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It Was Just A Matter of Time

James Warren August 27, 2020
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I couldn’t sleep last night. Three days ago, Jacob Blake was shot. And as you know by now, I need time to process things when Black people get shot or killed by police. Because I am processing my fear, my anger, my sadness for the victims and their families, and my concern for the consequences in my community. I also feel the burden of needing to wait to “get all of the facts” because I know how our society is. I know there are people who are already predisposed to assuming that no matter what, it is the Black person’s fault. I do not want to be that person in reverse, and just assume that no matter what, it was another episode of racism.

So I got out of bed, dragged my blanket behind me down the stairs and headed to the living room sofa. I turned on the TV. I saw the headlines: three people shot during protests.

I sat up, now realizing I would not be going back to sleep any time soon. I listened to the preliminary reports. I wondered if this shooter was white. I wondered why we had not yet heard of his capture when there were police everywhere, supposedly to keep the peace and prevent any violence. I thought about Jacob Blake’s children in the car, watching him get shot and wondering if they just watched him die. My heart sank as my mind began to race. All I could think was that we knew it.

We knew this would happen again.

We knew you would get bored with Black Lives Matter.

We knew the president would continue to stoke fear and division.

We knew police would shoot an unarmed Black man again.

We knew you would say “peaceful protests only,” because property matters to you more than Black lives.

We knew it. We told you. And you let it happen again.

Look, I’m going to use the word “you” a lot in this piece. If you’re an ally or an advocate, you already know that you’re working to be part of the solution (and still have work to do because, well, there is so much of it. We’re counting on you to speak up and out, especially to your white family members and friends). But if you find yourself asking yourself whether or not “you” applies to you, or if you find yourself telling yourself that “you” definitely does not apply to you, then I have news for you. “You” absolutely applies to you. Now back to the point.

Yes. You let it happen. Because what is happening is systemic racism in every aspect of American life, including the justice system and the way police act in Black communities. When police see Black people as more of a threat than white people doing the same things or far, far worse, that is racism. It is not up to Black people to help police see them as less of a threat than white people, and it is not up to Black people to solve racism. It is up to white people to dismantle it. So if it’s not dismantled, if it persists, it is on you.

This evening, the Wisconsin Attorney General said Blake “admitted he had a knife in his car.” And? I am waiting for the rest of that briefing. I am sure I’ll be waiting for a while. Why did we only hear the result of the interview with Jacob Blake? Why didn’t we hear about the result of the interview with the officer? This is racism. This is the micro and macro aggression that immediately paints a Black victim as a suspect and allows a white police officer who is filmed firing seven shots into the back of a man to be innocent until proven guilty. Is having a knife in the car the same as wielding it in a threatening manner? No. And before you say I’m parsing my words, consider this: how does an unarmed man going to his car – whether to get his knife or not – surrounded by multiple police officers, with his children in the car present a bigger threat to you than a white man running down the street IN YOUR DIRECTION with a semi-automatic rifle, who JUST SHOT THREE PEOPLE IN FRONT OF DOZENS OF WITNESSES INCLUDING YOU? How does a man walking with an assault rifle in the first place not register as a threat to you?

Some police and their dog-whistle supporters keep talking about how they deserve to go home to their families (as if Black people don’t). Of course they do. But they signed up for a job that has risk. It’s not about the power of your gun. It’s about our trust in your badge. Some of these police officers just want to shift the burden of risk towards the people they interact with. It’s more the Black person’s job to make sure they don’t get killed when encountering the police, than it is the police officer’s job to try to make sure no one gets killed during the encounter. I do not want any cops to be killed or injured in the line of duty. I know we need police – and we need a new vision of policing and public safety. Because what we are seeing in these shootings and killings is some kind of irrational, fear-based, prejudiced reaction that says, “I don’t know what kind of threat you pose, so I’m going to assume you pose the deadliest threat possible, and I’m going to shoot you in the back before I have to find out.” I scratch my head at this. The person that officer is engaged with has the same right to life. They did not give up their right to live just because cops showed up on the scene. If you think that’s true, then ask yourself why police treated Dylan Roof with great care and concern for his rights when they arrested him? Why did police slowly trail Jeremy Christian in their cars (who was brandishing the knife he’d already used to kill people)? Why did police let Kyle Rittenhouse walk right on by them armed to the teeth, after he had just shot and killed people? Why do we have to keep going through this? Why do some police assume worse of the Black people they encounter than they do of white people they encounter?

We keep going through it because a white man with a gun scares you less than a Black man who is not holding a weapon. Yes, I said it. Jacob Blake was unarmed. Maybe he was going to get his knife, maybe he wasn’t. And if you say, “They don’t have time to evaluate that and they can’t take that chance,” then why do they take such a relaxed approach around all the armed white men who show up at these protests, supposedly to protect someone else’s property, but really to intimidate protesters? Why aren’t they registering all of them as threats which could escalate at any time? Why do white militias not scare you? Can you not understand why some Black people see white people with guns as threats? And that many police happen to be white people with guns? And that if you thought you were about to die an unjust death, you might try to get away or try to protect yourself, or your family sitting in the car two feet away?

White supremacy blinds white people to their whiteness and to their systems of racism. It’s why convincing you that it exists is a herculean effort. Because this is a whole fiction you have created and built up over 400 years and it revolves around you and you can’t see anything else. Until, one day, you do. Until you wake up. And when you do wake up, the question remains are you going to stay awake, or go back to sleep? A lot of you are looking at the bed of your white privilege quite longingly.

Honestly, I do feel bad about the damage that comes from a small percentage of demonstrators. And I’m also very sick and tired of hearing your white indignation about the damage. We all understand cause and effect, so cause and effect this: the damage is a function of the protest, the protest is a function of police shooting and killing unarmed Black people. Ergo, if you don’t want the damage, stop the killing of unarmed Black people.

If looting storefronts and setting cars on fire are wrong, police shooting and killing unarmed Black people is far, far worse, and you know it. So stop equating the end result with the root cause, stop staying silent on police shooting and killing unarmed Black people and piping up only when some cars get burned and buildings get looted. No, I don’t want to see the property or business someone has worked hard to build or acquire go up in flames. But I REALLY don’t want to see another Black life taken or permanently destroyed because fear and power disguised as badges and guns showed up on the scene one day.

So where do we go from here? Well, you know I am fueled by justice, love, equity, hope and faith. I truly want to believe we can emerge from this reckoning to be a better nation, a better people. I want to believe we can achieve unity. But unity depends on honesty and it is time for you to get more honest about your racism, and what you intend to do about it. Then, we can start the process of healing and moving forward together in truth, with reconciliation for the past, and hope for the future. But it’s going to take a lot of work, and most of that is on you.

Black Lives Matter.

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