i can't breathe

“People will not listen unless you are an old, white man, so I’m an old white man and I will use that to help people who need it” – Sir Patrick Stewart

No indictment. Twice in two weeks we have heard those words regarding a police officer killing an unarmed black man. Once in Ferguson, once in Staten Island. No indictment. No indictment.

I am listening to black America. I am reading and trying to learn. I believe you.

I believe you.

Last night, a friend mentioned studies that demonstrate that people consider black boys as young as 10 as less innocent than their non-black peers:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study specifically looked at the perceptions of cops.

I’m the mother of a son and there are boys in and out of my house all the time. They’re 6 and 7 years old and they come from many racial backgrounds. They’re little boys. They drink juice boxes and play Minecraft and wish they could play Quiddich on real flying brooms. In just a few years, the world will start to look at some of them differently and it’s not fair. I care about these kids and I feel a responsibility to them to their parents, to keep them safe in my home and out of it.

As these stories of deaths unpunished have unfolded, I’ve asked myself what I can do. Where is it possible for me to make a change in the relationship of police to the community, especially the black community? In talking about it with friends last night, what I learned is that maybe the best thing I can do is be a witness. I’m a middle aged, middle class, white woman, and that lends me the privilege of credibility. If I take time to stop and watch interactions between police and civilians – not to interfere, just to bear witness – can I be an effective watchdog on behalf of the black community? A friend share this perspective:

I have long been in the habit of Making Myself Obvious when the opportunity to do so has arisen. It’s something tangible that white people (white women/mothers especially) can do, knowing we are unlikely to be attacked ourselves. It’s not Everything, but it’s Something. 

Many, many cops and other law enforcement officers are perfectly decent, but on more than one occasion I have literally watched as a cop begin to regulate his/her tone and posture towards a black/brown person once they realized a Nice White Mommy Lady was watching intently. I don’t even tape because that antagonizes some cops. I just watch.

In addition to watching, I want to get to know my police force. I’ll join mailing lists and like Facebook pages and attend community meetings. I’ll read the crime blotter. When I see cops out and about, I’ll smile and greet them. I’m part of this community and so are they. We can be partners in this.

This is very small, I know. It won’t change the world. But I can’t stand by and do nothing.


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