Addressing violence still matters
F our years ago, I wrote a column about the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Sterling and Castile were killed by cops one day apart, one on the sidewalk and the other in his car. Both men complied with police officers but were killed anyway. If you remember, both men were black.
In the column, I asked why black men, women and children are so frequently killed by police officers for offenses that donít warrant death, or sometimes arenít offenses at all. I was nervous to share the column, especially in such a rural area just a county away from glorified Klu Klux Klan billboards.
And I was right to feel that way. Less than a day after the column ran in print, I received a call from a local law enforcement officer asking for a moment of my time. The officer then informed me that I donít know what itís like to be a cop and I shouldnít write a critical word about law enforcement until Iíve stepped into their shoes. Thereís always more to the story, the officer said, even if an entire event is captured on camera. The officer said that civilians donít have a clue what happens before the camera starts rolling and asked me why I hate cops so much.
To be completely honest, that phone call shook me up. I know it is not a black personís job to educate a white person on race ó thatís one of the major reasons I spoke up. But after receiving that phone call, I realized it was the first of many if I kept talking about white privilege and holding police officers accountable for racially motivated murders. Regrettably, I stopped talking about it. That one phone call was enough to shame me silent.
Today, I refuse to be silent. I refuse to believe that these murders are all coincidences. I refuse to equate rioters and murderers who hide behind their badge. They are not the same and one is definitely worse than the other. As many of you know, the recent riots are a response to the murder of George Floyd. Bystanders recorded a video of cops holding Floyd down, with one cop placing his knee on Floydís neck. When bystanders tried to step in, they were threatened by the police. Floyd clearly complied with the officers, but that wasnít enough. He died on the concrete saying his stomach hurt, his neck hurt Ö everything hurt.
In a way, it feels like four years havenít passed by at all. Floyd is another black victim of a white police officer on a power trip. We have heard this story before. We have seen the protests and riots for as long as I can remember. This week, Iím wondering when we are going to start taking action to prevent this horrific cycle from happening again and again. The first step toward that is self-reflection for white people like me. We have got to learn that there are certain things we canít say or do, and there are other things we absolutely should be doing.
First of all, white people should never say the n-word ó not as a joke, not in passing, not while singing a song. It is never OK. If you are guilty of this, I challenge you to look inward and ask yourself why you need to say that word so much. If it is truly just a word, then it should be easy to stop saying it. I bet youíll find itís much more than a word, though. That word carries more weight than most any other word in America.
Thatís a tough step for many white people, but itís only the start. Once you understand what you cannot say, I hope you consider the things you should say. You should be speaking out against the racially motivated murder of black people. You should share this newfound knowledge with other white people who need to hear it. I am never afraid to be reminded of my privilege, and you should surround yourself with people who feel the same way if you want to support people of color.
You should keep speaking up, even when someone makes you feel like you shouldnít. Thatís when itís most important to say something. I hope you can learn from my mistake and say the right thing in the face of adversity. These are difficult conversations to have, but we will be stuck in a cycle of death and anger if something doesnít change.
Letís change it. Letís start today.