“Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away.”– Mick Jagger
The verdict in the Derek Chauvin case came down yesterday afternoon. If you went into a news coma then you didn’t know that he was found guilty on all three charges. He will be sentenced in two months and could serve up to 75 years in prison. As you might imagine, that story has only just begun.
The story of the effort to reform policing also has only just begun. I’ve always thought that the more voices we hear from the better. It’s a lot like a choir performance that way. The more sections and the more different types of voices we can hear from then the fuller the melody and harmony will be.
Naturally, there will be off key voices as there usually is when you listen to the church choir or try to sing along when the radio is playing. It may not sound beautiful but it is authentic and we need to have an authentic conversation about policing. We’ve been debating the Daunte Wright case here and on other mediums for over a week. It’s time to take a broader picture.
I cannot begin to understand how people of color feel in regards of policing. I can voice the words and I can try as best I can, but I simply can’t feel what they feel. That’s where we need a multitude of voices to chime in. After my previous encounter in January I can somewhat get it, but I never feared for my life. I can’t relate to the feeling that I may not come out alive. I can’t relate to the feeling that my daughter might not survive an encounter with the police. For me and people like me, the police are there to protect her from bad people that would want to harm her.
I can’t emphasize that enough. The common refrain I hear is that if people would just follow the law and follow instructions then they would be fine. It’s easy to follow the law and follow instructions when you have absolute faith you will be treated fairly, kindly, and humanely. When you don’t believe that it is becomes much more difficult. When you don’t believe that it becomes easier to understand resistance. It is also easy to see how resistance gets blown out of proportion and turns into something horribly tragic.
I can only begin to understand the other side based on my experience as a teacher. It’s all about mindset. Every teacher has had that kid that has gotten under their skin. Maybe they are sarcastic. Maybe they are lazy. Maybe they are hyperactive. Maybe they are smarter than you. What isn’t easy to admit is that we have the control in that situation. We can control how we choose to interact each day. We can begin each encounter and treat them with respect and love (in the plutonic parental sense). We can also do the opposite.
How we begin those interactions usually dictates how those interactions end up going. If we see a pattern in how those interactions go then both sides build up that expectation going in. It’s crazy to think about laying the blame for a negative interaction at the hands of the powerless, but that’s what we see most of the time. If Wright had not resisted. If he had not taken pictures of himself looking like a thug. If he had not missed a virtual hearing he didn’t necessarily know about since the notice was sent to the wrong address. If if if if if. None of those include if the officers had reacted differently or begun the process differently.
Of course, this isn’t to completely excuse Wright for his own choices. He may or may not have participated in a robbery. He may or may not have been guilty of a gun charge. He could have allowed himself to be handcuffed and taken to the station. Take any of those circumstances away and he might still be alive. All that being said, he is not the one with the authority. He is not the one armed with a taser, revolver, and handcuffs. In fact, he wasn’t armed at all.
Each tragic encounter is different. Each has its own set of circumstances. Each can attribute different levels of culpability to the officers involved and the victims. We start by acknowledging the term victim. Victim does not mean saint. Victim does not mean blameless. Victim is a simple acknowledgment that someone is dead and they shouldn’t be. It might be their own fault. It might be the fault of the officers. They may share blame. Either way, it’s time for voices to be heard. It is time for all involved to openly consider all of the relevant factors and decide what we can collectively do to keep these things from happening. It is time for each of us to strive to reach beyond ourselves to attempt to understand where others are coming from. We owe at least that to each other.