I never knew Philando Castile, or Jamar Clark, or Marcus Golden, Terrance Franklin, or any of their tragic cohort. Had they not been slaughtered by police on the streets of their city in their home towns, I very likely would not even know their names. I’d prefer it that way, truth be told. To be sure, I have learned from and been inspired by the resilience of their family, friends, and our communities, but I would blot it all from my life if it would undo the unanswered crimes that ripped them from the world too quickly and too soon. Instead, I count off their final seconds as I walk beside the survivors and stand with them to honor these lives so violently taken by an unaccountable and racist regime. Each step, every word, and all the frames strung together are intended to transform the sour aftertaste of the astringent moments that have stained the lives of so many fellow human beings. Forgive me. I was too slow to learn all of your names and too silent about your execution. I hope now to provide the survivors a moment of succor, a few seconds of easier breath, and a steadying look in the eye. Thank you all for teaching me another way to transform pain into love; to throw away hate. I treasure that knowledge and all your words. Stay strong.
The series of unsettled crimes for which a vanishingly small number of police have been convicted drew me back into the streets. I stand with those aggrieved by our system of injustice that has been honed to target people of color for removal and/or economic sanction while letting folks like me slide. It is true. I have seen it work both ways and felt it work one way. The White way. In the precious few seconds that it took so many police to snuff the lives of those named here and a long hit-list of others, a cop once wagged his finger at my friends and I for smoking weed in a strangers front yard in broad daylight while we should have been in the High School down the block. Pretty cool, huh? I remember that day every time I hear about yet another young black life shot down and strung up with bullets. My friends and I figured we had dodged a bullet. Turns out, our society had dodged the bullet for us. More accurately, my culture saw to it that any bullets were aimed at someone else. We had dodged a citation and handing our herb to the cop. We weren’t cool dudes, we were privileged punks. When I heard how many times Philando had been pulled over in one year, I counted something like 12 in my entire 40 year old driving career. What’s up with that? Not that I want to get pulled over more often. I have my share of tickets, but no jail time and not a single bullet to the head. Go figure. Or don’t. My trick is as obvious as the face on my head. My privilege is so robust that an Illinois State Trooper was embarrassed when he mistook me for a woman, apologized, and let me off with warning for going 95 in a 55 zone. I thought about demanding a ticket, but I would have lost my license with that many points. Another bullet dodged for me. I drove away praising my pierced and tattooed fellow human beings for making my long hair seem quaint.
In this particular culture, at this time, I’m pretty much rockin’ the privilege game. I mean, I was dealt a good hand. I am not the only one. Because I fit a set of culturally favored categories of social traits, physical appearances, and am enhanced by the relationships between them, my life is favored by the interaction with the broader society. Because my culture devalues people that are not like me, many of my neighbors are disfavored by interaction with the broader society. Some are killed for no real reason other than their appearance, orientation, or name. No one has made a viable case as to why I should tolerate this situation. Believe me. I’ve heard them all. White supremacists and other assorted dominant bigots tend to trust me because I meet their demographic desires. Not for long, but it has been enough to get their point and to understand the allure of a cul de sac and the projected fears that make security gates seem prudent. I’d like to trade all my privilege for the chance to live in a place we’d like to call “America” with all of its promises intact and where every one of its hopes takes root in all of our hearts. Break down the privilege and spread it around. Grow together. Learn how to say all our names, how to count seconds, and when to say, “Enough!”.