Today I am going to be talking about race and violence in America, with a particular focus on police violence. Let's begin with two very recent events.
On July 26, a black man, Daniel Hambrick, was shot in the back running away from a white police officer. Not only does the video clearly show the man running away, the police officer stops, calmly plants his feet, and fires. Later in this post we'll get to some stats on police violence in America.
On August 10, many NFL players resume protests during the playing of the national anthem. Some knelt, some raised fists, some simply stayed in the locker room.
That same day, Mr. Trump tweeted the following:
So let's talk about this for a second, in particular the piece - from the person occupying the office of the Presidency of the United States - that players are supposedly "unable to define" what they are protesting.
1,147 people were killed by police in 2017, of which 92% were through use of a gun. Of those killed, half of them were not even accused of having a gun. Only 13 officers were charged for misconduct, with even fewer convicted. There is even a case of an officer being fired for, instead of shooting his gun, trying to de-escalate the situation. His fellow officers came in and shot the person in question. In 2018, 646 people have been killed by police so far. Of those killed, 25% were black, despite being 13% of the population. 30% of black people killed were unarmed. Statistically, black people are 3x more likely to be killed by police than white people.
Let's remember a few names and stories: Philando Castile, 32, shot while reaching for ID. Terence Crutcher, 40, shot with his hands up in the air. His car stalled in the middle of the street. Freddy Gray, 25, who died after being arrested and taken into custody by police. Samuel DuBose, 43, pulled over for a missing license plate and was shot. Charleena Lyles, 30, shot in front of her children after she called the police to report an attempted burgalary. Akai Gurley, 28, shot by police in a stairwell due to an "accidental discharge". Eric Garner, 43, killed by police for selling loose cigarettes. Walter Scott, shot in the back. Tamir Rice, 13, shot holding a BB gun. Sandra Bland, 28, pulled over for failing to use a signal. Found dead in her jail cell three days later. Michael Brown, shot 6 times. Remember Michael Brown and Ferguson? That was in 2014. He, like many others, was unarmed. Most of the police officers involved were not disciplined.
This is not a recent phenomenon. What has happened is the advent of widespread use of video and cameras has brought forward what has long been known - that people of color are disproportionately impacted by state and/or state sanctioned violence. In the late 19th and through much of the 20th century, thousands of black people were lynched across America. 4,000 have been documented, there are of course surely many more.
I would strongly encourage you to read this article about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first museum of its kind to document the history of lynching in this country. The impact on families and communities is deep and runs long - as evidenced by the story about the lynching of Elwood Higgenbotham in 1935. Lest you think this kind of thing has totally gone away, do you remember the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman? (Zimmerman was acquitted). Our very own fellow Americans have been terrorized since the beginnings of this country.
My point in this is we need to come to grips as a country that black people have been and continue to be impacted by systemic harrassment and violence daily. If you don't realize this, you're not paying attention, and my guess is you have not had a candid conversation with a black person, especially a black male. Or maybe, you simply don’t care enough to notice. I know this may sound harsh. Well, my words are nothing compared to what some of our friends and colleagues have had to go through since childhood.
Black youth and men, by the way, continue to be incarcerated at significantly higher rates than whites. I have had multiple friends and colleagues tell me about their experiences with the police - and when I grimace, and attempt to empathize, one of my friends says "well, that's just Tuesday." My friends have told me about terrifying encounters against people of color on the subway in Manhattan - Manhattan! - and other people on the train did not speak out. Or being tackled and thrown against a police cruiser while jogging to the gym.
If you are reading this and you are white - which I am - then I need to ask have you ever had to have a discussion with your child about what you need to do and not do when a cop stops you so you can stay alive? How about having a conversation with your child about navigating the treacherous waters of racial animus in this country, about why people have hostility towards you due to the color of your skin? I have not had to have those conversations. Maybe you haven’t either. But there are lots of people who do. And who must.
Back to the NFL protests for a moment. These are players peacefully using a platform to deliver a message about racial inequality in America. And the outrage over it is telling. If you oppose these peaceful protests, then you need to ask yourself why that is. If a peaceful protest in front of millions of people is not appropriate, then what exactly is appropriate? Somewhere that no one can see people protesting? A violent protest? Please. These protests are not about the flag. They are about justice. But I would be remiss to not note that the Star Spangled Banner - our national anthem - called for the capture and killing of slaves promised freedom by the British in exchange for their assistance in the War of 1812. Did you know that? We don't learn and sing this part of it in school, at least I didn't.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
In addition to conversations, to help begin this journey, I highly recommend engaging with two works - the nonfiction film 13th, available on Netflix. It is a compelling and gripping exploration of the impact of the U.S. justice system on black Americans. Additionally, I also recommend Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad. I've reviewed this book in the past. While it is historical fiction, there are few works that have been able help me understand, if just a little, what it is like to walk in the shoes of a black American as this one does. It's not an easy book, but if I had my way, it would be required reading for all high school students. Of course, I would also read up on major historical figures from the civil rights era, and the power of non violence in accomplishing major legislation in the 1960's, and the violent reaction to peaceful protest. But these two works had a particularly profound impact on me and I recommend them to you.
We are in crisis, and need to speak up now. If you didn't know, this weekend, on August 12, the so-called "Unite the Right" white supremacist group is having a rally in Washington, D.C. This is the same group that marched in Charlottesville last year, killing a woman, Heather Hoyer.
This is a conversation that we need to have not just today, but a continued dialogue with our friends, our family, our elected officials, our colleagues. I personally challenge you to come on this journey of reconciliation with and recognition of our fellow Americans, and speak out against hate wherever it rears its head.
There are three songs I would like to end this post with, and I love them all. The first is “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, as sung by Bebe Winans. “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty, let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea!”
The second is “Just Imagine It” by MKTO. “Somewhere off in outer space, there’s a world no wars, no hate, where all the broken hearts are safe, I don’t know where it is, I just imagine it. Somewhere far off past the stars, where the light shines in the dark, where you can just be who you are, I don’t know where it is, I just imagine it.”
The third is “America the Beautiful”, as sung by Ray Charles. “O beautiful, for heroes proved, in liberating strife, who more than self, their country loved, and have mercy more than light! America, America, may God thy gold refine, till all success be noblest, and every gain divine!“
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "None of us are free until all of us are free."