I felt strange two days ago not posting about Alton Sterling, and then yesterday Philando Castile was shot and killed in a neighborhood I know. I wrote a lot, then, and decided to wait a day before sharing. Between now and then, five police died at the hands of a sniper.
I feel very, very sad today. I am not alone. Everyone in America is sad today.
Last time the police shot someone in Minnesota, I thought: People will try harder, they will do better than in other places. There is plenty of racism and casual white privilege in Minnesota, but there's also a lot of heart and a lot of utopian, naive white people, and I thought they would do better.
They did not do better. So when Philando Castile was killed, I just felt a cold tightness in my chest, knowing that the police and the mayor already failed. They already failed and I don't see how they would do better this go around, no matter how many of my friends stayed up late nights at the precinct, no matter that those protesters were themselves shot, no matter, no matter.
I feel tired, and heavy, and my fatigue is only a portion of what the men and women of color in this country feel. Because as a white person, I am not seriously afraid when a cop stops my car. Are you? Maybe I get a bit anxious, but it's not the same. I have had surly police officers, combative police officers, and downright jovial police officers stop me. I've been given tickets, warnings, insults and directions by these police officers.
The only things I have to say that are just mine:
I have a family member who was murdered by police. It's not the same, and it is the same.
It took a long time for me to feel the connection between these shootings, for a lot of reasons, but I do feel it. I feel the way the police and prison system decided my cousin was a threat, treated him as less than human, and then eventually killed him. I visited him in prison. Have you ever been inside a prison? I ask because I don't know very many other white people who have. It doesn't matter, really; I'm not trying to win at the oppression Olympics. But if you haven't, this is what it's like: even though you are visiting someone and have committed no crimes yourself, you will be treated like shit. You will be talked to disrespectfully and given dead-eyed looks when you ask simple questions. You will be watched, you will be patted down, you will be told to change clothes. It's humiliating. You are guilty because you are here for them. These people are not people and the fact that you care about them means you are not people.
When I was in 7th grade, my teachers set up a kind of fake-apartheid for three days. We all had passports, we had to carry them with us at all times, we had to follow all the rules. And damn, my formerly very friendly and supportive teachers were good role-players. They transformed into snappish, angry people who would punish you for any infraction, including and not infrequently things they made up on the spot. And if you laughed at them, you would get in more trouble. And it was real trouble, I mean, not the same as getting shot, let's be real, but you could be sent to the office to get real punishment.
It was the longest three days of my life. I remember freaking out that someone in my family got a greasy fingerprint on my passport. I remember being afraid to look at teachers, being afraid to not look at teachers. I was anxious and afraid all of the time, even at home, because I needed to make sure my homework was right, my clothes were clean, anything that could keep me from getting in trouble. Other students could report us, or not. If they got caught covering up for someone, they got in trouble too.
In some ways, the three-day experiment was completely meaningless and maybe a little offensive or presumptuous. No one can choose to experience oppression, and they were not actually threatening our bodies. Nobody was going to be broken by this experience. But the minds of seventh graders are fertile places; our imagination was strong.
That experience, which felt both potent and a bit fake, came to me today. I wrote it off a few years later as a well meaning attempt to make us understand why societies that so heavily privilege one group are dangerous and wrong, which it was--but it also gave us a tiny, experiential, somatic piece of the puzzle. More than all the books and public speakers and essays. It gave us sweating and fear. I remembered that fear and wondered what it must be like to have that fear every day. What it must be like to wonder who is an ally, that you are not safe, that the people who are meant to protect you will not do so, that they will not get in trouble if they choose to hurt you.
Watching the video of Diamond Reynolds, I had this impulsive thought that she should call 911. It's nonsensical. When the cops shoot you or a loved one, you are at their mercy. There is no one else.
If you are a white person, I bet you know people who might be subject to this kind of violence. Did you have any beloved black professors or teachers or coaches or teammates? Do you know anyone who could, at dusk or out of the corner of your eye, be mistaken for black? Do you know anyone who suffers from a mental illness? Do you know any trans people? These people are vulnerable. This is a problem for us all. I can list the names of people I know who could be hashtagged. I do not want their names to be hashtagged. I do not want to see their names over and over again on social media, getting chewed up in the dogfight.
This is not the eulogy anyone wants: #TaraKing.
These shootings happen everywhere, all the time, and they have been happening for years. The only thing that has changed is that we get to witness it. And I think we have, collectively, decided it is no longer acceptable for police people to shoot black people without cause. Even though we cannot actually stop them (yet), and even though there are loud voices to the contrary, I believe we have decided. I am sorry it took us this long. I am sorry for the 500+ people killed by police in the United States this year, and in all the years before. I am sorry for all the people who didn't even get the dignity of becoming a hashtag, and sorry for those who still will.
Have you watched the video of Diamond Reynolds? I did not want to watch it but it's not fair for me to close my eyes because it is uncomfortable or scary. At the end of the video, there is a moment when Diamond finally gives voice to the emotions she has contained so tightly, as she perhaps begins to realize that her boyfriend probably *is* dead, for no apparent reason, on a beautiful Wednesday night in Falcon Heights, and you hear her FOUR YEAR OLD daughter say, "It's okay, mommy, I'm here with you."
Let's find a future where this does not happen.
Even before Dallas, I kept thinking about the cops. The cops of color, in particular, who are, I'm sure, dragged through the mud more than the rest of us who have not been shot. People like Officer Nakia Jones who are on both sides.
You can hear in the Castile video the cop's voice, the terror and rage in his voice. He is not the victim. But as we all know, the oppressor is also oppressed. You can hear in his voice that he did not want this to happen, that he is terrified and angry. He was put in a situation where he was not able to respond well, and the end result was deadly violence.
I believe most cops sign up for good reasons, because I believe people are fundamentally good. I believe they need better tools, better understanding of themselves, better education, better support, and fewer guns--both on themselves and on the streets. I believe they need a liberal arts education! I believe they need to be trained as true keepers of the peace. I believe we can solve this. We can get to zero. We must get to zero.
I think of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, where he talks of the unpopular CEO of an aluminum company who focused on safety over profits. He describes the strict, enforced safety rules that built a culture intolerant of "accidents". The company became hellbent on preventing accidents, even though they are literally working with molten metal. Even though we can always shrug and say, "It was an accident! He didn't mean to." Accidents were not an option, so accidents did not happen.
This is not the same, but it gives me hope that it can happen. We can become better.
Even now when our faith is wavering, when we are all wondering if black lives actually do matter, if anything will ever change, if bodycams will always be dangling and circumstances will always be mitigating, if people can start to feel the pain of the Other, I believe it will happen. I hear a prayer coming from the lips of so many: That we can have peace. That we can vanquish fear. That we can dismantle racism. Black lives matter.