When Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando was the target for the most recent mass shooting, my heart broke for the precious young people who died that night. But also, my heart hurt for my LGBTQ friends who were grieving the fact that their group, family, tribe had been targeted. From my gay friends I heard story after story about being bullied, harassed and having to live in fear because they were different. Sure they had won the right to be equal under the law, but that didn’t change the fact they still felt targeted – and they had been.
Two days ago I watched a video of the shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man killed by the police in Baton Rouge. I am not a trained legal analyst, but his death looked horrific and unnecessary. Then, I awakened this morning to the shooting death of Philando Castile, a 32 year old, who was shot by the police in the suburbs outside of Minneapolis. His girlfriend began live streaming on FB just after he was shot. She said her boyfriend told the police he was carrying and when he was reaching for his ID the policeman shot him 4 times. He died as we watched live on FB. They had been stopped because they had a taillight that was not working.
I can hear many saying the following…. Maybe it wasn’t the officer’s fault. Both of these men brought it on themselves. Let the courts do their job before we pass judgement. We know Alton Sterling had a criminal record. Etc, etc, etc…
Here’s what I know for sure. I stand in solidarity with my friends.
In November 2014, I was horrified when I watched the police pull up on Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy playing with a play gun in the park in Cleveland, Ohio – alone. He was shot in less than 2 seconds. Maybe that happens all the time to white children. I have never seen a video of it but I guess it is possible.
When Travon Martin was killed in 2012, many white people that I know immediately jumped to the defense of the killer, George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who had been told by 911 to stop following Travon and let the police do their job. He didn’t follow their instructions. A fight ensued and Travon, 17 years old, was shot and killed. Less than five hours after the shooting Zimmerman was released from police custody. He was touted by many to be a great American. The last four years have proved otherwise. Maybe things like that happen all the time to 17 year old white kids. If it does, I guess I am unaware of it.
I remember shortly after Travon’s death a good friend of mine named Sonya was crying in church. I asked her what was wrong. She told me she was grieving out of fear. Her son was 14. He was a tall handsome boy. He also sometimes wore a hoodie. She was afraid her son’s life could be easily taken away and his killer could walk away because of the color of her son’s skin.
I am 54 years old and I have never worried about that happening to my sons. Why? Are they better? Are they smarter? Have they never been on the wrong side of the law? No to all of the above. They are white. I believe things like that happen far less to young men who look like my sons.
Please don’t misunderstand this article. I am not interested in trashing the police. There are good policemen and policewomen who protect and serve their communities. I just need you to know I stand with my black friends who are feeling as if their lives often don’t matter as much because of their skin color. Your lives matter. And I am standing with you.