When I first heard there had been a shooting of yet another unarmed Black man, this time in Tulsa, Oklahoma I did something that I normally don’t do: I watched the video being shared in my Facebook newsfeed. Nothing prepared me for what I saw; a stranded motorist, walking slowly away from an officer and toward his car, with his hands up was in an instant hit with a taser and then fatally shot. His body fell to the ground where he was left unattended, receiving no immediate medical attention. His blood spilled to the ground while police arranged to divert traffic and a voice in a helicopter above, only able to see the fallen man’s blackness, proclaimed this father of four, “…looks like a bad dude” and “might be on something.”
All of the feelings associated with the many other shootings flooded my consciousness – anger, incredulousness, sadness, and fear. My feelings related to the shooting of unarmed motorist Terence Crutcher were able to be contained because of the distance; this was in Tulsa and I am in Detroit. No, I’m not proud to admit that this not being in my backyard brought me some measure of comfort, but in these times being Black and being the mother of a Black teenage son – you cope any way you can.
But the murder of yet another citizen at the hands of police in Tulsa hit uncomfortably close to home when I noticed what you had to say about it, Mr. Jerant. You took to Facebook and responded to the news report by saying:
“Do you mean the unarmed man who didn’t listen to police…. Again.
The one who continued to resist by walking away from the police…. Again.
The one who continued to walk away with his hands up, and proceeded to disobey more orders all the way back to his vehicle.
Then put his hands down continued to disobey orders and then reached into the open widow of car? That unarmed man? That one that simply didn’t listen…. Again.
Get ready for the liberal media frenzy of BS. Then the audio will come out, then everyone will say he didn’t listen, then after a false narrative for 3 months by BLM and “rioting peaceful protests” everyone will say ohhh I guess he was wrong, and the police were right? Then after a real investigation the truth comes out?
Simple story never changes. Listen to police who have guns pointed at you and don’t get shot. It isn’t hard.
Here we go again. “Hands up” until they aren’t anymore. The media will cut video then, just wait until mainstream plays the clip. CNN we are ready for your half story !!! They will ignore everything else. Clicks and ads it’s always about money not the truth. watch and see.”
An inexplicable fatigue, one that emanates from a tired soul, was instantly added to my emotions of anger, sadness, incredulousness, and fear. I asked myself, “How could an owner of a restaurant that so many of my friends and I support, here at HOME, in a city that is 83% Black, say such a thing after seeing a lifeless body lying in the street – shot by police AFTER having been tasered?”
I am tired. I am tired of feeling helpless. I am tired of trying to figure why you and so many others don’t see what I see. I am tired of Black dollars mattering and not Black lives. I am tired of hearing a different justification provided after every murder of a Black man or woman; justifications that merely add to the list of things Black people cannot do without being killed or having their lives placed in grave danger. We cannot ask why we are being pulled over (Sandra Bland). We cannot be a therapist caring for an autistic patient (Charles Kinsley). We cannot go to the house of a stranger and knock on the door and ask for help (Renisha McBride). We cannot play in the park (Tamir Rice). We cannot reach for our ID after a traffic stop (Philando Castile). We cannot shop in Walmart (John Crawford). This, Marko is the price of Blackness.
From a place of privilege (gender, race, and financial) you admonished Black men and women to, “Listen to police who have guns pointed at you and don’t get shot. It isn’t hard.” However you fail to remember all of the instances where that did happen and with the same deadly outcome. I do not. I remember. Looking at my Black son won’t let me forget.
But, in addition to remembering the numerous instances where “our skin was our sin”, I also remember Kelsey Wood, the 25-year old white woman who, after being pulled over for driving erratically, danced for police while they shouted for her to put her hands up. She lives. I remember Jacob Hastings, the white man who fled from police and upon finally being apprehended, kicked the back window out of the police cruiser. He was tasered – but he lives. I remember when police when to serve an arrest warrant on Jonathan Order they were met with threatening comments, and immediately after the suspect opened the door he stabbed an officer 5 times before retreating back into his apartment. Police then negotiated with him for 30 minutes and summarily took him into custody. And finally, I remember Brock Ray Bunge. Just last week outside of Los Angeles, Mr. Bunge went on a crime spree. He had attempted to kill one person and robbed two others – now he was a bad dude. Armed, too. But after a 6-hour standoff, police deployed a robot to take his gun from him; a robot was used to kill Micah Johnson a few weeks ago in Dallas. Oh, how I remember.
The memories of Black folks in this country are long and even when we try to forget a new event forces us to recall. However, Marko, I also remember times seeing a person make a mistake and learning from it. I even remember the satisfaction I have felt when a white person who didn’t “get” why a Black person felt or thought a certain way, arrive at a place of genuine compassion and understanding. I would very much like to remember you in this way. However, that is up to you.
It would appear that given our difference of opinion in this situation that we don’t have anything in common. But, I found something. You graduated from The University of Detroit Jesuit High School. In fact, you are an alumnus of whom the school is very proud. My son is currently a student at U of D. And while I may not know you, I know what you were exposed to and I know that at some point in your education you were taught to be a “Man for Others” who is loving, religious, intellectually competent, open to growth, and committed to doing justice. That is something I hope you remember.
I have a confession: I called for a boycott of your establishment on my Facebook page when I first learned of what you said. In a moment of being tired, I erred; I forgot something. I forgot that in my work as a Racial Equity consultant, I must be committed to finding ways to bridge, where possible. While I can’t force anyone to walk across a bridge of racial understanding, I can offer to walk with them – should they choose to accept the invitation. I am open to the possibility this may be a teachable moment for you, me, the young men at U of D, and the community as a whole. We need that in this community and this nation.
In writing this I am sure that I will receive criticism from some in my community who would wish for a much more harshly worded letter. I’m willing to endure that; I learned long ago that doing this work of racial equity wins no popularity contests. But what I also know is if we are to ever become a more fair and equitable community and society we are going to have to talk to one another and not at one another.
So, Marko, let’s talk. Let’s talk about implicit bias. Let’s talk about racial history (in Detroit and the US). Let’s talk about systemic racism. We can even talk about the Lions. But, by all means – let’s talk over dinner and drinks (wine, please).
Harriet Speaks: Strategies and Communications for Racial Equity