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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Do you know all these names?

Facebook is a tricky place. For the longest time, I tried to keep my posts happy and lighthearted with pictures of the kids and nice things. And most of the time, I try to stick to that. But with so much going on around us, sometimes I do want to use social media to support a cause or highlight an issue.

So yesterday, after praying all day long for Baltimore. For the peaceful protesters, for the police, for the rioters, for the innocent bystanders... I posted this:

I join with all those who voice sadness and anger over the riots in Baltimore. But I also wish that we would raise those same voices when we hear about yet another Black man mistreated or killed by police. Riots are not the answer, clearly. But it is beyond time for us to listen. The vast majority who protested in Baltimore were there in peace... I pray their voices aren't drowned out. Praying for Baltimore. Praying for peace. Praying for all of us.

I actually thought very hard about my wording. I am not anti-police. I know some wonderful police officers and their families and I keep thinking about how scary it must be to be a police officer or the spouse of a police officer in Baltimore right now. They are very much in my prayers.

Of course riots are not the answer. Violence detracts from the issue.  It appears that it was three gangs (NOT the protesters) that were doing all of the rioting in Baltimore.  What I was seeing on my Facebook feed were comments about the riots - how senseless they are, how it made people angry, how they were sad and worried for Baltimore. And I agree with them. I join my voice with theirs.

But what I hope for is this: that we would also acknowledge how senseless it is when another Black man has been killed by the police, how it makes us angry, how it makes us sad and worried for the Black community and for the Black males in our lives.  And then again when the officer isn't held responsible for his actions - how it makes us angry to see justice not served, how it makes us sad and worried for our community at large.  It hurts my heart that I don't hear that as readily when those incidents happen. We need to realize that the riots are about kids feeling like the system has failed them, people feeling as if they have no options.

And it occurs to me that many people don't know when it happens. I think one definition of White Privilege is the ability to live your every day life and not have to know about all this stuff. I didn't realize I had that White Privilege until I lost it: I am the mother of a Black son. He's going to grow up to be a Black man. To some people, he will look like a "Scary Black Man." Especially at night, especially if he's dressed a certain way.  My sweet sweet baby boy WILL be a threat to someone because of the color of his skin.

So in case you aren't sure about all that's been going on. Or maybe you think it's just a few isolated incidents. I want to highlight a few.

Trayvon Martin - February 2012. We all know his story, I think. He was 17. He wasn't killed by police but it was unsettling to me that the man who killed him was not held accountable for his actions. And in addition, the way the whole thing was handled in the media was just awful: unfavorable pictures and tweets of his were widely circulated, taken from his FB and Twitter. But also from his FB and Twitter that were NOT shared were pictures of him on his birthday with his parent, and messages and tweets about SATs and studying.

Jonathan Ferrell - September 2013. He was 24. This young man was in car accident in Charlotte and, shaken, was looking for help. He was shot by police 10 times as he was trying to get help. The police officer was not held responsible.

Eric Garner - July 2014. He was 43. Apparently he had just broken up a fight and police approached him. He had a long history of arrests and some claims of having been abused by police in the past.  There's video in which he proclaims that he isn't doing anything. I don't think police ever told him what they thought he was doing. In the process of restraining and arresting him, he said, "I can't breathe" then went unconscious. No attempts were made to provide CPR or to revive him until after an ambulance arrived. He died. And the police officers involved were not held responsible.

Mike Brown - August 2014. He was 18. It seems as though he did have a scuffle with the police officer while the officer was in his car and then he ran away. For whatever reason, he turned back to the officer and then he was shot several times. He was unarmed at the time.  In Ferguson, though, I think this incident just brought to light a long history of trouble between the police force and Black citizens in Ferguson. There are some really awful statistics showing how the police in Ferguson had been treating Black citizens (read more here)

John Crawford - August 2015. He was 22.  He was at Walmart, carrying around a pellet gun that he wanted to buy. Someone called police saying he was pointing the gun at people (who later admitted that he hadn't actually seen him point the gun at anyone). He was on the phone with the mother of his children walking through the aisles at Walmart when police shot him inside the store. The officers were not held responsible.

Walter Scott - April 2015. He was 50. He was pulled over for having a broken taillight. We don't know why he ran away, some have speculated it's because he owed child support money. Video shows the police officer not only shooting him in the back as he ran, but planting his taser next to his body and then reporting that Mr. Scott had stolen his taser from him and was trying to use it against him.  He was charged for his actions because a bystander caught him on video. I can't help but think that had no one caught it on video, his lies would have been accepted.

Freddie Gray - April 2015. I'm not sure what he was arrested for. He saw a police officer and ran, so he was pursued & arrested.  He didn't resist arrest. While in police custody, he suffered spinal injuries that would later kill him even though there is nothing in the police record about anything happening. There is something called a "rough ride" that police have used to intentionally harm the person they have arrested - this was admitted by a police union attorney.  At one point, Mr. Gray asked for medical attention. He was never given any. And he died.

Some of these men were totally innocent, having committed zero crimes. Some of them did commit crimes, like running from police, resisting arrest, stealing.  Some had criminal records and were known by police.  But at the end of the day, what they did did not deserve death. We don't give the death penalty for stealing, for running away, for long criminal histories. All of them were Black, all of them were unarmed. That worries me.

Something is wrong that this keeps happening. We need to acknowledge it. We really do. Admitting that there is a problem doesn't meant that you no longer support the police. In fact, if we want to support our police, we need to help make their actions better. It will be safer for them as well.

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