I am a black man walking down the street. Maybe I have helped break up a fight. Maybe I have stolen some cigars from a store. I don’t deserve to die. But I do need to be smart. When a police officer approaches to question me, I don’t know if he is a racist. I don’t know if he is a zealot and fearful of me. I need to lose my ego. My life could be at stake. I need to play it smart.
While I strongly agree that reform is needed for our grand jury system when it comes to investigating law enforcement officers, I also believe the two black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, bear large responsibility for their own deaths.
Their unwarranted killings by police and the failure to indict any of the involved officers have sparked civil rights protests throughout the country.
It is true, I was not there in Ferguson the day Michael Brown was shot numerous times and killed by a policeman who had stopped to question him. But I did see the video of a belligerent Brown moments before, stealing cigars in a store and bullying the much smaller clerk by walking toward him.
The store video makes it easy for me to believe Brown had not changed his attitude, that he accosted the officer in his patrol car and eventually, using his large size and old bullying tactics of walking toward his “enemy,” spurred the final confrontation. This time he met the hail of bullets that killed him. A predictable outcome perhaps, not that it was just.
Garner’s case is a sad one.
The video of his confrontation on a New York sidewalk shows he merely resisted talking to police when questioned about his involvement in a fight. Again, here was a large black man rejecting the authority of the police. “Why don’t you just leave me alone,” he is heard saying before several officers wrestled him to the ground and one applied the choke-hold that would kill him as he said, “I can’t breathe.”
Did Garner deserve to die? Of course not. But . . . .
I am the black parent of a teen-age son. Or a friend. I care for him and do not want to see him dead. I am hip. I know there are many in America who carry racial hatred in their hearts. I do not trust the legal system. I know some policemen are bad and capable of all sorts of malice. Yet at the same time I expect my son, my friend, to stand up to the rotten system, to confront and refuse to cooperate with police, to show his manhood by defiance.
But, wait, upon reflection, am I not asking my son, my friend, to risk his life, to be a dead martyr for a cause that could be fought at the ballot-box or in so many other safer ways? Maybe I should change my tactics . Maybe even my attitude.