Are We Uncomfortable?

George Floyd. Dead, after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt upon his neck for over 8 minutes. Two minutes and fifty-three seconds of that total came after Floyd was “non-responsive” and a pulse could not be detected. Dead. Murdered by a policeman looking straight into the cell-phone camera of the brave, seventeen year old girl who insisted on witnessing for the world.

The protests came. Then clashes with police. And “looting.” And I posted a link to this editorial:

It did not take an hour before I was contacted privately on Facebook by a woman married to a police officer:

But the headline- police keep killing black men is not fair either it basically is saying that’s all all [sic] police do.

My bingo card began to fill. I already had “But Not All Cops,” and “Yeah murder’s bad, but what about how I’m going to be affected?”

I commented on the following meme on another Facebook friend’s page, a woman who I later learned has a son in law who is a police officer:

Congratulations Now the innocent police officer… is scared for his life because of the actions of someone else.”

My first friend, married to the policeman, echoed this concern:

“But now I must fear for my husbands life, my life because of this.”

My reply to her could be a reply to both women, and to a huge percentage of suddenly concerned white family members of police officers:

I hear your pain and fear. It is completely legitimate and reasonable. And I have to tell you from the get-go I do not have a total/final/right answer for resolving your pain, or working our nation out of this mess. I do want to plant two seeds of thought:

1. I have to take issue with the argument that my position (or the headline) implies “that’s all all police do.” That argument is advanced to defuse/weaken the discussion of the point on the table — another black man was murdered by a police officer — one apparently with 18 formal complaints against him, and two previous excessive-force deaths to his credit.

The bad cops are bad, and the system is rigged in a way that lets bad cops get away with very bad things. It’s a similar line of response that comes up when I (or anyone) criticizes the Catholic Church for its handling of pedophile priests. “Oh, so you’re saying all priests are bad? You hate Catholics?” No. That is diversion/deflection from facing the systematic protection and coverup of bad priests. I ask you to consider how these situations are alike, and avoid using that deflection.

No one (sane) is saying all cops are bad. Unless we say silent complicity is bad? Then all police who stay silent to protect bad peers, themselves, their job, etc. have made the willful decision to trade their comfort for the lives of citizens they swore to protect.

2. The more important of my two points is this: your feeling of fear for your husband, that he might receive horrible treatment for being part of a group (police) even though he is a GOOD man, should be awakening immense empathy for exactly what black people go through every day of their lives.

We become conveniently distraught over such discrimination and its unjust fallout on “good” police (when it affects us), but we forget (or ignore) how such danger looms over the life of “good” black Americans Every. Single. Day.

Or women. Men take for granted a lot of freedoms and “poo-pooh” women’s concerns, finding it hard to empathize until the day a man gets raped… In other words, it IS unjust that your husband will face danger and discrimination just because a percentage of shitty humans wear the same uniform as he. Now, I know this is hard, substitute “uniform” to “skin color” (but remember, your husband can take off his uniform!)

Welcome to the fear and suffering of Black America every, single, day. That they must walk vigilantly and try to project comfort, and non-threatening countenances, just so they won’t get pulled over, arrested, or killed for the “crime” of “fitting the description.” Now you share the black mother’s pain, as she watches her teenage son walk out the door, wondering if THIS is the day he doesn’t come back because someone viewed him as a threat.

It’s not right for ANYONE. And we need to fight against it ALL the time, not just when it becomes a threat to our families. It sucks to be uncomfortable, yes? Bathe in it. Learn from it.

As I said, I don’t have a good answer. There is fear of speaking out in every institution. I know what can happen when people speak up. The powerful beat them back down. Everyone would “rather be a hammer than a nail,” with all due respect to Simon and Garfunkel. That’s another sick aspect in our culture: “Snitches get stitches.” Fear of reprisal, of losing income, of losing status or future opportunity because you’ve outed yourself as “not a team player” is a real, legitimate part of calculating what you choose to do.

The fact that “doing the right thing” is difficult and dangerous, does not allow us to ignore wrong being done to others, only to get up-in-arms when the wrong is now visited upon us. It’s so comfortable to NOT have to fight injustice until it affects us. I am sorry it is not easy, that you have to take a sip from the fire hose that has been battering minorities 24X7 for generations. By all means, let’s put a stop to that first, and then you’ll look into fixing the killer police, right?

I take a lot of grief, from a lot of different “liberal” friends, over my continued belief that discussion with people like you is CRITICAL to healing the divides we suffer. That said, I truly need my “conservative” friends to start understanding more, the degree to which ignoring problems until they directly affect them is part of the reason the problems recur. The issues exist even if you live in the privilege bubble that says you don’t have to face them most of the time. It is our human nature, and our various indoctrinations and marination in this American cultural stew, that has us so utterly blind to the sources of our pain: Willfully, intentionally hiding and forgetting the realities upon which our comfortable lives are built: war, native American genocide and slavery. The degree to which we pay lip service to noble ideals and “the rule of law” as means to continue the violent subjugation and theft from those we deem “other” and unworthy.

I don’t have an answer, beyond suggesting that willfully ignoring truths and history and our own (i.e. white) less-than-noble behavior through the years is NOT the way out of easing our fears or protecting those we love.

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