A Facebook post that is at least a few years old has been making the rounds again. The post features a young black man taking a selfie. He appears to be in a parking lot, resting on the open door of his car, with three police cruisers in the background. His photo is accompanied by the following text (edited for formatting, but capitalization retained):
I, as a BLACK AMERICAN have been pulled over COUNTLESS times by the police, in anywhere from multi-million dollar neighborhoods, to poverty stricken slums, to redneck, hillbilly country roads, ALWAYS while being locked and loaded with a LICENSED, 40-caliber handgun, sometimes with even more than one gun. I have been searched and questioned, sometimes for HOURS, but not ONCE has anything EVER gone violent. WHY? Because I made one choice and one choice only, and that was to RESPECT THEIR AUTHORITY, and respect their orders, because I’d rather leave HUMBLE with a HANDSHAKE than leave lifeless in a BODY BAG.
Police officers have one goal, and one goal only, and that is to make it home to their loved ones at the end of the shift. If the REST of America, had the SAME AGENDA, this world would be so much different.
I can find dozens of public posts of this image with many thousands of likes and affirmative comments like “Amen!” or “This guy gets it” or “You are a very wise young man!” The message it is supposed to convey is pretty clear: If you just comply with police orders, nothing bad will happen to you, and the claims of black men to the contrary are misguided at best.
“How often do such things happen to white people? The terrible truth is that a dangerous, glaring problem is right under our noses.”
I tried unsuccessfully to trace the origins and check the authenticity of this post. I entertain doubts that the post was written by the young man in the picture, but regardless, there are at least two big issues here.
First, its implicit claim is not true.
It is simply not the case that a young black man will never get hurt if he complies with a police officer’s commands. Philando Castile was fully complying when he was shot dead. Charles Kinsey was lying on the ground with his hands up next to his autistic patient. (He would later ask the officer why he shot him, to which the officer responded, “I don’t know”.) Oscar Grant was not only complying but had told his friends to do so as well.
Others did not even get a chance to comply, like Stephon Clark who was talking on his cell phone in his grandmother’s backyard or 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot within two seconds of the officer arriving.
This is just a sampling of the high-profile cases we even know about.
Secondly, this post, written to try to dismiss the idea of racial disparities in policing, actually proves the point several times over. The text says this young black man has been pulled over “countless times” in all types of neighborhoods. But I am older than him and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been pulled over. Why might that be? Is he an insanely horrible driver? It says he has been “searched and questioned, sometimes for hours…” I have never had my person or my car searched by police, much less for hours. Why might that be? Does he routinely go around with suspicious items hanging out of his car or clothing?
He also clearly suggests that he understands there is a very real possibility that, if he doesn’t comply, he could “leave lifeless in a body bag.” I have never felt unsafe or scared for my life in an encounter with the police. Why does he see the situation as so precarious?
“Racial profiling doesn’t just oppress and disadvantage people of color, though that’s bad enough. It also seriously skews the white majority’s view of reality.”
This post, if authentic, is a young black man clearly revealing that he is routinely and unjustifiably harassed by police, but that he has accepted this as his reality and will continue to do so for the sake of “respecting authority.”
This is not the perspective of the majority of black citizens, but it’s the kind of thing that white people love to share on social media.
It’s similar to a viral video of Morgan Freeman dismissing black history month as “ridiculous” in an interview with “60 Minutes.” When interviewer Mike Wallace asks him how we should then address racism, he says, “Stop talking about it.” Some white Americans would love nothing better than to be able to stop talking about racism, and a great way to deny the uncomfortable reality of racial profiling is to post something from the rare person of color saying we don’t need to worry about it. (Actually, Freeman’s views on race are much more nuanced. In the same clip, he laments that “black history” is relegated to a month, and in another interview accuses certain congressional caucuses of representing the “dark, underside of America” and its racism).
Francisco Erwin Galicia was detained by U.S. Border Patrol. He is a teenager and a U.S. citizen, born in Dallas, Texas. He had all of his “papers” with him – a Texas driver’s license, his social security card and a wallet copy of his birth certificate (two of which I’ve never felt the need to carry around with me). Despite all of that, he was detained for an astonishing 23 days without even a shower, losing 26 pounds before emerging to report inhumane conditions and treatment. Such a thing simply cannot happen in a country that purports to be “free.”
How often do such things happen to white people? The terrible truth is that a dangerous, glaring problem is right under our noses.
“It is simply not the case that a young black man will never get hurt if he complies with a police officer’s commands.”
When I was a child, I remember assuming that racism was a thing of the past because of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Later, I would realize that racism still exists in pockets of America (like in a church in southern Virginia that wouldn’t let my ministry team visit because one of our members was black), but I still wrongly assumed it was relegated to those pockets and was no longer a pervasive force. But as these representative examples show, racism and racial profiling are alive and well and infusing virtually every aspect of American life.
Racism is behind the rise of white nationalist violence and hate crimes, including the horrific massacre in El Paso. Racial profiling doesn’t just oppress and disadvantage people of color, though that’s bad enough. It also seriously skews the white majority’s view of reality. Only in a society with centuries of deeply embedded racism can people believe that Muslims and illegal immigrants pose the greatest threat to our lives and well-being when the data clearly show that it’s actually white men with guns.
Now would be a good time for white Christians to learn and exemplify the true depth of the word “repentance.” The tradition of soul-saving altar calls may have relegated it to the idea of telling God you’re sorry and receiving forgiveness. But repentance in the biblical languages refers to a real, practical, unequivocal change within one’s thinking and one’s life direction.
Repentance also requires calling each other and our communities to account. When people gathered to hear John the Baptist, he told them repentance meant things like sharing out of our abundance and dealing fairly (Luke 3:10-14). Today, for white people like me, to repent is to say in part, “I am no longer going to deny that this exists just because it doesn’t happen to me.”
“Racism and racial profiling are alive and well and infusing virtually every aspect of American life.”
Many persist in saying, “I’m sorry for what was done in the past, but I didn’t do it.” The prophet Jeremiah rejected such a reason for doing nothing now. “None of them repent of their wickedness, but say, ‘What have I done?’” (Jer. 8:6).
There are certain things we don’t like to see. But we must see this. Seeing our sin and our complicity is the first step to repentance. We must see this because it’s literally killing our neighbors of color, all created in the image of God.
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