I’ve been struggling for days now to express my feelings about what has been going on in the world but more specifically in the city I live in, Charlotte. The eyes of the nation have been fixed on the Queen City since the officer involved shooting last week. The first few days seemed to be filled with anger and violence. And I saw the places I walk by on my way to work, places I’ve been many times and places that hold many memories being destroyed. I heard the helicopters and sounds of tear gas from my back porch. The reality of what I had been witnessing from afar for years had now landed literally in my backyard. I was shaken, confused and sad.
I wanted very much to write about what I was seeing and feeling. But I thought, who am I to have an opinion on this situation? I’m a white woman who grew up in an all white suburb and attended an all white elementary and high school. I’ve also never been arrested and had very few interactions with the police. I have never felt harassed or that my rights were violated in any police situation. So why should I have anything to say?
Although my experience with the police has been minimal and without incident, I do know what it’s like to lose a family member with police involved.
Almost 20 years ago my brother was killed while being chased by police. He was on a motorcycle without a tag. The police attempted to pull him over, but he ran. He wrecked a few minutes later. His rib broke and punctured his heart. He died instantly. I could have spent the last 20 years blaming that police officer. I could have held onto a lot of anger and blame. Instead, I realize that my brother made a critical mistake; one that cost him his life. I certainly wish the officer hadn’t given chase, but that’s not what happened. I can’t change it.
I also have something to say because I’m a writer, and this is how I make sense of the world. Finally, I think my voice has some place in this conversation because I live my life embracing differences. Your skin color or religion or gender will never be the reason I can’t tolerate you. I say tolerate because I’m not going to say hate or dislike because those aren’t feelings I feel toward really anyone. I will find you intolerable based on your actions and words. I care if you are honest, kind, accepting and empathetic. I care if you do what you say you’re going to do. I care if you base your words on facts rather than hearsay or opinion.
This is what I know. A man lost his life last week. The police seem resolute on their version; the family seems to be also resolute on their version. I have seen the evidence provided to the public. I am not a criminal justice expert nor an attorney so I don’t believe I’m qualified to make any judgments on what occurred in that parking lot. But I will say two things about the police (and these are my beliefs): 1. People of color are targeted more by the police than their white counterparts. There is a bias. 2. Most officers seem to be focused on doing what’s right and protecting their community.
I can make some assessments of the aftermath. Our constitution allows for the citizens of this country to protest and speak freely. We are very lucky to have this ability. In case you have forgotten, this freedom is not a given around the world. Peaceful protests can be a powerful way to spur change. Martin Luther King, someone I greatly admire, was a remarkable crusader for change through peaceful protest. He is the type of man we should aim to emulate when there is a time for protest.
Because I just don’t get how destroying the city and making it unsafe for people to come to work or go out to eat helps anyone. This city has now lost critical dollars. And I don’t mean the city lost money, which they did. I mean the business owners who had to close lost money. The individuals who work for them lost money. These aren’t the big bad corporations. The people losing are real people with real bills to pay. Yes, the city has lost as well. The costs have probably been millions of dollars to bring in the National Guard and other resources. I’ve heard protestors say they want this to happen – they want the city to suffer – why? I can’t understand this reasoning. Our city has already lost so much because of HB2, a law that has made me ashamed to say I live here (and if you think it’s about bathrooms, you’re wrong.).
I also want to point out the role of the media and social media has played in escalating this incident. Think about this – who profits when something horrible and tragic occurs? The media. Their ratings go up and so do their advertising dollars. We all know this, but we need to be reminded. The media will spin the story in a way that most increases ratings. Most of the coverage in the first few days centered on the violence then there seemed to be a shift to calling for unity and peace. I don’t believe that everyone in the media thinks this way, but business is business. The other culprit is social media. How many live feeds or phones in the air were seen? Thousands probably.
And do people act differently when the camera is on? Yes, I think so. I think many people out on the streets were looking for a chance for their 15 minutes of fame. They wanted to capture something on video that would go viral. While social media seems to connect us in many ways, it has also elevated our self-importance. We think we are the star of our own show. In a way we are, but it’s not a show. This is real life.
Social media has also allowed people on both sides to play armchair detective and spout off their opinions (not facts) on the matter. Social media allows people to make statements with little consequence. You don’t have to be brave to make a comment or post a tweet. You do have to be brave to really want to see change.
To me, there’s fault and causation on both sides of the issue. The chasm between the two seems to be getting larger. But how about we stop blaming and making excuses? Listen, really listen. Don’t just listen to have your retort ready. Change really can start with one person. Be the kind of person that you can be proud of every day when you look in the mirror. That’s a start.
I didn’t know if I could find the right words. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe they will just fall on deaf ears. I do believe in the power of words. They’ve helped me along the way more than you could know. However, words go both ways. They can never be erased. You can’t take them back. Use your words in a constructive manner; more people will want to hear them and embrace them. They can ease pain, heal wounds and close the gaps between us. Just give them a chance.
One final thought: We are all human. We are all mortal. We are all imperfect. We all have pain. We all want to have joy. If we keep these things in mind, maybe we can start from a place of “us” rather than “them.”