One of the scariest stories I ever heard was told to me and several others at a child’s birthday party. Over the ringing bells and music of the indoor rides and video games. Across a background symphony of children laughing, I listened to a police officer brag about taunting a young man as he lay dying in the street.
I don’t remember whose parent he was or even whose birthday we were celebrating. My son was in Kindergarten or first grade at the time and it was the type of party you’re invited to because you are in the same class as the birthday boy or girl. The parents tend to stand around making small talk, holding their coats draped over their crossed arms, and watching to make sure their kid isn’t the one smacking the others.
This particular dad was standing around in a small semi-circle of other parents. I was sitting alone at a table next to them. I don’t remember how the topic came up, because the conversation was banal enough that I wasn’t really paying attention. I want to say it was about particular neighborhoods in the area.
I grew up in one of the most expensive areas to live in the United States of America. It’s also one of the most segregated.
Nobody talks about it though. Not if you actually live there. And are white.
They don’t want to hear words like systemic racism or residential segregation.
They don’t care that we’re told things like, “Oh, you don’t want to live there,” when searching for an apartment. Nobody comes out and says why you don’t want to live there. If you ask the real estate agents, they talk about things like high crime rates and shitty schools.
The reason you, you lily-white white girl don’t want to live there, is unspoken. They forget, though, that I’ve sat at their knees and listened to what they say when they aren’t in public.
I want to say that it was the talk of certain neighborhoods that sparked this dad, this police officer, to tell his story. He started by saying that if we really wanted to fix crime in our area we would blow this one particular town off the face of the map.
That was when my ears perked up.
He went on to tell his listeners of the time he spent working in that town. In particular, he recalled a drug dealer, a young black male, who was set up by another black drug dealer to pick something up at a house. When he arrived, the door opened and he was shot several times. The police arrived to find the house empty and the young black male in the street. Still alive, but bleeding profusely.
This police officer told all the parents listening of how he and the other officers stood over the young man. They did not administer first aid. He admitted to taunting the man, bending over him to ask, “How does that feel?” as he died.
Nobody seemed shocked by his story. Nobody said anything like, “Dude, that sounds like some cold shit to do to a person who is dying.” They just nodded and kept chatting.
I should probably tell you now all the things I left out in the interest of reporting that in as unbiased a fashion as possible.
I left out the word “alleged.”
I wanted to add it several times. As in “alleged drug dealer” and “allegedly set up by another alleged drug dealer.”
But the police officer left out that word as well. Maybe because by leaving the young man to die in the street, he’d become the judge, jury, and executioner. Despite our nation’s constitutional claim of “innocent until proven guilty,” that man’s guilt had been decided on the unforgiving black top of a local street.
I left out the emotion behind the story he told.
Because there was none. The officer never appeared sad. He never acted sorry. He joked. At times, he seemed . . . not gleeful, but as if he were telling a story about his drunk uncle that’s sure to get laughs.
He never used the “N” word. We were in public, after all. He didn’t have to, though. The story was being used as an example of why everybody in that town, a town consisting of a largely (if not entirely) black population, should be, in his words, “wiped off the face of the map.”
I also left out the truth.
Because between his side of the story he told and the dead man’s side of the story which can’t ever be told . . . lies the truth. Something none of us are ever likely to hear.
So I don’t know if what the police officer told is the accurate version of what happened. I don’t know if what he told is just the bragging of a hardened law enforcement officer who is perhaps forever changed at having to watch a young man die at his feet. I don’t know if perhaps he wakes up nights in a cold sweat, haunted by the face of a young man gasping his last breath in a pool of blood. Yes, even if the taunting didn’t really happen, standing around while a young man dies is still some cold shit to do. But I don’t know if maybe there is some type of regulation that prohibited those officers from administering first aid prior to an ambulance arriving. Or if maybe the man was already dead, and the standing around and/or the taunting, if either happened, didn’t matter to his survival anyway.
But I also don’t know if the man was a drug dealer. And if so, why? What drugs did he sell? Was he selling heroin to school kids? Or did he have a bit of a side hustle selling weed to local friends? Does it matter? I don’t know what kind of son he was. What kind of friend he was. If he was a father or not. Or a lover or not. I don’t know if he had dreams of a better place doing something honorable.
There’s a lot I don’t know.
There’s a lot I do know.
I know that I grew up in a white neighborhood. I don’t have to say mostly white. It was white.
The entire time I attended school there, Kindergarten through 12th grade, only two black families lived in the district and attended school with me. The district started a business program in the high school and bussed in children from other area high schools and many of them were black. My neighborhood though?
Remember the #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag that trended for a while? I know all about that first hand.
One evening, I drove into the city with four friends in my car, hopping from bodega to bodega searching for the one that sold weed. Once we found it, my friend came out with a handful of nickel bags. We made it maybe a block away before I was boxed in by two cars. When I came to a stop, we were surrounded.
No guns drawn. Nobody was even touched. The officers had been staking out bodegas in the area. Had followed us from the previous one to this one.
We were asked to get out of the car. I was never searched. Had I been, they would have found the bags I shoved down the front of my pants. My friend admitted he was the one who bought the weed and he was taken in and booked.
A few hours later, we stopped into the local Dunkin Donuts and saw two officers there from the same precinct that arrested our friend. We asked about him and about how we could help get him out. It was the middle of the night so we figured he wouldn’t be arraigned until morning.
The officers shared the following advice:
“You want to know why you got pulled over? You’re white. In that neighborhood? No white people go to that neighborhood unless it’s to buy drugs. If you want to buy weed and be less conspicuous, go to XXXXX. It’s a more mixed neighborhood so you won’t stand out as much.”
Not only did we not get thrown to the ground and shot, not only were we allowed to walk away with the illegal drugs we purchased, we were handed advice on where to buy drugs the next time we needed some.
