Photo credit goes to linkedin.com.
Editor's Note: In the midst of police shootings over the last week, social media has been littered with opinions, arguments and personal stories about police brutality and racial inequality in today's America. One Facebook post by Anthony L. caught the eye of Youngspeak assistant editor Justin Baxley. Anthony has been kind enough to allow us to re-post his story here on the site so it could reach a broader audience. The following has been edited for grammatical purposes.
I don’t post much on Facebook, but in the aftermath of the shootings in Louisiana, Texas and Minneapolis I felt compelled to share a couple of stories.
The first time I was harassed by the cops, I’d only been living in America for six months. I didn’t grow up in America and didn’t truly live here until I was 12. I was transferring buses at the Golden Gate bridge on my way home from middle school when two squad cars approached and detained me.
I was informed that someone matching my description stole a bus pass from a windowsill about two miles away. This story is interesting for a couple reasons: First, everyone had that one outfit you NEVER wanted to wear. My mom asked me for months to wear this God-awful sweat suit she bought, and one day I begrudgingly caved. Trust me when I say no one in the state of California had on that hideous outfit.
On any other day that walk would’ve been scenic. Yet, on that summer day, walking home felt like purgatory. The waves crashing against the shore was usually a subtle reminder that we lived on the good part of town. On that day they were more of reminder that there isn’t a good part of town for people like me. When I got home, I told my mom what happened and she instinctively gave me the "what to do when you’re stopped by the cops" speech.
Six months after we moved to the States, she had to explain to me what to do if I’m stopped by the people who are paid to protect me. To this day, it’s one of the oddest conversations I’ve had with my mom. I can tell you story after story of the times I’ve been harassed by the cops -- and, quite frankly, I have some way worse than this -- but the first time still bothers me the most.
On that day, six months after moving to the States, I was reminded that I’m more welcome in other parts of the world than I am in the place I call home. I’d lived in multiple places in Germany and have taken family vacations throughout Europe, but it wasn’t until I came home that I was harassed for being black.
At 12, that perplexed me. In the place I call home I can’t transfer buses without cops saying I fit the description. It hurt then, and it still hurts now. While I don’t know why I was stopped by the cops, I’m positive it wasn’t for a $30 bus pass that was left on a windowsill.
I could tell you about the many times I’ve been stopped at the mall, walking across campus and in my neighborhood for doing nothing more than being where I was supposed to be. Instead, I’ll share a story from a good friend of mine.
Six months after we moved to the States, she had to explain to me what to do if I’m stopped by the people who are paid to protect me.
Kris, a white male from Georgia, is a good friend of mine and easily one of the best people I know. One day, he called and told me a story about a group of black kids who asked him to walk them home after Bible study. Kris, being the good person he is, complied.
On these walks home, Kris learned the true reason these kids wanted a chaperon: He was white, and his presence would prevent cops from harassing them on the way home. These kids didn’t fear the local bully or an irate neighbor, but they feared the cops.
When Kris told me this story, he had a range of emotions. At times he was outraged, at other rimes sad and in others flat-out hopeless. Although we’d had talks about these issues before, experiencing it first-hand was maddening for Kris. Your biggest fear shouldn’t be getting harassed by cops after leaving church -- period.
You shouldn’t be afraid of being harassed by cops at places you’re supposed to be. It took Kris 28 years to experience something that took me six months. My wife is pushing thirty, and she’s never been harassed by cops, while I can’t count the amount of times I have.
Does this make either of them bad people? Not at all. They're easily two of the best people I know. However, they both acknowledge police brutality is real while others can’t. Every last one of my black friends -- regardless of education, income, job and part of town they live in -- can detail at minimum five times they’ve been harassed by the cops. My white friends typically struggle to name one, if any.
If this isn’t proof that something is wrong with the state of policing, I’m not sure what is. However, I can’t stress enough that this in no way makes them bad people. We all have different struggles, and there are certain struggles I’ll never understand, but it’s our responsibility to understand each other instead of tearing each other down.
This also doesn’t mean all police are the problem or police are always at fault in instances where someone dies. They risk their lives every day protecting American citizens, and that has to be acknowledged. I personally know many good cops who are model citizens and are some of the best people I know.
However, if a black male can be pulled over, disclose that he legally has a gun and is killed while his daughter is in the back seat, something has to change. This hurts, because in every other police encounter you could say, "What if?"
What if he complied; what if he wasn’t selling CDs; what if he wasn’t wearing a hoodie; what if he gently opened the door; what if he didn’t go to the store to buy Skittles; what if he didn’t have a toy gun? To be clear, I’m not saying any of these actions warranted an officer taking someone’s life, but at least we could say, "What if.?"
At least we could rationalize why the cop decided to pull the trigger. In this case, you cannot. There is no rationalization, and there are no "what ifs". He did everything correctly and was killed. This has to stop. We have to do better as a country to address this issue.
We also need to have open and honest conversations. I’m proud to have an extremely diverse group of friends from a variety of races, religious backgrounds and sexual orientations from all over the world who I have open and honest conversations with about these issues. We don’t always agree, but we always respect each other’s opinions.
That seems to be missing in these conversations on police brutality. In my opinion, it’s not black vs white. It’s right vs wrong. To a certain extent, I understand it’s awkward to talk about such issues, but the only way things are going to get better is if we discuss them openly. Hashtags and Facebook posts will not solve these issues.
Only we can.