When Will Things Change
I woke this morning, showered, dressed, brewed and fixed a cup of coffee, and sat down to watch CNN’s New Day, as I do most every morning. It’s approximately 6:15am and I’m watching two people talking about a family member who had been killed by police. Naturally, I assumed they were talking about the incident in Baton Rouge that happened YESTERDAY.
Now, a bowl of oatmeal in hand, I watched as the anchors prepped the audience for the video that would be broadcast moments later. Again, I fully expected to the what was seen the day prior. Within minutes, comprehension led to disbelief over yet another shooting. Only this time, the video was not one of a bystander. Instead, the person was the passenger live streamed the aftereffects on Facebook.
As I watched, my stomach knotted and emotions overwhelmed as the passenger, her young daughter in the backseat, provided – with miraculous calm – narration. Could anyone imagine the horror of the moment? The fear of he who should be sworn to serve and protect?
Not knowing the outcome, I thought..oh, no…is she next?
Then, I watched the driver go limp. This man, with a blood-drenched shirt and bloodied arm and body, I thought had died.
Two days…two deaths.
Yet, we have so many.
Law Enforcement Acknowledgement
Before I continue, allow me to clearly state the following:
Are all men and women of color (whatever said color may be) innocent 100% of the time? Are all law enforcement officers abusers of the power granted by the gun and badge?
The answer requires no thought. It is obvious.
My words serve not to indict or vilify any officer or to freely vindicate anyone. There are officers who dedicate their lives – and give their lives in service. Yet, just as that, there are those who are of color who break laws. Yes, there are officers of color. Just the same, there are people who are white who break laws, too.
We are all in this together. Yet, for many and in reality, that can often be a fantasy.
Rep Jim Jordan
Our own agendas, beliefs, etc. often hold us back from being what we need to be. As an example, Chris Cuomo asked Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, whether discussing these shootings might be “a better discussion to be having” in opposition to focusing on someone’s use of email.
I noticed something during Mr. Jordan’s reply. Actually, I noticed several things that were, in my opinion, obvious:
- Mr. Jordan was not interested in being asked about the shootings.
- Mr. Jordan was very careful in how he answered the questions. (This, in his defense, might be something anyone who was a political figure would do if not aware of the facts.)
- Yet, any grace I might give to Mr. Jordan evaporated when he began talking about Hillary Clinton’s email. Mr. Jordan’s entire demeanor changed – almost to the point of a kid in a candy store. In this case, the candy replaced by opportunity – the opportunity to advance party rhetoric. For that, Mr. Jordan, you did not serve your country today. You served your party.
Harry J. Houck
Now, I’m watching AC360, and hearing Harry J. Houck speak incredibly disrespectfully to Van Jones.
— Kyle Jones (@KyleMJ6977) July 8, 2016
Whether or not a law enforcement officer loses his job and/or has a blemished reputation pales in comparison to someone who lost his life.
A constant truth exists within this great country: Whether by statistics, history, default, contempt, design, or whatever reason, there are two set of rules when it comes to those who are sworn to protect and serve.
Again, I KNOW there law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line each and every day. There are those who lose their lives. I know this…and I do not disrespect any of you.
My disrespect goes to those who wear a badge for the POWER it brings.
By both circumstance and choice, I have others who do not share the same skin color as do I, but who I consider my family nonetheless.
It scares me to think that any of them could be stopped by a cop who, either drunk on authority or acting due to lack of training, profile and pattern with disastrous consequences.
When seeing things like this, I am often a bit self-centered. My mind wonders back to something that happened to me back in 1996. In August 2014, I wrote the about being Stopped in the Name of the Law.
That post, relevant today, is as follows:
Stopped in the Name of the Law
In 2014, why is it that we have people working in law enforcement who have two sets of rules – one for the white population and one for the non-white? Yes, this is an assumption on my part, to some degree, and I would anticipate some could comment with fervor for with either positive or negative responses.
What we should realize is this:
Just because the United States has seen the election of the first African-American President, it does not mean that racism is now extinct. It is still there…hidden.
