Since the Mike Brown tragedy, I've been riddled with grief.
Every few minutes I need to disconnect myself from whatever I'm trying to do and breathe deeply in order to bring myself away from the verge of tears.
All week (white) people have been asking me what's wrong. How do I answer that? It occurred to me that, to them, this situation is unfathomable. How could an officer of the law allegedly shoot a young man who was unarmed seven times? In what world does something like that happen? I understand that, even though my Twitter feed looks like notes from a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee meeting (or sometimes a Black Panther meeting), while their feeds are business as usual. I realized this when a coworker shared Refinery29's coverage of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown with me on Thursday, and asked me if it had anything to do with the rally I was rushing to.
In our world, far too often. The kicker is that we, as minorities, know we are not on a level playing field. We know that if Trayvon Martin had been white, George Zimmerman would almost certainly be behind bars. We know that if Mike Brown had been white while jay-walking in the suburbs, he would have received a tap on the horn, flash of the police car lights, and a wagging finger warning him to use the crosswalk. Instead of seven fatal bullets.
So this got me thinking: do white children have a better way with officers of the law? Did they learn something I didn't growing up black? I decided to ask them.
I polled a number of my white peers with these questions: Did your parents have specific conversations with you about how to act around the police? If so, what did your parents teach you about how to conduct yourself? The answers I got were telling.
"I don't think they ever did, no."
"No. I think it was just understood to be respectful."
"No. No, not at all."
I asked the same question of my black family members and peers.
"Yes, and I will definitely be teaching my children even more."
"Yeah. To do as they say."
"To kiss their ass, basically."
I grew up with a clear idea about police brutality. Watching footage of Civil Rights era marches and the Rodney King incident/Watts Riots was part of my childhood. My parents taught me clearly how to act, speak, carry myself around officers of the law and around white people in authority. It's something we are taught and something ingrained in us due, in part, to the history of brutality against our people.
Why aren't white children taught the same the same thing? Because there's no need. Because police brutality against young, unarmed white men is not a recurring and trending issue. In elementary school, police officers were always depicted as jolly, smiling figures here to keep us safe. As we grow older, that view changes drastically. The police do not make me feel safe. Now, more than ever, I am just as afraid of the LAPD as I am of a potential mugger in an alley. For my white friends, cops are here to cancel the fun. For young black men, they could very well cancel life and escape any sort of punishment. That's an unsettling fact. What has happened makes me constantly sick to my stomach. But if the only thing we achieve is a race-wide awareness of what's been going on for years, that's a start. Step by step, perhaps one day we can teach our black children that the police are here to protect and serve.