I am a very logical thinker. Too logical, my husband sometimes tells me. But even in all my logic and left-brained thinking, I can get emotional. I can get angry. I can get sad. I can get discouraged. Especially with topics close to my heart, my passion, my life's work.
As we unravel the ugliness of the past weeks, from Ferguson to Eric Garner, it's easy to get emotional. I sure have. And it's difficult to separate fact from fiction. But the facts are what we must focus on for any real change to take place. The facts are what we must have the courage to discuss with each other. Because it is up to EACH OF US as to what Ferguson's legacy will be.
Here are some of the FACTS I have gleaned over the past weeks:
Fact #1: I don't know enough about the Michael Brown case to place a judgment as to who was right and who was wrong. None of us do.
Fact #2: What I DO know is that America has serious racism and race relations issues -- and, thus, opportunities.
Fact #3: I know that police offers are biased just like anyone else. Just like you and I, in fact. I don't believe that police officers wake up in the morning with the intention of killing black men (or anyone, for that matter), but I do know from personal experience that some officers have images of what black men stand for. And it is not positive.
Let me explain...
35 years ago, shortly after Mike and I started dating, he was living in Mobile, AL. I, in New Orleans at college. While I was back home in Mobile on break, we came back to Mike's apartment and found it had been burglarized. We, of course, called the police.
When the police arrived, Mike and I were standing in front of his apartment complex waiting. Before any words were exchanged, the officer jumped from his vehicle and ordered Mike to raise his hands and turn around. I was shocked. I kept shouting that we were the ones who had called this in. Telling him that Mike hadn't done anything. The officer would not listen. He silently began to frisk Mike has if he were the person who had just robbed the apartment instead of the owner or tenant of the apartment. Soon, he placed Mike's hands behind his back.
He was rude. He was physical. And we were confused.
I continued explaining that we were the ones who had called the police. I don't know what clicked, but finally the officer decided to listen. He then began to ask very direct questions. He took our information. He didn't say he was sorry. He didn't say anything about what would happen next. He just said that these things happened.
We do not know to this day if he filed a report.
What could make a police officer act like that? Fear? Assumptions? Negative perceptions? (To name just a few.) Yes, yes and yes. And all of that translates into bias. A black man in America today has to be taught how to interface with certain types of police officers in order to survive.
Fact #4: I've lost count as to how many times my husband has been stopped in various corporate neighborhoods over the past 25 years because he drives a nice car. Some police officers assume he is in the neighborhood for reasons other than the fact that he is a resident.
Fact #5: As a woman of color, I want to be able to shop in any retail store that I choose and not be followed because a clerk thinks that I am going to steal. Or, better yet, be ignored because she "knows" I can't afford what is in that store. Remember the Oprah incident where the lady told her that she couldn't afford a $40,000 bag that she was looking at?
Fact #6: Not all police officers are bad. Yes, there are most definitely bad ones. Just as there are bad people in every profession. A woman very close to me has been married for 18 years to a police officer in a large metropolitan city. He's a very fine man who is committed to risking his life in order to protect yours and mine.
I wanted to share her words with you to offer another perspective...
Throughout the past two decades, there have been countless scary days. I've watched my husband and his SWAT team members on TV in a gun battle as a helicopter live-broadcasted it on the news. I've listened to stories of what he has seen day-in and day-out, sick to my stomach at the utter evil that lives among us today. Needless to say, the job of a police officer is difficult.
Something that scares and deeply discourages me the most, however, is how quickly my fellow Americans turn on police officers... assuming the worst without knowing or understanding the facts. It is easy to share unsubstantiated social media posts and say hateful things that contribute to the furtherance of divisiveness... all while sitting in the safety and protected comfort of your home. Safety allowed you by the sacrifice of police officers and their families.
Police officers are husbands and fathers, sisters and mothers, brothers and friends. They are human beings. People. From various races and backgrounds. And they deserve the same grace you expect to be given. Don't get me wrong, they're not perfect. But neither are you or I. And there are most definitely bad ones... but those make up a very small percentage of the total.
Here's the thing about the officers I know... people will continue saying hateful things about and to them, but come midnight tonight or 4 tomorrow morning (and the next morning and the next) they'll get up and put in another 12+ hour day risking their lives to protect yours. To protect your children.
That deserves your respect. That deserves a moment's hesitation and consideration before you automatically assume the worst. I've come to know a whole lot of police officers over the past almost 20 years. And most of them deserve your UTMOST respect.
Fact #7: I feel for the family of Michael Brown who, I know, wonder what went wrong.
Fact #8: We should ALL feel sympathy for his family and their loss.
Fact #9: We must ALL think about what we are teaching our children about differences and race relations in America.
Fact #10: "This is not a Ferguson issue. This is an American issue." --President Barack Obama
Fact #11: I want to create a workplace and a society where bias doesn't translate into a loss of potential. We lost Michael Brown's future potential. But the question is this: Do we believe that, as a black male, Michael Brown HAD future potential? Or do we think because he didn't come from a white suburb, or hang with all white kids, or talk "right" that there was no potential there?
When will America find the courage to speak the truth about race in this country? When will we have these conversations? Not because of a Michael Brown scenario but because we want our country to be the best. Because we believe that every person has something to give.
Something productive -- something producing LASTING change -- must come out of all of this horrible. What will WE do with this opportunity? Because Ferguson's legacy is up to US.
Fact #12: It's time.