Let’s go back in time – back to Mississippi in 1996.
Many of my readers already know my background; however, for the purpose of understanding, I provide these facts:
- I was born in Mississippi in 1973.
- I am an only child (biological) to white parents.
- Our family would be considered Middle Class.
- I attended public school.
- I had a Nanny who helped care for me at my grandparents country store during the first years of my life.
Because of my background and the path my of my own destiny, I became friends with a guy named Curtis Magee. By 1996, Curtis and I had moved past the Best Friend label and shared a brotherhood – one that extended past us and to his four brothers and his other family members.
Curtis’ grandmothers were both still alive and it was not uncommon to see me at their houses after school or after dark. I was enrolled at William Carey College and worked as a Computer Lab Tech at the local Middle School.
I Will Follow You
“Do I need to search the vehicle?”
I lived in the dorm at William Carey and, after visiting with Curtis and his family, prepared to leave around 8:30pm. I do not recall the date but feel confident that it was either a Tuesday or Thursday night. I got into my car and drove off.
I came to a stop at the end of the road and saw a city police car – driving slowly – heading in my direction on the road I was about to cross.
By the time I reached the second stop sign, it was clear that the city car was behind me as I saw him in the rearview mirror. I stopped….waited…and turned.
I reached another stop sign….stopped…waited…turned.
I reached another stop sign….stopped…waited…proceeded to cross the highway and into the cross section.
There was ANOTHER stop sign.
I stopped…waited…and pulled out onto the lane that would carry me back to William Carey.
The cop chose to follow me through all the stop signs!
My gut instinct had been to proceed all the way across the highway and into the driveway of another city policeman who I knew – and who was African-American.
I’ve always wondered, had I done so, would the following still have occurred?
Would I have been stopped in the name of the law?
The Stop Sign that Ran
Again, I pulled out onto the highway and began my trek back to Hattiesburg and William Carey.
My trip was delayed because I heard a siren and saw the lights.
The city cop, who had followed me for a good two-three minutes, was behind me signaling for me to pull over.
He approached my car – a white Mercury Topaz – and asked for my license. I provided it.
He shined his flashlight in my backseat and asked, “Do I need to search the vehicle?”
I responded, “Sir, you do what you need to do.”
He shined the light in my face and went back to his car. He stayed there for three-five-eight minutes. I don’t recall how long but it didn’t appear to be a quick run of a license.
I wouldn’t admit it to anyone then but I had become fearful. I knew many of the policemen on the force – both black and white. I had worked with many of them at local athletic events and was on good terms. I did not know this man.
The Part-Time Cop
The cop, who I would later find out was a part-time cop working for the city, returned to my car and handed me my license. He said, “Mr. Jones, what business do you have on this side of town at night?”
EUREKA! All was revealed.
“I was visiting friends.”
He didn’t reply to the comment with words. Instead, he tore off a ticket and handed it to me.
The ticket was for running a stop sign. Not just any stop sign, mind you. The stop sign on the road where he originally saw me! It was a stop sign that I KNOW as a fact that I observed and came to a 100% complete stop.
How do I know? I changed CDs at that stop sign before proceeding!!!!!
What the Part-Time Collins, Mississippi Cop said next was the icing on the cake:
“I’m giving you a ticket for running a stop sign. You will find all the information you need on the ticket.”
I was so angry that I was almost in tears but did not want to reveal it to this man. “Maybe next time you will think twice about being somewhere you shouldn’t be after dark.”
I could not believe it.
In 1996 and in my hometown where I had been the model citizen, a part-time city cop had stopped me for running a stop sign that I knew I had not run. I only wish that I had been able to use the technology of 2014 (now 2016) to record his words: Maybe next time you will think twice about being somewhere you shouldn’t be after dark.
I knew that we had a new Chief of Police, a man not from Collins. I assumed that the man who hired this cop might not respond to my letter. Because of this, I wrote a letter to the following:
- the Mayor
- the local Justice of the Peace
- the Board of Alderman
- AND..the Chief of Police
My goal was to make sure that the cop’s conduct didn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t the fact of the ticket – even though it was – but the fact that I was a victim of discrimination by this cop. He assumed, just because I was white in a black neighborhood, I must be up to no good!
