How Could I Have Not Known?

For most of my 20s and 30s, I lived in Dupont Circle in the center of Washington DC. I participated in most of the big progressive protests or demonstrations of support during those days, and I saw my share of social unrest. If I were still living there and especially if I were still that age, I’m sure I might have been part of the peaceful demonstrators that were tear gassed at what is being called The Battle of Lafayette Square.

But I’m older–OK, I’m officially a senior–and living in North Carolina now, and since I quality for several of the high-risk categories for coronavirus, I’m staying at home. I’m keeping up on the news, and I’m donating some money for the causes that are standing up against US racism and government overreach, and I’m praying and sending out energy of healing and unity and making things better for all US citizens.

Staying at home doesn’t mean staying uninvolved. For example, this morning I watched and participated at home as the Senate Democrats took an 8 minutes 43 second time of silence to honor George Floyd, whose first funeral service is today. Sitting there in silence and praying and meditating, it becomes clear how long a period of time that is. I couldn’t help but wonder what in the world the four police now charged with his murder were doing all that time.

Among other things, I think it is a good time to borrow a technique from the 12-step programs and take a moral inventory of myself. I don’t consider myself racist, and I have protested and spoken out and contacted legislators and VOTED VOTED VOTED in favor of those who I believed were trying to reduce racism instead of enflame it. However, this is a good time for me to examine where I’ve had blinders on and how I’ve been complacent. As the late President Kennedy once said when misquoting Edmund Burke, ““The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I don’t necessarily believe in evil, but I wanted to go within and consider what I may have failed to do that is resulting in systemic problems threatening to tear our country apart.

Which in my case, came down to: How could I have NOT known?

Because in my reading on this issue I was SHOCKED to discover that being killed by police was the SIXTH highest cause of death for young men in the US between ages of 25-29 (according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2019). The highest was accidental death (including drug overdoses and car crashes), then, sadly, suicide, then homicide. Next is heart disease, then cancer. But number six for that age group is death by police (restricted to those who were shot, tasered, choked, suffocated, or physically man-handled by police; it does not include those who died from auto accidents or injuries when fleeing from arrest).

Of course, those deaths aren’t distributed evenly. Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police compared to white men, with Native American and Latino men about half way in-between. The only group with fewer deaths by police were Asian/Pacific Islander men.

Now, to be fair, this is the total number of deaths, the mass majority of which happened during a violent crimes and/or when the men killed were armed (or, at least, that’s what the reports claim). Still, in my ignorance, I never thought that would be such a major cause of death. I guess that is a marker for my white privilege. I assume communities of color are much more aware of the prevalence of these deaths due to police.

I have realized my white privilege in terms of viewing police consistently as protectors of my safety rather than as a threat. As a mom, I had “a” talk with my son, now a young adult, about what to do if the police ever stopped him. But I know that it was very different than “the” talk my sister mothers in black or brown families have with their sons.

This morning I also listened to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, one of three African-Americans in the US Senate. Among other things, he was protesting the differences in incarceration between white people and people of color. He repeated something I’ve heard him say often about the large number of black convicts who were in jail for something that two of the last three US Presidents had admitted to doing.

So, not new news…except I had never really dug into what that meant. I looked into an article that gave more statistics about it. According to Senator Booker, whites and blacks report about the same usage of marijuana, but black people are four times more likely to be arrested for using the drug illegally then white people are (which is particularly astonishing given that the black population is about 13% of the US population, compared to 62% white).

Senator Booker attributes this disparity to institutionalized racism, and apparently the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) agrees. According to the ACLU, there is a five-year minimum federal prison sentence for distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine (apparently a cheap illegal drug used largely in poor neighborhoods, which tend to be neighborhoods of color). For cocaine, however–a more expensive powdered drug preferred by affluent illegal drug users, who tend to be white–the same sentence requires the criminal to be dealing with 500 grams of cocaine.

I might be a little more excused for not knowing that because I just don’t have experience with illegal drugs, rich or poor. But still….really? The rich people get to have 100 times as much of their drugs before they are automatically sent to jail for five years?

That is just one example. But it is an example that shows me why the black community might feel like the decks are stacked against them. It is an example, and probably a minor one, of why they could have a lot of rage about the system as it is now.

So this is one step I’m taking as I process all that is going on. I’m looking into things that I kind of “knew,” or at least had heard about, to better understand the fear and the frustrations of many people with whom I share this country, but have a very different life experience. I don’t know where it will lead, but I believe learning and better understanding the life paths of others who aren’t like me is always a good thing.

Tomorrow (probably?) I’m going to write about an area that I do know about. However, I’ll leave that for later.

I want to end with an Instagram post by a mother who is much more famous than I am–Julia Roberts (who apparently got it from another famous mom, Julianne Moore). It’s a great reminder to those of us who aren’t now (at least) terrified every time our sons go out that they will have an encounter with the police that will result in them never coming home again.


I have privilege as a white person because I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (AltonSterling)
I can sleep (AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (TamirRice)
I can go to church (Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (JohnCrawford) 
I can have a disabled vehicle (TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.
*I copied and pasted this … please do the same.

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