Then the officer told us our left front headlight was out. He gave us a written warning and told us to get it fixed – and we were on our way.
I try to imagine what it would be like to be Driving While Black, but I really can’t. I try to imagine what it would be like to Cross the Street While Black, or Go to School While Black, or Do Anything While Black. I try to imagine what it would be like to have a black child, and – just like a cop who puts on his uniform to go to work and never knows if he’ll return home that day – never know if he or she will return from school, or the playground, or the store.
We don’t talk nearly enough about the hidden injuries of violence, especially for children. Now everyone’s talking about the four-year-old daughter of Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, who witnessed his killing and then tried to comfort her mom. An article in The New York Times this week revisited many of the infamous police shootings of the past couple of years to highlight the impact on child survivors – and it’s heart-breaking and enraging, and you realize these wounds may never heal. One thing the New Haven Police Department has done right for the past two decades is partner with the Yale Child Study Center to provide counseling and support to children who witness violence.
I was at the protests last week in Hartford and New Haven organized by Black Lives Matter and other groups. Some of the white people there were members of SURJ – Showing Up for Racial Justice. One UCC minister told me, “When our African American brothers and sisters call on us, we show up.” Another member of SURJ said white people need to stand up and speak to other white people about systemic racism.
I think that’s right, but it’s often much harder for white people to discuss racism with other white people – with all the baggage of shame and guilt that get in the way – than to show solidarity with people of color. But true solidarity means taking on the hard work of unlearning and undoing racism.
At the Hartford rally, a young African American woman was crying as the group rallied outside police headquarters. When I asked if she would talk to me, she said, “Why don't they care about us? Why can't we live? I'm afraid to have kids...they can't grow up like this.”
In all my years of reporting, I think this might be the most poignant statement I’ve ever heard. I won’t forget it.
Since the horrific murders of the five police officers in Dallas, Trump and many others are blaming Black Lives Matter. This makes no sense to me, since, while it is an in-your-face kind of group, its tactics have been expressly non-violent. (BLM leaders can’t be responsible for those who act violently in street protests.) A petition to the White House that it be declared a terrorist organization has garnered over 100,000 signatures, which means the White House must respond to it within 60 days.
What’s next? More talking, more petitions, more demonstrations?
I read a very surprising article in The New York Times today about a recent paper on racial disparities (or not) in policing. The paper acknowledged that people of color get pulled over by police more often than white people, but said once they’re pulled over, police shootings of blacks are not more common than of whites, and that in some cities it’s the opposite. (It said the data came from police reports, which might not be reliable, but then, inexplicably, it added that the results turned out about the same whether or not those reports were used.) It did show, however, that use of non-lethal force by cops – including pushing, handcuffing without arrest, drawing their weapon and others – is much higher when directed toward African Americans than whites.
An article in Yes! magazine outlined several “proven” ways to better train police and sensitize them around racism. I don’t know how well they really work. A woman at the Hartford rally held a sign that read, “If you’re a racist, don’t become a cop.” Good advice.