As a white man with a few years under his belt

I wrote recently about context being lost in the discussion about Ferguson and the many other cities where dark-skinned males were killed by uniformed officers. I mentioned it is difficult for a white man, like myself, to understand what a black man goes through on what should be more routine occurrences. But, let me start with what I do know. As a white man, I have witnessed if I dress cleanly and neatly, I pretty much can go anywhere I please and not be questioned. The older I have gotten makes it easier as I look I am above-board in today’s society. Even if I look less than my best, I am typically not viewed as a threat, even when stopped by a patrolman.

The converse is true for a black man. Many black men of wealth and success have written when they are stopped today by a patrolman, even if well dressed, the thought that they need to move very deliberately comes to the forefront of their minds. The thought that this might be the last thing I do on earth comes to mind. I wrote recently about the example of a successful black man dressed for a funeral was stopped and treated as a potential felon. Black men or youth who are not clean-cut do not stand a chance at being treated fairly. They are profiled before they open their mouths.

Being profiled places a law officer on an alert status. As a result, they may be more prone to act with violence to apprehend a suspect. There is a predisposition to act. This is where the training needs to come in – how do I remain alert, without thinking violence is an inevitable action. Leonard Pitts, the national columnist who writes for the Miami Herald, noted a comparison to an older white man who was threatening people with a rifle. Over 45 minutes, the officers talked him into giving up his weapon. In Cleveland, a twelve-year-old black boy with a stun gun was killed inside of two minutes.

Think about that for a few minutes. That is context for why black men and women feel there is unfair treatment in the eyes of the law. They do because there is. And, that is what needs to change.

11 thoughts on “As a white man with a few years under his belt

  1. I was watching a family history show with Henry Louis Gates Jr. the other night on PBS (I can’t remember what it is called), but my husband came in and said, “Who is that guy?” I explained his impressive credentials, and then remembered, “Oh yeah, he’s the guy who had beer with President Obama because he was detained for being black in his own neighborhood.” It really isn’t fair. I can’t even imagine. Great post!

  2. Well done sir, and a realistic comparison, 45 min. vs 2 min. and the old white man lived. (his life most likely ruined from his behavior though)
    ” death can’t be repaired” or maybe adjusted because of a police mistake – a profile – an imagination gone wild. Only a few years ago a black man was gunned down in or near Ypsilanti Mich. simply because he “was afraid he would be gunned down” (thinking over 20 holes in him) His wife has not really recovered, was the story I heard.

    Picture any person, anywhere, if they notice their life had been threatened any time since they could remember – call it age 2 and up. That person will hate the stupidity and the person that threatened them. They will never forget the face or the clothes that person was wearing.

    • Thanks for reading and your comments. You are right about never forgetting the face or clothing. I love your quote “death can’t be repaired.” We had a shooting in my city earlier this year where the black college student was home, his car broke down and he went to get help. The homeowner say him approaching, called the police and now he is dead.

  3. i’ve been offline a lot this past month, and i caught the title of bob’s post (piran cafe) last week and have just now opened his and your posts. it’s so sad to keep reading the headlines and wondering what’s feeding the fear/quick trigger.

    when in the usa, i talked with my nephew, the state trooper, and he said that it’s changed over the past two years – there’s an underlying tension, and at night, it’s uncertain when one stops someone in the dark highways… for the month i was in the usa, i was warmed more times to ‘be careful’ than i ever have been warned in my 14 years in latin america.

    i mentioned to one friend that i might stop in a small Delta town and ask directions for a mutual friend’s home. my friend said, ‘you’d better be careful or you might get your throat cut.’

    she was serious… another lady (black) gave me directions around noon one day in a tiny little town. i had stopped at the post office for directions, and this lady walked me out and pointed me in the right direction – then warned me about talking to strangers. we both laughed, and it turned out that we had mutual friends. (rod barnes, the basketball coach that i’ve mentioned before)

    forgive me for the rambling…


    • Z, you hit upon some underlying issues. With fewer job opportunities in rural and urban settings, there are more gang influences especially in rural towns where the police do not have the resources. To me, a police officer has a tough job, but there seems to be a greater bias to act when a black male is involved. I also think the more commonplace weapons are in our society also has put officers on a higher alert. So, your nephew’s observations are relevant. That is why I believe training is in order to help lessen the use of force when it is not needed. The choking incident was entirely uncalled for as is the shooting of a 12 year old boy, for example. Thanks for your comments, BTG

  4. Note to Readers: Like many, I am troubled by the person who decided to become a vigilante and took out his anger on two policemen. This is the absolute worst thing that could have been done. It throws gasoline on a fire and takes the attention away from needed dialogue to improve safety and community policing. It also takes away two public servants from their families and community.

    The finger pointing stuff has to stop. I am pleased to see Eric Garner’s daughter at the floral memorial for the police officers offering her support and noting this is not the way. I am also pleased to see many African Americans in support of the police officers who were gunned down.

    As noted above and in an earlier post on “context,” we have to understand the underlying context and why things happen. We also need to do significant review of the various shootings and occurrences leading to the death of young black men, who are imperfect just like every one else. We have to reflect on is there and why is there a predisposition to act by some officers who encounter suspects of color.

    A police officer has a tough job. Thanks to our gun happy country, our citizenry is well armed, so the police officers feel the need to be as armed or more. So, they have to use their training and judgment. But, as noted in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, we need the utmost of training and re-training on how to be wary, but not predisposed to act. Beyond the act of violence, I keep asking – why must someone shoot someone 12, 14, or 41 times. This must be explored. Why does a little black boy get shot a dozen times within two minutes of an encounter? This must be explored.

    But, we also cannot tolerate or condone the killing of police officers. And, we need people to stop blaming others for what has happened and let’s find a way to get to a better place.

  5. It’s refreshing to find a few common sense attitudes presented. Simply a waste to kill people without finding / ASKING – the sequence of events that create such hatred. (or fear, anxiety, paranoia, screwed up minds, uuuk, feel free to add another word to this list)

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