Recently, a close friend posted the following:
“There’s a cop that goes to the same comic shop I go to. Saw him there today. He tried to spark up our usual comic banter. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him – I was polite – I know he had nothing to do with what’s been going on – but ill feelings towards him were nonetheless present. I’m so angry. It’s good that it’s Friday. With heat and everything else – I’m glad to get away from people for a couple of days. I’m tired – I’ve had bad run in with police since I was 13 & I’ve never so much as stolen a bag of chips. I hate the feeling I have of “finally” in Dallas. I’m ashamed of that feeling. I just want change – not more death. My condolences to the families of those officers“
When I read his post, I was immediately overwhelmed with a multitude of emotions. At first I was saddened. My heart was heavy because he was feeling some kind of way about something that was leagues out of his control. As if it somehow it was happening to him directly. As if this officer who shares his love of comics and all things nerdy was the perpetrator of the crimes in question. Like a sub-system protocol was hard wired into the psyche of this public servant to hate black people and he was carrying his facade as well as any Oscar winning actor would.
As I read the post a second time, I felt empathy. I put myself in his situation and felt the unjust anger that he felt. I felt the inherent tension and the distrust of this man whom I don’t really know. We come in here and we exchange pleasantries regarding our love for comics however what is he really thinking? Is he sizing me up? Of course, I wasn’t there and I don’t know the extent of what they ever say to each other but that’s probably what I’d do.
Finally on my third read, I felt… outrage. Here is a man (my friend mind you) that has lived all of his life in a city where I myself grew up. A city in which I still consider the capital of the universe. Where we spent countless hours as youths talking about fictional characters and girls and food and whatever pre-teens and teenagers spoke about in the 80’s. We loved the same music, we loved the same TV shows, we loved the same movies and still do! When video games were finally affordable we played hours upon hours of games until our eyes were tearing from the stress of staring at the screen.
I don’t live in New York anymore and I miss it dearly but my point is we had the same things and the same friends and the same dreams. Why is a man which doesn’t have a hurtful or violent hair on his head (a loose analogy considering he’s bald) feel the way he does?
Because society has failed him. Society has failed us all truth be told. The problem of racism is systematic. We have been taught to conform. That stop and frisk and profiling are necessary. That the fact that more people of color are subject to these practices is just the way things are. Even if the words weren’t used we were taught that white is supreme and everyone else is lucky to be able to share this earth with them. We still see it every day.
What’s worse is that some white people (at least some of them that I know) just don’t have a clue. I experience this frustration daily. They believe that it’s all in our heads and that there’s nothing wrong. While we were being taught to fear the police, they were being taught to admire and respect them. While we were always told walk the straight and narrow because 5-Ohh would beat us down, they were being told to stay out of the black neighborhoods because “they” were nothing but trouble.
Back in The Bronx…
As a boy, I was taught by my parents that people are people and we are all equal. That was what was said to me however that is not what I saw. The block where we hung out were mostly black and hispanic. Walk up the street a few blocks and you saw the change. As the graffiti started to lessen, so did the color of peoples skin. While one culture, the culture of Hip Hop was rising, another was pointing fingers and calling us hoodlums. While we embraced change, another was clinging to the traditions of old where we were the products of a lesser race.
I never thought I’d ever have to have a talk with my teenager about the unwritten laws of how to interact with a police officer. If an officer approaches you, put your hands up and only put them down if he tells you to. Never reach for anything unless instructed and even then, let them know what is in which pocket and move slowly. No sudden movements. Don’t sass, don’t curse and for Gods sake, don’t run.
Back to my friend, I moved to Florida and I lost contact with him. Fast forward about 10 or 12 years and we got in touch with each other through a mutual friend. I moved on to be… whatever the hell I am and he’s still in New York doing… whatever the hell he does. We don’t speak as often as we did but when we do it’s like we picked up where we left off.
This has been my sad little rant. Thanks for reading.