Perhaps there is convincing proof of white privilege and racial injustice just in the intuitive feeling you had when you read this blog title. If you are white, you probably immediately thought to yourself something like this, “The police are here to serve and protect, of course, they are heroes!” If you are black you might have been a little more hesitant to jump to that conclusion. If you are like me perhaps you are quicker to recount your experiences with them and think, “They’re villains, that is obvious!” I think the honest and introspective reader would agree to sentiments that are similar to these. Furthermore, I think the issue is seen more clearly by the fact that probably the white reader’s natural response is ready to defend the police officer’s heroism and the black reader is most likely hopeful someone else is speaking out about injustice. At the very least, you as a reader can agree with me that there is a tension here. Or maybe, if you haven’t experienced both sides you don’t see any tension at all and readily hold to your experience as that which trumps all (perhaps not even consciously). If that’s you, especially, if you jump to the conclusion that police are heroes, my plea is that you’ll hear my experience. To be clear, my purpose is actually not to lump every officer into a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ category. Instead my goal is to simply show that I have observed systemic injustice and institutional racism towards black males from police officers and to plead with you to recognize it, not deny it, and to take action against it.
Context and Clarification
What do I mean by I’m a “white boy who’s experienced black culture”? I mean that in my teen years I lived and hung around only black people. In addition to experiencing black culture, I have also experienced a life of crime. I want to be very clear here, I am not making my life of crime synonymous with black people, nor black culture. I was a drug dealing, weed smoking, thief and a white friend taught me that. I became assimilated with black culture very early in my teen years through a good friend. Before coming to Christ I spent 5 years in a life of crime in ‘the hood’. As a white boy selling drugs in the hood I only had a few friends, we were close though. As we lived, committing crimes on the regular, we had our fair share of police encounters. However, it is the stark difference of treatment we sometimes received from the police that saddens me. And if not different treatment, it was ill treatment I received on their account. There are two stories I want to recount to illustrate this.
Pulled over with a ‘pack’ (bag of weed)
One Friday night my friend (a black male) and I were heading home after just picking up a bag of ‘loud’ (really potent marijuana), as we were pulling in his neighborhood we got pulled over. At this point we looked at each other and spoke in colorful language because we knew we were going to jail; Or at least that I was, because it was under my seat and it belonged to me. However, to our surprise after the police found the marijuana they took us both to jail. When we arrived to the jail they separated us to question us to find out whose marijuana it was (knowing already it was mine). They asked me repeatedly, “Did he make you hold onto the marijuana when we pulled you over?” After I denied their question multiple times and still claiming the marijuana as my own, they left the room. After about fifteen minutes they returned and let me go free, no charge on my record. They booked him for warrants and marijuana possession. Why? I think you can judge that for yourself.
Head Meets a Brick wall
Again on a Friday night, I was with my friends (black males) at the movies loitering in the front of the theater, as was normal for us. It was customary for the police to have a vehicle parked in front while they ran security in the theater. However, this night the officer was in his car. This Friday night, I also expected to see someone at the movie theater I had ‘beef’ with. Of course, that doesn’t mean someone I recently enjoyed a nice steak dinner with. It means he was an enemy to be fought on the spot when I see him. It is just too bad that he saw me first and was behind me when he did. He apparently did not know the officer was in his car (right behind him) when he grabbed my head from behind and slammed it into a brick wall. You probably are expecting me to say the police officer got out to break it up and charged him with battery, however, that’s untrue. Instead, he told him to leave and pulled me to the side. The police officer wanted to teach me a lesson. While my head is bleeding he says, “I can’t understand why you want to hang around and dress like these people!” I thought to myself, “Hmm, not sure how relavent that is.” The officer said again, “I guess you got what you deserved.” I can’t help but think this was more of an insult to the people I was with than it was to me. Almost as if he is so distasted by me being with them that he refuses to do anything about what he saw, wanting to teach me a lesson about hanging out with black people. Effectively he was saying, “You deserve to get assaulted because you are hanging out with black people”. Or potentially, “What else do you expect to happen when you hang around black people?” I, in his mind, either deserved punishment for hanging out with black people or should have known they are criminals. In either case, his racism drove him to act unjustly.
What’s the Point?
I want to address Christians specifically here. White brothers and sisters my point is simple, the Police as I have observed, at times, treat black people unjustly. Of course, I don’t mean this is how it always is. But how many times does it take before we can weep at this injustice and fight against it? How many black people have to be shot by a cop before we stop pretending like everything is okay? Everything is not okay; image bearers are being murdered and treated unjustly by the ones responsible for protecting them. EVERYDAY this is happening! You may be inclined to deny this based on your experience but you should know others share a different experience. You may be inclined to say it is a result of their individual choices, but again, at least in the above mentioned experiences it was not their choices that affected them but their race that affected them.
Black brothers and sisters, my point is also simple, don’t lose hope! I know when the narratives of black and white culture are painted so differently it can seem as though no one will ever understand, or even want to see life from a black perspective. Some do. I do. Not only do some see it from a black perspective, but also we weep at it and we hate it.
My prayer is that white Christians will no longer be content to remain silent or in the dark about racial and systemic injustice. Black Christians may you teach us patiently, clearly, and courageously. May we all reach out our hand in prayer and action in hopes that our sovereign God will obliterate the injustice going on in America and restore this nation to a place where the dignity of all human beings is admired and celebrated.