A crisis looms on our horizon. How we cope with that crisis will depend on your answer to a simple question.
Ignore the media hype. Disregard the irrelevant facts. Set aside unrelated events that may sway your judgment. Look at the evidence yourself and answer one simple question.
- Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, is playing alone in a park with a toy gun. Someone calls 911 to report seeing Tamir and even says it is probably just a toy gun. Minutes later, a police car roars up to within just feet of Tamir and two seconds later he is dead. Did Tamir Rice deserve to die?
- Eric Gardner is selling single cigarettes for 50 cents — a petty crime. A few minutes later, he is surrounded by police. One puts Eric in an illegal choke hold. Eric gasps time and again that he cannot breathe. In just minutes, he lies on the sidewalk dead. Did Eric Gardner deserve to die?
- Michael Brown fits the description of a person reported to have stolen some cigarettes and scuffled with a clerk. Michael is walking down the street with a friend. An altercation ensues with a police officer, the exact facts of which are disputed. Even assuming the worst case scenario, Michael grabbed unsuccessfully for the officer's gun and then ran away. A minute later Michael is 30 feet away, hands visible with no weapon. The autopsy reports show bullet wounds in his arm, two to the chest that indicate he was falling forward, and the kill shot to the head at an angle indicating that he was nearly on the ground. Did Michael Brown deserve to die?
I have skewed no evidence. I have included nothing in these scenarios about the neighborhoods, the police officers themselves, community relations with the police, national media coverage or subsequent investigations. In the case of Tamir Rice and Eric Gardner, video records reveal the events in real time for anyone to watch. Disregarding all of the irrelevant noise surrounding these tragedies, did Tamir, Eric and Michael deserve to die?
Whether you are white or black does not matter. Whether you are Republican or Democrat does not matter. Whether you are young or old, straight or gay, man or woman, rich or poor — none of that matters. Did Tamir, Eric and Michael deserve to die?
If you ask yourself that question, and your answer is no, then you are ready to explore the coming crisis in our nation. You are ready to objectively examine the research and data. You are ready to set aside the punditry and editorializing and look at the reality in America for yourself. And when you do, you will see our deeply embedded systems of structured poverty, institutionalized racism and the impacts of privilege in our society.
This is painful work. If you are white, male, straight, middle class, you will be tempted to feel shamed — your initial reaction will be that you are being accused of something you did not do. That is a natural reaction, but I encourage you to move through it quickly. Privilege is not the problem. The problem is that too many people with privilege do not acknowledge its benefits and do too little to level the playing field for all.
Once you have answered the question and read the research, imagine how you would feel if you were a black man in America today, 50 years after the Civil Right Act supposedly launched us into a post-racial society. Imagine that you are the mother or father of Tamir or Michael, or the wife and children of Eric. If you can put on those shoes and walk in them for just a short time, then your feelings of shame and guilt will quickly evaporate. They will disappear because you will want to do something. You will want to change things so that the senseless ending of young lives stops.
Yes or no?