Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Here's the Thing About #BlackLivesMatter that I Think You Missed

First of all, I fully acknowledge that the following has nothing to do with fitness or health or nerd culture and does not belong anywhere near this blog. But until I bother to make a new blog specifically for political commentary (not gonna happen), this is my soapbox. There's a little "X" icon somewhere at the top of your screen if you're done now.

Today, as I scrolled through facebook (my only real connection to other human beings or world events), I saw the following:

I'm going to operate under the assumption, given the context, that in this circumstance BLM does not reference Bureau of Land Management. I'd love to tell you the story of how I gently or forcefully educated the strange who posted this comment on the meaning of #BlackLivesMatter and implications of the movement, but being a privileged white person, I just rolled my eyes and scrolled on (not my proudest moment*.) Unfortunately, I didn't get too far before discovering yet another story about police shooting an unarmed black person, this time in El Cajon, CA. Like every story we've read or heard (or watched), it has its idiosyncrasies for those looking for the "whole picture." Like every story, it boiled down to an innocent person shot to death. Yesterday I told myself that the next time I heard about one of these shootings, I would say something. I didn't think it would happen in less than 24 hours.

When the tragedy in Ferguson took place, and the fatalities of innocent blacks which were reported thereafter, I was able to say to myself that the man (or woman) who pulled that trigger was not actually a police officer. Police officers are sworn to protect and serve (it turns out not every police force has adopted this language, so that is ignorance on my part). Someone who willfully kills an innocent person obviously isn't protecting and serving us. Therefore that man is not a police officer, he is an impostor, a bully who happened to lie his way into a uniform, a threat to our safety, a murderer.

But as the fatalities continue to be reported on a more and more frequent basis, I'm beginning to fear that I am wrong. I think these men and women (do I call them police officers or not?) are firing their weapons with the belief that they are protecting and serving civilians in accordance with their oath. They are eliminating a threat and thereby ensuring the safety of those they serve. The question becomes, "Who are they serving?" Read the article linked above. The victim's sister called 911 because he was not acting like himself, and she feared for his safety. When he was shot, she was heard crying, "I just called for help, and you came and killed him." Can the officer who pulled the trigger honestly say that he served and protected the victim and his sister? What about the officer who shot a man in Tulsa, OK, as he walked away from her? What about the officer who shot a man in Charlotte, NC, (who may or may not have had a weapon) as the victim backed away? Was it protecting and serving the family, the bystanders, or the community to pull the trigger?

It takes courage to put on a police uniform. Officers are killed during routine traffic stops and when serving warrants. A few months ago, I called the police to report a domestic disturbance in a neighboring apartment and was surprised when three officers in body armor arrived at my door. It seemed like overkill to me. Only a few weeks later, not ten miles from my apartment, an officer was shot to death responding to a similar domestic disturbance call. In retrospect, the body armor made sense. I strongly believe that Blue lives matter. I would like this nation to reach a point where police officers do not have to fear for their lives when they respond to calls, where police deaths are unheard of, or close thereto.

I would especially like to reach a point where police officers do not have to fear every civilian they encounter. Because right now, I'm beginning to wonder how safe I am from those who are sworn to protect and serve me. After all, they were sworn to protect the innocent civilians they killed in El Cajon, Tulsa, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Ferguson (etc. etc.) If I say the wrong thing at a traffic stop, will I be the next victim? Do I need to fear for my life if I commit the slightest infringement of the law? If the answer is yes, then we are living in a Police State. If the answer is no, that is because the only difference between me and the weekly victims of this problematic system is skin color. That, Stranger on Facebook, is the meaning of #BlackLivesMatter. It is not a belief that blacks are somehow better than whites. It is a plea, from whites and people of color alike,  that blacks receive the same treatment, the same protection, the same service from police that whites do. We are all citizens of the United States. We pay the same taxes. We follow the same laws. We deserve the same right not to be shot by the police.

*I'm going to reply to that comment on facebook with a link to this post.

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