Every time we see an instance of a person of color, or anyone, gunned down during a police interaction, the response always boils down to the fault being on the side of the civilian- who, many would be alive or unharmed if they just complied. As an elected official, I often work in close collaboration with various levels of law enforcement. In the wake of recent police shootings, I made it a point to try to start a dialogue around change and promoting community policing.
Regardless of our titles or career choices, at the end of the day, we are all human and are subject to human nature and emotion. Each instance of harassment or image of unarmed black men shot and killed are increasingly frustrating. I am a little angrier and more afraid each time I am stopped, knowing I did no wrong.
As an accomplished leader, educator, father one might say that I am reasonably successful. However, I am still intimately familiar with the fear and anxiety of driving and seeing a police car in my rearview mirror. One of the most infuriating things I have had to deal with in recent days is being harassed by the police while driving a new car that I worked hard to earn.
"Is this your car?"
"Yes, why wouldn't it be?"
"Because it's brand new and has temporary dealer plates on it."
"So, I can't have a new car?"
"It's a simple question."
"No, it's racial profiling, and that's not acceptable in my community."
It may have been a simple question, to them. But the implications of these types of interactions are damaging and dangerous. It is troubling to me that a young black male driving a new car in the community he sacrifices for, serves, and gives back to is enough justification for harassment because the notion that he might have stolen what he could have worked for is probable cause sufficient for a stop.
I was born and raised in Lynwood, California. I left to get and education and came back to serve my community. After an unfulfilling stint with the NBA, I was deciding between a career in law enforcement or education. My gut, heart, and purpose all led me to education; however, I still kept my options open to consider law enforcement. Finally, I had to make a choice between the LA Sheriff Department or the Lynwood School Board at that point I chose to work on building strong youth instead of trying to repair the broken adults that slipped through the system. Ironically, the department I was recruited by has been the most frequent perpetrators of racial profiling and harassment for me.
I am the epitome of why the reason, the suggestion, or notion that being polite and complying with officer commands is a means of feeling safe is fallacious at best. Of the many times I have been pulled over by the police, often at gunpoint, I have only received one ticket. I have never been arrested, and I don't have a criminal record. In fact, I have never been suspended from school, and I am confident I returned all of my library books on time. But every time the police pull up behind me my heart starts to pound and I utter the most sincere prayers that I don't see the red and blue lights flash or hear sirens. If by chance I am pulled over, I am doing everything in my power to make sure I make it home.
There are some who might feel that my point of view of experience is dramatic or result of some alternate reality. But this is what black men of all ages live on a daily basis. Often, where we live, what we drive, how educated we are or what we do for a living has no effect on our interactions with police. And we have seen men who fight back shot and killed as well as men who comply shot and killed. So tell us, what do we do now? How am I supposed to advocate for dialogue and partnership between police and community when my interactions with police have not all been pleasant, and I am fearful when I am approached or pulled over?
I am my brother's keeper; I hear the voice of my brother's blood, calling from the ground.
After my incident with the police a few weeks ago, I paused and wondered whether or not I should tell my story. But I was reminded that change dies in darkness and if I wanted anything to modify the way our communities are policed I had to use my platform and speak up. Just think about the term "community policing." Why are pushing to change the way our communities are policed and not demanding that the focus is on ensuring that our communities are protected and safe. At the end of the day, we don't or want to be "policed," we want to be protected, like our lives matter to those who are meant to serve us.
What has to happen at this point starts with both sides of this issues realizing that there aren't two sides to this. I understand the stress a pressure our police officers work under, but I also understand the same pressures we feel as a community. We all just want to get home safely. So police have to be trained to do everything possible to ensure that both parties get home safely. We have to shift the mindset around the role of police in our communities by making sure the public understands what is happening to them when they are stopped or approached by police. Many of the interactions that we have seen gone awry are rooted in fear but we can do better, we have to do better. I know it's possible because we've seen it done.
Protecting and serving community means the protectors and servers are held accountable for protecting and serving those whom they are tasked to safeguard just as the public must be held accountable to ensure that police can do their jobs and return home to their families safe as well.
If we do this, Tamir Rice could play innocently with a toy gun in a park with and be barraged with nuggets of wisdom as police approach him instead of bullets. Philando Castille could reach for his ID, as he was told, and live to tell the story about how he politely interacted with police the day before as he served lunch to his students. Alton Sterling could be cited for selling CD's and asked to leave the store premises when approached by the police and return home to his family. Mike Brown could be seen as a kid who may have made a poor decision but still make it to his first day of college. And the men and women who have lost their lives in the line of duty could protect and serve communities and come home to loving families every night.