Over the years, as I’ve been involved in various clubs, churches, and other groups, periodically something odd would happen. All of a sudden, I was no longer greeted with interest. I’d volunteer and no one would take me up on the offer. In a couple cases, I got dis-invited to some event or other. I suspect the people involved weren’t trying to be mean. I suspect they thought they were saving my feelings. And the first few times, I even bought it.
There was always a Good Reason for this rejection – just not the real one. The real reason was that I made somebody uncomfortable somehow. But the excuses I heard. Someone once said that I used too many big words. And the end result was always the same: I felt hurt and as if I was being marginalized -which, in fact, I was. These people were behaving badly and justifying it by having a Good Reason.
What got me thinking about this was something that happened to my friend and neighbor Roni last week. She woke up one morning and there was a SWAT team in her backyard. I’m not sure exactly how it all happened, but the officers had a warrant to search for some stolen computers on the premises. They didn’t find them, but still impounded my friend’s iPad until she could prove she owned it. At least she wasn’t arrested. Roni, by the way, is a hairdresser and this happened at her mother’s house. Her mother is a retired elementary school music teacher.
A SWAT team to recover some stolen goods? Yeah, that seemed more than a little heavy-handed to me, too. Roni’s Facebook feed lit up with that very sentiment. Although, the interesting thing was that few of Roni’s friends seemed surprised. Oh, wait. I forgot to add one critical detail. Roni and her mom are Black and we all live in the same mixed-race neighborhood, where we Whites are the minority.
I’m reasonably certain they wouldn’t have sent the SWAT team to recover some stolen goods in my old, White neighborhood. I know they didn’t several years ago, when someone had a warrant served on him. They sent out a couple detectives and maybe a squad car. And that wasn’t the only time cops were called out for various and sundry crimes, including drug sales and use.
It’s a different story in my current neighborhood – where traffic stops routinely result in the drivers in cuffs sitting on the sidewalk. Where a hair-dresser gets guns pointed at her and her iPad impounded. Oh, yes, there’s a Good Reason for the way these things are handled, but I find it very hard to believe that it’s the real reason. The real reason is that the people involved are Blacks and Hispanics. But in each individual case of this kind of injustice, someone is hiding behind a really Good Reason.
Now, I get that my experiences with a bunch of rampaging neurotics are a far cry from the very real harm of racism. But it’s the same behavior that perpetuates that same racism. People don’t want me around, but they don’t want to be mean, so they come up with a Good Reason for getting rid of me. We don’t want to be racist, so we assume police officers have a Good Reason for harassing innocent people, for kicking the bejeebers of perhaps not-so-innocent drunk drivers, for shooting or otherwise killing unarmed Black males. But the end result is the same – Black men are 19 times more likely to be killed by cops than White men. And that’s not even counting all the harassment and the SWAT teams being sent out needlessly. When we justify the inexcusable because there’s a Good Reason, we’re participating in that same injustice.
I’m not advocating that we assume the worst of all cops – that’s just as unjust. We just have to look at the results, and in this case, there’s a whole lot of injustice going on.
Maybe if more of us faced up to the reality that law enforcement treats people of color far differently than they do White people, maybe if more of us said this is bullshit, then maybe we could expect and demand law enforcement that treats all people fairly. Because when the end result is the same, there is never a Good Reason.