Friday, September 23, 2016

Trying to Understand

This blog is nearing its sixth year of existence. In that time I have written about an African-American being killed by a police officer 22 times.

22 times.

My instincts find common cause with a law and order message. My experience with the police has been positive, as positive as can be expected when being issued a ticket for speeding. I have clients, friends and family members who serve or have served as police officers. There isn't enough money in the world to entice me to trade places with any of them. Their job is stressful, dangerous and thankless, the hours are horrendous, and they don't make much money. No thanks.

But something is wrong.

22 times.

Statistics are for losers, so I won't cite any. I know that blacks commit a lot of crimes. I also know that many more whites than blacks get killed by cops every year. But, when I watch footage of rioters in the streets I feel two strong, competing emotions. The first is rage. Watching some gleefully destroying the few functioning businesses still standing in the inner city, and lining their pockets with loot is infuriating. But, if I'm honest with myself, if I try to place myself inside the heart of a black man for just a second, I feel something else. My heart nods it's understanding. Let me explain.

Yesterday I read somewhere about how every time there is a shooting like this, a familiar narrative emerges. After initial reports of the incedent, subsequent reports begin to appear which go into great detail about what a rough character the victim was. We are treated to a photograph of his long rap sheet and testimonials about his violent past. The subtle message is clear, with his death, no matter how unfortunate the circumstances, have we really lost anything of value?

Contrast this to how the news media covered the case of that punk Stanford swimmer who spent all of three months behind bars for raping a girl. We were told how a twenty year prison sentence would ruin his entire life. The judge received hundreds of letters from other members of his country club, urging compassion. Should this bright young man's life be destroyed because of one youthful discretion? Hasn't he suffered enough? This subtle message is also clear. Some lives are more valuable than others.

If I were a black man, this is the sort of thing that would fill me with rage, the sort of rage that we see on the streets of Charlotte.

I am not offering an excuse for violence here. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm not even taking a position on whether this particular shooting was justified or not. All I am trying to do is break out of my comfortable corner and try to understand the world around me. Although I will never be able to walk a mile in another man's shoes, at least I should try to see the world through his eyes every once in a while.