I know I’m late with this post but last week was all about my paid writing gigs and the first week of school. Sheer exhaustion! WHEW!!!! I’m still tired.
Last Sunday there was an informative community discussion at Bridgeway Community Church’s Nexus Center about a very touchy subject: race and police relations. In light of the events over the summer with the murders of two unarmed Black men (Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri), select leaders here in Howard County decided that it was time to have a talk about the police and the Black community. Very timely. Very important.
The panel consisted of Rev. Dr. Robert Turner from St. John Baptist Church, Howard County Chief of Police Gary Gardner, a representative from the Maryland State Police (Don’t remember his name but he was African-American and handsome 🙂 ), and a young male student from Howard University (another name I cannot remember but also handsome). Moderated by Dr. David Anderson, pastor of Bridgeway, this discussion brought up a few good issues about how the police perceives African-Americans, how we perceive police, and what we can do to prevent another Ferguson here. I really wished there was one African-American female on the panel. We get profiled too, ya know? Just ask FLOTUS
My take on it: we need to have a Crash moment. Do you remember the movie Crash?
It came out in 2005. It starred Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Lorenz Tate, and a rack of other gifted actors. It surprisingly won an Academy Award in 2006 for Best Picture. I applauded that movie for one good reason: it said what many people are thinking but fear saying out loud. This community discussion kinda got the ball rolling into our Crash moment. We talked about race and police issues from different points of view.
- What’s a police officer to do when he comes up on a scene, tensions are high, and a suspect is threatening to harm them? Not everyone respects authority. No matter what race this person is, the officer has to have control of the situation so he can resolve the issue without having to pull out his service weapon. The chief and the state police rep. brought up a very good point in that sometimes officers have no choice but to use some kind of force to gain control of a scene. And tasers sometimes fail to work. If it were me being attacked and my taser didn’t work, I would shoot your ‘center mass‘ too. And police officers are human. They have opinions that are often based on prior experiences (don’t we all) and some of them may have a hard time putting that aside in the face of danger. In spite of all the training they get, there will still be some unresolved prejudice among any police force. Chief Gardner cannot change the minds of every single officer on the force. He can only expect his team to work in a professional manner and handle the ones who don’t on an individual basis. I wonder how many racial profiling complaints have been filed against Ho Co Police?
- What’s an African-American youth supposed to think about the police and authority in general when they are constantly being “suspected”? I learned at a community meeting last fall at St. John Baptist Church that many parents of African-America students feel that the high schools are keeping their children out of college prep and AP courses. How does that look to a bright child who wants to be challenged? They must think I’m dumb. Teachers in schools seem to be stricter with them than with their White counterparts in regards to getting to class on time, talking in class, and being playful with friends. Their always getting on me and I didn’t even do anything. They hang out with their friends and go to a store where there’s a sign that says only two teens are allowed in the store at a time. They always think somebody’s stealing. When White kids are skateboarding, smoking, being way too loud they’re considered crazy teenagers. When Black kids are doing the same thing (minus the skateboarding) they are called thugs. That’s quite a bit of slammed doors in a young person’s face. They’re kids. Children. Rambunctious adolescents who are going through a lot of hormonal changes while trying to keep good grades, ward off peer pressure and discover what their place will be in the world. It’s not easy being a teen in 2014.
- What are African-Americans in Howard County supposed to think in times when rogue cops are protected by their fellow brothers in blue when they commit comes? Are we supposed to think that it won’t happen here? Yeah right!!! We are less than 20% of the population in Ho Co baby. We’re outnumbered. My best guess is that most of us don’t go around fearing the numbers and just enjoy living here (I know I don’t sweat it). But we would be crazy to think that there isn’t a small fraction of people here who believe that we are nothing more than government-dependent animals. If you don’t believe me, try reading the comments on Patch.com sometime and you’ll see for yourself.
Yes, a “Crash” moment or two would do everybody a world of good. Walking in the other one’s shoes. We need a dose of reality from other people’s point of view. Everyone is capable of being prejudice. It’s not a dirty word. What makes prejudice ugly is the way we react to it. Treating people like crap before you ever get to know them is the dirty part. Creating a “two person at a time” policy at your store because you assume that one race is up to no good is the f-ed up part. Creating unfair rules and policies to essentially control one group of people is the ignorant part. Letting one person slide while punishing another is the screwed up part.
I’ll be honest (cause this is my blog and that’s what I do) when I walk into a room full of White or other race people I get nervous. I fear they will treat me poorly because of my skin color. I have all kinds of thoughts like please don’t talk down to me like I’m stupid, please don’t ignore me or roll your eyes when I speak to you directly, please don’t ask me to speak on behalf of Black people, please don’t ask to touch my hair. I’ll even force myself to smile so I don’t look like the dreaded “angry Black woman”. I shouldn’t have to do that if I don’t feel like smiling but I’m trying to make others feel comfortable. Sadly, I don’t think other races would do things like that to make me feel comfortable but whatever. I recognize my prejudice and fight it every step of the way. It would be nice if others did the same.
I’m grateful that the leaders took advantage of the moment and put race and police relations on center stage. It’s difficult to talk about but the consequences of ignoring it could be very severe. I hope there will be more discussions about it later on and maybe even some workshops for young men and women about the law, their rights, and how to handle bad cops.
Correction: Frank Eastham from Howard County Public Schools was also among the esteemed panel. Sorry about leaving him out.