The Call of the Chief
Several weeks/months later I received a call from the Chief of Police. He prefaced the call by informing me that his call was “at the behest of the Mayor who received a copy of the letter you sent me.”
I translated that to mean: If it were up to me, I wouldn’t call you but I have no choice in the matter.
He continued, “I spoke with Officer (name). He assures me that you did indeed run the stop sign and I find no reason to not believe my officer’s word.”
Translation: He says you ran it so you ran it. I take his word instead of yours.
He finished, “I understand you don’t agree with the ticket but Officer (name) was within his rights to stop you after you broke the law by running that stop sign.”
Translation: He stopped you. Deal with it and shut up.
I replied with, “Tell the mayor I appreciate him asking you to call.”
Translation: I know you didn’t do this of your own will and there is nothing that can come of disputing it further; however, I am not thanking you for being condescending.
My network of contacts – both black and white – quickly uncovered the part-time cop’s mistake. Around that time there was speculation of a white male in his 20s/30s, who would go into predominantly African-American neighborhoods after dark…in search of drugs. This white male drove a small, white, four-door car.
I choose to believe that this part-time cop mistakenly identified me as that person. With that assumption, his questions made sense.
“Do I need to search the vehicle?”
“Mr. Jones, what business do you have on this side of town at night?”
On the other hand, it provided new insight to the length of time it took for him to run my license and return to the car. I speculate that he discovered that he had the wrong person. He could have returned and said, “Mr. Jones, everything checks out good. Make sure to buckle up and drive safely.” Instead, it appeared that his ego did not allow that to happen. He chose to show his authority.
The Chief of Police accepted a different position in another city within the next year. To my knowledge, the part-time cop is no longer such nor has he been that for many years. He owned a convenience store/gas station in the city and I never bought anything from there again.
The Lesson of the Law
A white male in South Mississippi chose to be in an area where another white male did not deem appropriate. Did I feel the victim of discrimination? Yes. Did it allow me to feel the same as what someone who was an African-American male might feel? No, it did not. Does it provide me an insight into the world of discrimination? Of course.
The lesson for me in 1996: You can’t always trust the police.
The lesson for me in 2014: The men and women of law enforcement are human. They have their own prejudices just as do we all. The problem comes when those in charge either do not hire the people who can police fairly and consistently OR agree with those who share prejudicial and biased views.
If we could go further back in time and change the circumstances to match the era, what would my lesson have been in 1966, 1956, 1926, 1886, 1876, 1866, 1856? Would things have been the same if I had been stopped in the name of the law during that time?????
The Lesson for Me in 2016
The lesson for me in 2016: It’s sad that, as I read this, I find that not a lot has changed. If anything, we have seen repeated incidents. An equal reminder, as well, that there by the grace of God go many. I would like to mention, in 2015 and shortly after moving to the Ridgeland, MS area, I was stopped by a Flowood, MS officer. I was driving 10 miles over the limit and, having just moved and not knowing the area, was speeding. The officer gave me a ticket that I deserved. I..was..speeding.
The difference? I noticed when I saw the lights….when he walked to my car…when he walked back to his own…I was scared. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t disgruntled. I was scared…of the cop.
A white forty-two-year-old man in Mississippi (think about it – really) was scared of the cop. I was afraid of making him mad imagining the cop in 1996 being in power now.
Doesn’t make sense, does it?
Now, put yourself in the shoes…no skin…of an African-American male. What would have happened to me in 1996 with the part-time cop? What would have (or could have) happened to me in 2015 with the cop…if the shade of my skin were darker?
What does this mean for us as a people? Well, perhaps we – all of us – should remember one ultimately important fact. We…are…all…human.
Forget Democrat. Forget Republican. Forget White. Forget Black. Forget label. Forget label, label, label, and label. We are….all…human.
What makes anyone better than another?
Imagine what we – as a people – might do if we focused a bit less on what makes us different and more on what unites us.
Is that too much to ask??