Black lives matter.
I should be able to end it there at that period. Instead, I’ve found myself mulling over exactly what I wanted to say because there are a lot of emotions stewing within me, in my community, and across the world.
I was sickened to hear about the murder of George Floyd. Here is yet another story of an innocent man being killed by the gross negligence and outright abuse of a law enforcement officer—a bad apple amidst other apples who stood by and let it happen. I was proud to hear that our protests are being mimicked across the globe. I was astounded at the outrage seen in other countries over what is going on in America. I was warmed to see so many people acknowledge their privilege and try to share whatever insight they could to understanding and spreading information on what is going on.
I was devastated to see more innocent people become victim to violence as the riots have escalated into destructive looting and police force.
Last night, I heard the gunshots that hit someone trying to prevent looters at the corner from breaking into Binny’s. I became anxious and nervous, paranoid that looters – who I do not associate with the protesters – were in my neighborhood. This morning, I saw clips of looters attacking innocent bystanders. I drove by the stores we walk past often in the summer and saw they had been broken into, glass shattered across the sidewalk in an image of not violence but of destruction. I got to work, nervous, wondering if we would close early so we could be home before dark in order to avoid looters. In the past 24 hours I have felt a build up of anxiety and fear due to the looting occurring in my neighborhood.
As I drove home from work and heard about the police heading north and passed a SUV full of cops, I felt safe and secure. I knew that if looters pulled me from my car, police would save me. I knew that if someone broke into my house, the police would come and make me feel secure. I was reassured.
I realize how absolutely privileged I am that for the first time in my life I felt genuinely nervous about my well being doing something as simple as getting home from work.
And I realize how absolutely privileged I am that I am reassured when I see the police.
Because I grew up with a cop for a Dad. Cops have always been in my life as a positive experience—when we’ve faced break ins or been witness to an accident, I’ve always felt respected and listened to by police officers, male and female alike. I have never once doubted that I could trust a police officer. I have never wondered if they would be cruel to me based solely on the color of my skin.
Because I have light skin.
And yes – I am a person of color. I am a mix raced, relatively light skinned, articulate person of color. I’d be lying if I said I’d never felt my color when I’m out in public—from people assuming that I’m on public aid, that as a teenager it was “impressive” that I didn’t end up pregnant, to being followed in stores because I’m a POC, and people assuming I speak languages that I don’t.
I have felt my color when I feel nervous going out into suburbs and rural areas, or even to predominately white towns where I realize I’m the only obvious POC around until, oh look, there’s another POC, so it must be safe for me, too.
I have felt my color when I’ve gone out with white friends and they say “let’s just bring a cup and drink on the way” and I have felt nervous to do so because I am not white, and a Latina drinking in public illegally doesn’t feel as safe as a white person drinking in public illegally.
But realistically, I always knew that even if I’m more likely to get stopped by a cop than my white friends, I will not get shot as a reaction to my skin color.
Because I am not black.
I am upset at the divisiveness I’m seeing, and disappointed in the words of anger, hatred, and ignorance that I see in both those for and against the looting that are occurring alongside the protests. I am upset that innocent people feel unsafe in their neighborhoods.
I am infinitely more upset that this fear and anxiety is the reality that the black community faces not just for the past weekend, but every day. Not because of looters going around to the retail shops. Not because they are worried that they’ll be stuck in a crowd of peaceful protestors for hours.
But because they are afraid to trust the very people who are trained and employed to protect them.
I won’t pretend to know what the right thing to say is or what the right thing to do is.
I will not pretend that I can even begin to know the struggles that the black community faces, despite being in several marginalized groups myself. It isn’t comparable because ultimately, at the end of the day, the people who are supposed to protect me from evildoers in the world do not threaten me based on something as easy to perceive as the color of my skin.
While we have the Coranavirus pandemic to worry about, police violence is an epidemic in America, with police killings significantly higher compared to those than in other western countries, where on average police are killing 3 people per day across our nation. Of those numbers, nearly 25% of those killed are black, despite black people making up only 13% of the population.
I do not believe every police officer is bad—in fact, I believe most police officers are inherently good. They are not held to the same rule of law as the average citizen, which has proven deadly when the power dynamics are so steep and they are protected by the inherent heroism of their job. I do believe this has made it so that murder has and will continue to occur at the hands of those police officers against innocent civilians unless stricter criticism and consequence is diligently enforced. I do believe the justice system favors white people, giving harsher sentences the deeper your color is often for crimes less severe compared to those serving less time for worst crimes simply because they are white.
Not all can brave the protests—but there are other ways to be brave. And one of those ways is by speaking up and using whatever voice you have to whatever small audience sits before you to try and bring a little more understanding about what’s going on. I wrote this not because I can speak on the black experience but because I absolutely recognize that I cannot.
Let us not forget that the majority of protesters out right now are peaceful. Let us not forget that police officers are joining them. Let us also not forget what history has proven about the fundamental power of unrest to bring change.
Be kind to one another.
Stand up with one another.
“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” – Gandalf, LOTR
Black lives matter.