Two common questions I hear from non black people are:
“If a black person is innocent why do they run from the police?”
And this statement, “I am not responsible for what happened during slavery. That happened before my time.”
To answer the latter, Black oppression is still exists today in American society. Since we are part of American society, we all have to take responsibility for Black oppression. The mentality of slavery still exists.
Attention is brought to this problem with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Leaders like Colin Kaepernick should be admired for using his voice and platform to defend American values like freedom, equality and justice. He is making us conscious of the work that still needs to be done in this country. He should be revered but instead he is reprimanded. Punished by losing his job.
Why do Blacks run from the police?
White people see the police as someone whose purpose is to protect them. This is not the same narrative for Blacks. Instead, there has been a long history of systemic racism and police brutally against Blacks. Blacks are tired of frequently being stopped, of being harassed and fearful of the outcome of such encounters which includes death. They run to increase their chances of survival. As Michael Dyson says in his book, Tears We Cannot Stop, the difference between white and black encounters with the police is, white people live to talk about it. A view point most white people have not even thought about.
My son, while being driven home by his basketball coach who is black, was stopped by our local police for no reason. My son describes that the policeman was at the driver window asking some questions while having his hand on his gun. The whole episode really frighten him. I cannot imagine what it is like to have to live a life where this happens to you or to constantly have to be in fear of it happening to you: being stopped by the police for no reason. It can make life impossible.
These unprovoked encounters between the police and Blacks can potentially end up with innocent black men being charged with resisting arrest, police assault, leading to felony charges, prison, reduced employment potential, loss of voting rights, enabling a vicious cycle of poverty and resulting in innocent people driven to crime just to survive. All of this is preventable/unnecessary.
This explains why running to get away from law enforcement before there is any confrontation would be an attractive option. But white people think that this is an admission of guilt.
Dyson explains in his book that during that “talk”, black parents have to have with their kids, they tell their kids to be afraid of the police. When encountering the police, they are told to lower their eyes, don’t upset the police. In addition. always keep your hands in view and calmly ask permission to do anything before you do it. Move slowly. Describe every move before you make any movement. And explain why you are doing it. Do not startle the police.
As for the police, we know they have guns. But they don’t know if whom they stop has one. Years ago, I had a policeman as a roommate. He worked in daily fear, always hyper vigilant. Cops on the beat usually are on high alert, with immense tension depending on the neighborhood. Hence the police can be tipped into aggression.
Once on my lunch hour, I had to go to a section of town that was a little shady (strip clubs, multiple warehouses, railway yard) to pick out some granite slabs for my kitchen renovation. When I was headed back to my office, the road I drove in on was barricaded. Nothing was around that I could see. Since there were no sidewalks, I thought I could just drive around it and be on my way. I needed to take this way back to work because the other direction was a long way around via a loop which was at least several miles more. And I was short on time. Suddenly a patrol car appears. Policeman gets out and proceeds to just shout in my face. His face was right in my face. Shouting things like where do you think you are going? Did you not see the barrier? You think you could get away why this? He had lost it. He was out of control. I could not see how I could ever be a threat to him – an Asian female about 100 pounds.
I needed to calm him down and get out of there. There were no witnesses. No help. I was shaking. I said to him, “Ok Officer, no worries. I was just trying to get back to work. I am a physician (with emphasis). I have patients waiting for me and I didn’t want to be late”. Back in the day, the police, firefighters, doctors and nurses had a bond together since we were all serving the public as first responders in potentially crisis situations. When they brought patients into the ER, we needed to count on each other, to help each other out when need be. I hoping this guy who was yelling in my face would remember that we are on the same team. Luckily, I was able to leave that situation in one piece, only a little scared and late for work. I was convinced that if I had been Black, he would have shot me. I could feel his out of control aggression. Unfortunately, when under direst like that, not easy to ask his name or think about looking his badge number.
The attack dog kills the submissive dog. This equation needs to change.
I know a 90 year old black man who grew up in Mississippi. He is an extremely positive person, with an aura of happiness and joy about him. He claims he has never had a negative encounter with the police. When asked how he has been able to achieve this, avoidance, attitude and luck are at the top of the list. But when he does encounter law enforcement, he behaves like a “police psychologist”. Somehow, he was able to make the police feel safe and calm. That sounds crazy but cops have their own problems just like anyone else. Sometimes you need to show them empathy and compassion. Although not easy to do when they are shouting at you with a gun in hand. Another possible explanation is he chooses not to remember the negatives.
Make them feel happy that they met you
Now, whenever I can, if I see a policeman, I go over to them with a friendly smile, introduce myself and say hello. “Hi officer how’s your day going? I know it’s not an easy job you have”. Many times they are alone and I will say to them, “I think you should patrol in pairs. Much safer to be with a partner, don’t you think? What about a K9 partner? They should give you a dog”. They almost always smile with that and say something like, “Don’t I wish”. Then to show respect, I say, “I really appreciate you and the job that you do for us. I know it is a difficult job. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know”. We can be of service to the police.
Of course there are bad apples in every profession and they need to be weeded out and held accountable. Body cameras help. Change needs to start somewhere.
Everyday, we need to set positive intentions with purpose and then go for it
It is good practice to have police know your name and your face and you know theirs in a friendly, relaxed and safe situation.
Here are other things that I have done and recommend you try :
-Make a phone call to your local police station and ask about what community out reach programs they have. Then organize a neighborhood meeting with them.
-I have invited them to neighborhood gatherings to talk about crime in our area and recommendations for crime prevention in our community.
-Invite their K9 unit and let you meet their dogs (By the way, those dogs are impressive! When one came into my house, that dog immediately without pause sniffed and checked out everything. I think he could smell my cat in the back room or maybe that is the routine the dog does every time to protect his human partner). Really really beautiful animals.
-We had another meeting where they explained how the helicopter system work.
-Make a trip down to your local police station and bring some Girl Scout cookies or other treats as an offering.
-Ask them, “How can our community help them with their jobs?”.
It is good to know names and faces.
How will we know that racism is gone from American society? People like Colin will tell us.
We must defend those who cannot defend themselves:
Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By….Leviticus 19:16
Let’s make a difference. What can I do to help?
Many Thanks to my patients who shared their stories with me.
Dyson, Michael Eric. Tears We Cannot Stop (pp. 14, 63, 170). St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.