected by situations like these.
To be black in America takes bravery; bravery everyday, bravery all day. It takes courage to be an African-American or any person of color in our society. From one moment, in your own neighborhood, having to make a split-second decision on how you can best behave in order to not be considered a threat to authorities– to the next, having to decide how to best respond to someone saying that you are wrong, that it doesn’t take courage to be black in America– it only takes compliance. Imagine raising your voice to speak out against blatant injustice, but time and time again having your voice buried in a sea of “but-what-about..” and “Don’t-all-lives-matter?” Imagine for a moment, that in your frustration and heartache at the mistreatment of people that look like you, you take a stand and go against the grain in order to protest what you believe is wrong. Imagine the only response you get is “I’m sorry that your heart is broken.”
If you are someone who decided to burn a Colin Kaepernick jersey in response to him sitting or kneeling during the national anthem in peaceful protest, I want you to imagine this: in response to how you reacted to seeing a football player’s decision to exercise his right to protest– instead of anyone listening and trying to understand why you did what you did, everything that represents who you are and what you do is in turn burned up, and that’s the end of that. Imagine being rebuked and ridiculed, defamed and abandoned by people who once supported you (even sung your praises!) all because you disrupted the status quo in order to bring attention to an issue that you thought was important, but your feelings were not the popular vote.
Now if you can imagine any of these things, congratulations, you’re a human being capable of empathy and compassion (Go figure, some of the things that Christ calls us to be, for the followers out there). If each of us can face the ugliness of racism and racial injustice in this world, and stop responding to it’s issues with condescending and dismissive statements and actions, then maybe we can begin to address what is really plaguing us.