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Sunday, June 18, 2017

SO EASY TO DIE WHEN BLACK IN AMERICA

I'm writing at a coffee shop. Not twenty minutes ago, a neighbor I only see in passing comes in with his kid. He doesn't see me in the corner.

I've never been sure if he's Latino or white. He walks up to two police officers with his son, who looks to be 5 to 7 years old. My neighbor says, "Can I introduce him to you? I just don't want him to be scared. He's gotten the idea that you're bad."

Cops are NOT surprised in the slightest by this request or by this characterization of cops as "bad." The two pale cops, only one of which I am sure is white, are magnanimous and gentle with the boy as they say, "Oh no. We're the good guys." It's a short intro and convo. The man and his son leave. No looks are exchanged between the cops as far as I can see. Business as usual.

It occurs to me that I don't think of these two cops as bad guys either. I know I'd feel perfectly safe with these two white officers if I had ask them for help in a calm situation. I'd feel safe right up until it occurred to me that I might have to do something (like dig in my trunk) that could remind them of some black- hostile stereotype, which in turn might prompt them to kill me.

I have a convertible. Three or four years back, somebody's kid (I think) was breaking into my car and opportunistically taking crap like loose change, a phone unfortunately, and then finally some official papers. As a result, I PUT everything in my trunk and locked the inside lever so the trunk cannot be opened with anything but the key fob.

I instinctively felt trust for those officers I saw this afternoon in the coffee shop. But I wonder if those same two cops could shoot me if I get pulled over for my tail light being out and I have to explain that my car registration and insurance are locked in the trunk. If I'm digging in my crammed trunk while not white, I could be digging for a gun, right?

Those cops? They'll be nice to me. They won't kill me. For so long as I don't do anything to trigger a racist stereotype they are carrying in their heads.

Philando Castile is not dead because of his tail light but because his wide-set nose brought to mind a cowardly fear of a racist stereotype -- a stereotype the cop brought with him to the scene of his own crime, murder. It's so damn easy to die, if you're black, in America. I wonder if that kid I just saw is picking up on the ambient fear of those 5 to 7 year old's around him who are black and brown at school. I wonder if that kid's father is lying to him because I wonder if that child is indeed latino and also gets a lot darker at the height of summer. I wonder if that kid is going to have good reason to fear cops in another 5 years. I wonder if he's going to see somebody Tamir Rice's age lying dead on the ground for nothing. I wonder if he has the ability to see on the internet that Aiyana Stanley Jones was his age when police gunned her down trying to get to somebody who wasn't even in the same room as the child. I wonder if that kid will remain pale enough to be accepted as white enough (or just not-black enough) to be able to become a cop who gets away with murder himself one day --- just like Officer Jeronimo Yanez did. Forty years from now, I wonder if that kid will be an adult telling some other child, sans any signs of having a heavy heart, "We're the good guys" the day after cop murderer (at least a cop manslaughter-er) is set free as if nothing heinously wrong has been done by one of his brothers in blue. This country is sick.

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I cried when I read the caption under the headline. I like to think I still would have even if I wasn't a person that could die if I screw up and eat something I'm allergic to if I'm too far from a hospital.