When I was 17, before I had a child, before I was engaged in youth work, before I ever thought of becoming a teacher, before I ever had a history class I enjoyed, I had a conversation with my daughter’s dad about a comment he made to his nephew. I worked at Camp Snoopy, now Nickelodeon Studios, at the Mall of America. We were having an employee appreciation night and everyone was invited to come after hours and play games and ride the rides for free. I took him and his nephew. His nephew was around four or five at the time. While we were sitting and resting from all of the fun two security guards walked past us and his nephew ran over to hug them. He didn’t know them, he just saw their uniforms. He was at the age where he was being taught that police are “safe” people. My daughter’s dad told him not to ever do that again and said that they were ‘bad’ people.
I couldn’t understand his feelings because I never had any bad encounters with police, at least not then. I didn’t want his nephew to automatically categorize a group of people. Even I was taught in school they are people we can trust. They don’t warrant the same reaction we give to strangers. I remember learning about these safe people – police, firefighters, clergy. Thankfully, I had better instruction given at home. Then, I didn’t know how to explain to his nephew how to distinguish good people in a profession with bad people. Now, I have no choice because I have to explain it to my daughter.
A uniform does not make one safe. I find it disheartening that in the black community we cannot teach our children that police officers are safe. They aren’t viewed in our community as trusted folks for the most part. I’m even more disheartened because I know police officers, but I have to question if they are good people that are bad police officers or bad people that are good police officers. I have to question if their personal values should intertwine with their professional lives. I know one’s personal life doesn’t always translate into their professional life but I’m waiting for these good people to speak, to stand up, to say something. I don’t know the ‘code’ of their business – not to tell on your fellow bros in blue – but why stand in line with the bad ones and be condemned? Wouldn’t it be more honorable to stand up and speak out?
I remember being in an unsafe situation and I was scared to call the police. Not because I was scared of repercussions from my attacker, but I was scared that rather than an arrest, he would meet his death. I had been offline for only two days and when I logged back into my social media accounts all I saw were more rinse and repeat stories about black men being unjustly murdered. Murdered by the safe people and the safe people get to continue living. There’s no consequence to their actions.
Instinctively, if we’re in fear we react (fight, flight, or freeze). In a scenario with an officer, who is supposed to uphold the law, not be above it, there seems to be no option that’s greater than the other.
Having these repeated conversations with people that don’t understand or that don’t get it is exhausting. My students ask me, my host ask me, random strangers ask me. I don’t mind sharing what I know. I don’t know what’s more frustrating, explaining to black people that don’t understand the deep rooted and psychological impact the past has on the present or white people that refuse to see or comprehend privilege. At times I have to remind my daughter to be grateful and appreciative of her experiences. I tell her she’s privileged. We are able to leave, we have food to eat, we have shelter, and water but all of that doesn’t seem to matter if I know, because of her skin, her life won’t matter to someone that has the power. I will say that it has been refreshing hear from non-Americans.
Some days, it just seems easier to unplug and ignore the rest of the world but it’s impossible to live in a bubble and being unaware is the worst ignorance. I think this is why I’m so undecided about returning and building.
I’m sharing this link because I found some of the information informative. I was searching for a text I read when I was in school about patty rollers but couldn’t find the title.