We have a system of justice that I want to believe in and yet it seems like every day it fails me. Or really, it fails people of color. Not me personally. I’m a privileged white girl who grew up on a farm – I never had to worry about being shot as I walked into school. I never had to think about which gang I might join to ensure protection while I walked to the bus stop. When I talked to my family about our heritage, I didn’t have to listen to painful stories about how at one time someone owned me and beat me at their will if I deigned to do something like speak up. While my family did not have a lot of money I definitely never wanted for anything and certainly not the basics like food, shelter, or safety.
I didn’t have to grow up and think that someone – a law enforcement official – might shoot me simply because I decided to wear my favorite black hoodie with the hood up that day that I was cold. In fact, it would never even cross my mind that I shouldn’t get to wear my favorite softball team’s sweatshirt with my name on it. It was a sign of loyalty to my team; a sign of prestige that I was on the varsity team by sophomore year. It was a sign of a privilege because underneath that black hoodie my skin was white.
When I get pulled over by the police for speeding – and let’s admit it, I speed more than I ought – I wait in my car and deal with my annoyance at the situation. Sometimes I make myself cry because who doesn’t take pity on a poor white girl weeping? Never do I worry that today’s the day I might die. Never do I think twice when I reach into my glove compartment to get my registration. Never do I think about all the things I “should” do in order to make sure that I am going to make it out of this situation alive.
It doesn’t even matter, though, whether a person of color takes “precautions” to try and prevent police officers from killing them. Alton Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Freddie Grey, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland – they weren’t killed because they didn’t do things “right.” They were killed – murdered – because they have black skin. It’s that simple. When Ammon Bundy and his band of yahoos all holed up in Oregon with numerous guns police did nothing more than tell them to stop. For 41 days we allowed these heavily armed white men to make their stand – refuse to pay federal taxes and claim that the Constitution had no bearing on them. Eventually we threw them in jail and will ultimately give them due process. Yet in under 48 seconds Alton Sterling was assaulted and then murdered – shot, multiple times – for the crime of being black in Louisiana. Philando Castile dared to drive around with a tail light out; that ended in his murder. Where’s their due process?
I loved Constitutional Law in law school. It was my favorite class and when I watched the HBO version of “John Adams” I cried at the scene of the first reading of the Constitution. Call me a nerd, but it made me feel obligated to work on upholding the rights we have fought so hard for. I felt defiant, angry, yet motivated to help change the world when I took constitutional criminal procedure. I became a lawyer because I do, truly, want to uphold the law. I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I believe in checks and balances and the Supreme Court and I want everyone – no matter their sin, no matter their crime – to be given a fair trial. Heck, a fair shot at life.
Yet, in today’s society, we’ve decided due process is not necessary if your skin is anything other than white. Police officers are the judge, the jury, and the executioner all at the same time. Their decisions are not grounded in the law; their decisions are grounded in their own prejudices, their own racism, their own fear. Those murdered and shot don’t get a fair trial. The cops who shoot them – if they actually are prosecuted at all – get off, get immunity. Everyone makes mistakes, you know? These mistakes – “he had on a hoodie”; “he was reaching for something” – translate to: He was black.
We are a society run by, shaped by, and dominated by white culture. We deem other cultures valuable when we want to take their attributes – hip hop, tacos, yoga – but we don’t deem the people of those cultures worthy of our laws. White people are the oppressors and only white people can change this. White supremacy is still a movement in this country; it’s also still the foundation of our country and what protects my privilege and allows the indifference of police officers and the judges who acquit them to keep murdering innocent black people.
As Macklemore aptly put it: silence is my luxury. It’s a luxury people with black or brown skin don’t have. I confess I don’t know what the answer is here. What I do know is that it’s time to listen. It’s time to realize that we – the white people – don’t have the answers because we don’t have the same perspectives that people of color do and more importantly, we don’t take the time to listen so we can make real change. We don’t want to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has less than us, who has to hustle every day, because it’s hard. We don’t like the hard. We don’t like the possibility that our lives, our culture, our everyday existences might have to change. God forbid we should be slightly inconvenienced. I implore you, however, to let that go. Embrace the hard. Swallow that giant lump that’s been in your throat and help end these senseless killings. Don’t be silent. Don’t be passive. Don’t stand for injustice.
Black lives matter.