Last week, I shared my encounter with one woman at a campground and why she had a profound effect on my thoughts on racism. This week, I will share another encounter that gave me food for thought.
While traveling last year, I met an older man at a campground who wanted to have a chat with my friend and me. At the time, COVID-19 cases were on the rise. Thanks to the politicization of common sense and healthcare, politics soon seeped into the conversation on COVID-19 measures.
This soon drifted into a conversation that was less about the pandemic and more about politics. The man identified himself as liberal, but then said:
I understand the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. But, I do think police brutality deserves some context. Why don’t Black men just comply?
When he said this, my friend and I exchanged looks. I already knew what he was thinking, but we decided not to get into it. On the road, you learn to choose your battles. Even when you strongly believe someone should refrain from holding opinions about things they know too little about.
My Friend Did Not Comply
When this friend and I had first met, we talked at length about his past and how he had finally found the strength and will to change his life. He had been what most parents would call a problem child. He had multiple run-ins with the police from his teen years into adulthood. His RAP sheet was so long that, even now, he is one arrest away from going to prison.
During our conversations about his past, he told me with a mix of laughter and regret how wild his encounters were with law enforcement. He had thrown punches and kicks at police officers. Called them names. Spat in their faces. Been chased by them on foot and in cars. One day, he told me quite seriously:
I feel really bad about the things I did. Not just because I was out of control and I hurt people. But, because I know that if I was Black, I would have been shot on the spot. White Privilege is the reason I have driven cars into houses, fled scenes, kicked police officers and I am not in prison and no one shot me–and I know it and own it.
When the old guy said that Black men should just comply, it recalled to mind this conversation between us and he remembered it too. In fact, whenever people ask me why Black people don’t comply, I remember his stories. I also remember all the mass shooters that police officers have peacefully escorted to the station. Or the one who officers said was just having a “really bad day” after murdering more than half a dozen people at a massage parlor.
Compliance Is Not the Issue
Without a doubt, if a police officer issues a command, the expectation is that you should comply. However, over the years, people have learned that compliance does not save lives. Consequently, many people fear compliance more than the consequences of escaping to safety and turning themselves in at a later date — just like my friend often did.
- Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her bed when police officers broke into her apartment unannounced and shot her. The police officer who killed her was cleared of all wrongdoing but was reprimanded for the bullets he fired that missed. She was a medical worker.
- Philando Castile disclosed that he had a weapon in his vehicle and was complying with police officer’s orders when they opened fire and killed him. He was shot within 40 seconds of being pulled over by police. Castile was a cafeteria schoolteacher who mentored children.
- Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario was stopped without probable cause. He deliberately pulled into a brightly lit gas station. He was in uniform and put both of his hands outside the truck. When police approached him with hostility, he told them he was terrified to get out of the truck. One of the police officers said–on camera: Yeah, you should be. The army medic was pepper sprayed and arrested. What a way to thank him for his service.
- Elijah McClain was listening to music and dancing on his way home when someone called the police and reported a supicious person. He was declared brain dead after his encounter with the police. He was a masseuse and just 23 years old. I feel incredible sadness every time his last words recorded on police body cam circle around the internet.
The Last Words of Elijah Mclain:
I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting.
Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it.
You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt! You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.
Civilians Are Often Just as Bad
America’s obsession with guns and fetishization of a “well-armed militia” has also caused this violence against minorities to seep into everyday life. Just this morning, I opened my Instagram feed to be greeted by the news that two White men had chased and fired shots at a Black FedEx worker delivering packages to their home in Mississippi.
If you think this sounds bizarre, it might be worth sharing that this is not the first time I have heard of Black delivery persons being attacked or shot at by racists within the past year. To add to this:
- Trayvon Martin was walking home and eating his skittles when Zimmerman stalked and shot him to death. He was 17 years old.
- Ahmad Arbery was on a morning run when he was chased and gunned down by two armed vigilantes. His death, alongside George Floyd, fueled the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
- In Michigan, a Black real estate agent was arrested while showing a home after the neighbours called the police. They reported him doing his job and minding his business as a break-in.
I’ve Seen Realization Strike
While traveling in Wyoming, I had some interesting conversations with a local farmer. He would sometimes drop by my trailer for a quick chat on his breaks. One of the fascinating things about Wyoming Conservatism is that the racism is incidental instead of the point. It stems more from ignorance rather than actual fear or hatred. In fact, it’s worth remembering that Wyoming is not a Confederate State and they are quite proud of it.
One day, the farmer asked me my thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement. Naturally, he thought it was a bothersome movement and that Black people had no right to protest. Things had come so far since slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. They even had a Black president and rich rappers and athletes. What more could they possibly want?
He had no idea what the realities of everyday Black people were and was appalled when I shared some of my experiences on the road. He stood for a moment in silence processing what I had said.
Then, he told me a story. At first, I wondered what on Earth he was getting at. But, if you feel as confused as I did, just stick it out ’til the end.
There was a big guy here who was a known drunk. He was always starting fights at the bars and tearing up the place. One night, it got so bad that someone called the cops. The police shows up … a little guy in comparison.
He knew he couldn’t take him, so he parked the cruiser out front, lights flashing, and just watched the fight. None of us blamed him for it. The guy was too big. So, he waited until the guy had tired himself out to arrest him and take him to the station.
Looking back at it, if I picture a Black person doing the exact same thing, deep down I do know how it would end. The cop would have shot the guy without a second thought and the rest of us wouldn’t even have questioned it.
When I picture a Black man tearing up a bar the way that guy did, I have to admit it feels like such a bigger threat than when I remember that White guy doing the exact same thing. And, I’m sure police officers feel it, too. It’s funny the lenience we afford to our own kind but won’t give to others.
I don’t understand the whole BLM and stuff like you do and I don’t live your life. But, I understand it a little better now. And I want you to know your life matters. It matters to me.
So, why do Black people not comply? If you’re still asking this question in 2022, you haven’t been paying attention. A Conservative Trump-loving farmer in Wyoming, who never discussed race with a Black person before talking to me … gets it.
What’s your excuse?