Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I followed Robin Williams’ career for thirty-five years. I’ll miss him. I never met Michael Brown, but his loss bothers me more. As they get older, I hope the kids will come to understand why.
I don't think police forces as a whole realize just how difficult they make their own jobs when one of their own pushes the envelope of the law.
Even if by some miracle, it turns out that it was totally ok for the cops in Ferguson to gun down an unarmed black man and leave him to rot in the street for four hours without medical care, the fact remains that there are regular incidents of this type. You gotta make a choice as a parent -- either participate fully in the racism or start explaining to your kids that people do things which they'll find incomprehensible.
Because there is only racism in the South? Or only institutional racism in the South?
There is an unfortunate tendency in the US to blame racism on the South, in an attempt, I suspect, to deflect homegrown racism by painting the South as the other.
It's ridiculous, offensive, and even counter-factual. If you look back 25 years or so, there's only been one riot that took place in the South (St. Petersburg FL in '96, after the shooting of Tyrone Lewis). The Rodney King riots ('92); Cincinnati riots ('01); Benton Harbor MI, riots ('03), Toledo riots ('05), Fontana (CA) riots ('06); Locke (CA) HS riots ('08); Oakland riots ('09); all took place either in the North or in Calif.
So while it may be difficult to explain institutional racism to a white girl generally, I don't think there's any geographical restriction on this.
I am a white male, and I have never felt that the police were hostile forces. They are there to serve and protect. So far, my contacts with policemen have been cordial and respectful, and have been limited to getting a traffic ticket or two. I have never felt that I had to be afraid of policemen.
But an African-American male might view things quite differently. Every African-American boy has to be told by his parents at an early age that the police will probably assume that he is potentially some sort of criminal, and that there are certain things that he should never do. Never run in public, especially with something in your hands. Don’t dress with baggy pants with the belt down at your hips, lest people think that you are some sort of street thug. Be careful when you are around white women. If you are driving and are stopped by the cops, make sure you keep your hands in plain sight on the wheel, and always say “Yes sir, no sir” when confronted. When you go into a store, people will think you are a potential shoplifter and store security will follow you around. Make sure you never leave your home without proper identification—you may be stopped by a cop simply because you somehow look suspicious to them. All too often, you will be hassled by the cops simply for walking down the street, minding your own business, or simply for sitting on the stoops of your own apartment building. If you are hanging out on the street corner with your friends, the cops will probably assume that something illegal just has to be going on—perhaps a drug deal is going down or gang recruitment is taking place, and the cops will order you to move along or be arrested. In school, you could be busted by the cops for the most trivial of offenses. Just walking or driving while black can get you into trouble.
Worst case scenario, the cop intentionally gunned him down because he was black and they figure the world is better off without him because of that. That is a real possibility, and you should mention it. Because the world doesn't always make sense.
I have to go 50/50 on what ArtMathProf said. I appear to be from a similar era, and there were places where long haired white college students were assumed to be dangerous subversives. The big difference is that they didn't consider it normal to aim automatic weapons at protesters back in my day.
On the other hand, the risk of being black in suburbia is real. I know of at least one instance where a 30-something guy was out jogging in his upper-middle neighborhood and had quite a problem with the cops because he had no ID on him. He was guilty of jogging while black. The police force has, reportedly, wised up a bit in the 15 years since that happened, but there are reasons to be careful no matter what your socio-economic status is if you are black.
Then again, I also know of an instance where a police officer involved in shooting an armed young black man was the target of protests even though he was, himself, black. The community seemed to think that he was no different than the white or hispanic cops.