“Par for the course,” my friend texted after I offered her support in the wake of racist comments by Wilmington Police in mid-June. My friend and I have known each other for over 20 years. I didn’t contact her after the George Floyd homicide. My friend is a fellow professional and mother of two young Black men.
I didn’t contact my friend after George Floyd, Sean Reed, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, or a lengthy list of other young Black men killed by cops or community vigilantes over the past 20 years. Each of those victims could have been one of my friend’s sons. I didn’t contact her partly because I’m insulated and thoughtless, and partly because I guess I believed, “It can’t happen here. Wilmington isn’t Alabama. We’re progressive.”
Apparently, not so much.
The Wilmington officers’ own video caught them stating their views on the nature of the protests triggered by George Floyd’s homicide. One officer is preparing for another “civil war” and another said, “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them fucking n*%@$!s. I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait.”
And my friend considers the above comments “par for the course.”
Ouch. That hurts.
To Wilmington’s credit, Chief of Police Donny Williams terminated his subordinates’ employment mercifully, quickly. Unfortunately, ridding the barrel of a “few bad apples” is getting to be “par for the course” for police forces around the country. There seem to be so many bad apples that Democratic California congresswoman Norma Torres, along with 27 other lawmakers has asked for the FBI to allow to release an un-redacted version of a 2006 FBI report on white supremacist groups intentionally integrating themselves into police forces. During the Bush administration, the FBI found that racist groups were intentionally putting a lot of bad apples in a lot of barrels.
Infiltration of white supremacists into our police is not the main problem, and it’s not the kind of integration that will make America great. But it may be part of the reason that the role-play exercises — and lovingkindness meditations psychologists teach police to counter biases hidden just below the surface — is generally not that effective. Dr. Feelgood’s role plays will not cure hatred.
My friend’s text hit hard. Her comment reminded me of my insulation from the deep-seated race-based hatred of a country that has yet to come to grips with the genocide that took us from coast to coast or the slavery that built our early empire. That hatred has been my friend’s day-to-day reality her entire life. It was the reality of her mother’s life. And her grandmother’s life. And her great grandmother’s life. And generations before her great grandmother. There is no era in American history that persons of color shared equivalent risk of arrest, imprisonment and violence with culturally dominant European whites. That is historical fact supported by data. But an intellectual awareness of an abstract social problem labeled “institutional racism” isn’t the gut-punch of reality.
“Par for the course” was a gut-punch. Sometimes a gut-punch is a good thing.
Another friend and person of color asked, “If we’re playing basketball, waiting to see who gets chosen for teams, who gets the benefit of the doubt: you or me?”
“You,” I said. “I’m a way better ballplayer, but you’re taller and black. Someone who doesn’t know you can’t shoot picks you first.”
“There is literally no other place I have ever gone in my life where that’s true for me,” he said. “The only place I get the benefit of the doubt is on a basketball court.”
My friend isn’t overly concerned about white supremacist groups taking over police forces and the military. “Yeah, the KKK has always been convenient for white folks,” he said. “It’s those damn KKK, neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois. It’s not us!”
Anger flashed briefly.
“What does the damn name matter to a man that looks like me when the man holding the gun or rope always looks like you?”
Ouch, again. My friend is right. White supremacists in police forces and a birther conspiracist in the White House point to bigger problems for our country
Sometimes a gut-punch is a good thing, but I don’t want it to be par for the course. It’s long past time we stop watering the seeds of racism and allowing its strange fruit to flourish.