Jesse Williams, an actor I had never heard of because I don’t watch television, recently gave a speech at the BET awards.A hardcore, passionate speech calling for black people to learn more about from where they came, to fight for a restructuring of how police forces work in the wake of documented violence against blacks, and encouraging the wealthy people in the room with him to use their money to help bring about change rather than waste it on brands.
I can, in no way, do it any justice. You should watch it.
Justin Timberlake tweeted afterwards, a seemingly benign response about all of us being one. He faced a large backlash from Williams’ supporters who pointed out that not only had Timberlake missed the point of Williams’ speech, but he happens to be a white man who makes a living off of music and dance moves largely derived from black culture. He also happens to be a white man who doesn’t publicly discuss or acknowledge that. (As opposed to an artist like Eminem.)
There went my social media channels, blowing up with outcries from white people about “reverse racism.” There’s even now a petition going around calling for Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, to fire Williams. You can google it if you don’t believe me.
I won’t dignify it with a link.
Here’s the thing.
I’m white. I’ve seen and heard other white people say and do racist things. Yes, racism still exists.
Is it better than it was in the past?
I’d like to think so.
Is it gone?
Not by a long shot.
Is there such a thing as reverse racism?
No, and that’s a silly question.
Racism is endemic. It’s systemic. It’s societal. Are there black people who hate white people just because they are white? Sure.
But that’s not racism.
It’s prejudice. But it’s not racism.
“Racism and prejudice aren’t quite the same thing. Racism, rather, is best known as a system in which a racial majority is able to enforce its power and privilege over another race through political, economic and institutional means. Therefore racism can be described as “prejudice plus power,” as the two work together to create the system of inequality.”
Refusing to acknowledge racism is not going to make it go away.
Getting offended every time the black community celebrates black history and/or black culture, is racist.
“Why do they have Black Entertainment Television? If we had a white only channel everyone would be up in arms about it!”
Um, for years every single channel on the television was white only. That’s why.
“What about Black History Month? We don’t have a white history month.”
Have you looked in a history book lately? It’s all white history, all the time. And when you do read of black history, it’s typically about slavery and/or the fight for civil rights.
Can you tell me about a black inventor if I tell you George Washington Carver doesn’t count? Because he’s the only one I was ever taught of during formal schooling. Now, can you name for me some white inventors?
I can list at least a dozen off the top of my head. That’s why.
Why do some white people get so upset when black people celebrate their heritage? Or encourage other black people to take ownership over their culture and be proud?
Where is the societal uproar every time a local Native American tribe holds a powwow? Do white people not care about that because there aren’t as many Native Americans? Does that make them feel less threatened?
My stomach turns when I see people I went to high school with posting garbage that argues against black culture being celebrated. I grew up with them. I know first hand the white privilege with which they were raised. Having moved out of that area, I know that my own children are not getting the caliber of education I and my schoolmates were lucky enough to have received.
Why can’t people admit that their experience is not the only one? We all walk very different paths across this earth. When black people speak of the experiences they’ve had, why can’t white people just acknowledge? Why do so many feel compelled to argue and bristle and fight back?
I’m not knocking police officers. I won’t go so far as to say they have a thankless job. I think most of society is thankful that there are people who sign up to keep us safe. We realize they sign on to witness society at its very worst on an almost daily basis.
I don’t think most cops are racist. Maybe that’s the optimist in me. It’s in my nature to believe the best about someone and always give the benefit of the doubt.
I truly believe that the vast majority of cops just want to do their job, do it well, and have everyone go home safe. Themselves and the public they swore to protect.
Are there racist cops? I’m sure of it.
I’m sure of it because I’m white.
I’m white and I’ve been allowed to hear the conversations that don’t happen in public. The ones that take place in family dining rooms, during backyard barbecues, against the backdrop of kiddie parties. I’ve gone home with my skin cold and my wind swirling around the idea that people still, still, will judge a human being based solely on the pigment of his or her melanin.
The stories and the videos are disturbing.
Even allowing for the argument that the videos may not show the whole story. That the video you watch on the news may not show every single angle of a struggle. Even admitting that the videos typically don’t show the confrontation from start to finish. Even knowing that I can’t possibly understand what the police officer felt in that moment. Fear or confusion or a hot course of adrenalin pounding through his ears and heart. Probably all three and more.
The stories and videos are still disturbing.
What disturbs me just as much are the arguments. The immediate, and swift, rallies of “All Lives Matter” and “Police Lives Matter” and the arguments on social media that police officers are being persecuted by the liberal media.
A lot of white people refuse to admit there is a problem. That some, maybe not all, but some of these incidents have happened because the police officers involved were judging (judge, jury, and executioner) the person stopped by the color of his or her skin.
White people won’t admit to what they hear and learn behind closed doors. It might mean admitting your grandmother, that sweet woman may her soul rest in peace, who taught you how to crochet and bought you a treat at the bakery every Saturday, was a raving racist who yelled at the white people on Wheel of Fortune who were stupid enough to let the n***** win. Or maybe you don’t want to confess to your father, himself in law enforcement, owning a KKK belt buckle he kept tucked away in his armoir and only brought out to show his friends when they stopped by.
I can’t be the only one.
I can’t be the only white person who’s been privy to this kind of closet, subversive racism. I know there are a lot of white people standing up and speaking out and supporting the black community in saying, “This isn’t right. There needs to be change. We still have work to do.”
But not enough of them.
I’m telling you, as a member of the white community, not enough of you are speaking up. Not enough of you are being truthful about the racism you grew up with. The racism your friends spew. I hear it. I’ve been to your parties and your barbecues.
I know you hear it, too.
I won’t stand by and keep your secrets any longer.