Saturday, July 9, 2016

Blacks, Cops & Guns

This is another one of those times when I doubt I’ll be able to share anything that hasn’t already been said or written but I feel compelled nonetheless to post about the recent gun deaths that have fueled the fires of distrust and distress in this country.

Two black men, 37-year-old Alton Sterling and 32-year-old Philando Castile, were murdered by police within a day of each other (Sterling was shot last Tuesday; Castile was killed the next day.) Then last Thursday night at a peaceful protest of police brutality against people of color, at least one sniper shot 14 people – 12 police officers and two civilians – and killed five of the cops. The few hundred people who were in Belo Garden Park in downtown Dallas had a night they won’t soon forget.
Sterling and Castile

I, like millions of others, have seen the videos. They are jarring and alarming. They’re like movies – R-rated action flicks with more gunfire than plot – only Bruce Willis or Jason Statham never appear and the end credits are missing. They’re like episodes of Law and Order only there’s no order. I now know exactly how gunfire sounds. And I know that I probably lack the courage to film these events as they’re happening.

It’s downright risky to live here. Even if Trump steals the election and builds his wall, it’ll do nothing to prevent what's in these clips. I could almost feel how scared people in Dallas were. I could feel Sterling’s fear and surprise and the shock and disbelief that Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, felt as she filmed the chaotic aftermath of his shooting. I could feel four-year-old Dae'Anna Reynold’s terror and confusion as she tried to console her distraught mother. (Is it standard police procedure to fire your Glock 22 into an automobile when a four-year-old kid is sitting in the back seat?)

If the officers who did this to these people aren’t prosecuted and don’t pay, it won’t surprise me at all if a CVS gets burned or trash cans get tossed. Cops who kill and get off without even a slap on the wrist have been avoiding the consequences of their actions – the punishment that they obviously deserve – for too damn long. No wonder our respect for cops, lawyers and judges has dropped dramatically. No wonder so many people are convinced that they have only themselves on which to rely for help and protection.

When I shared my concerns with Anita, she told me I was being too dramatic and I should stay away from Facebook lest my view of reality be skewed. I told her I’d take her input into consideration but that it’s a fact that Sterling was shot to death in the parking lot of a convenience store by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for selling CDs. It’s a fact that a cop shot Castile after pulling him over for a broken taillight in Falcon Heights, just northwest of St. Paul, Minnesota, and he died of his injuries. It’s a fact that African-Americans are dying at the hands of police at an alarming and devastating rate. And it’s a fact that my view of reality is probably already skewed and I’m very afraid.

I’m afraid that gun violence will break out at other public gatherings, other populated businesses and locations, other schools and malls and streets and homes. I’m afraid that more black people will be killed for no reason and race relations will further erode. I’m afraid that my kids will be in the wrong place at the wrong time and won’t come home. And I’m afraid that the police will be unable to stop themselves and others from killing innocent human beings and our politicians will continue to think and pray and turn their heads away.

I’m not going to write another post exclusively about guns (see “Shoot! So Far Nothing’s Changed!” or “So Shoot Me” or “Pistol Packin’ Yahoo in Aisle 4” or any of my other “What’s the Diehl?” posts about this issue). Given that there are more than 300 million guns in private ownership in this country – more guns than people – the horse has left the barn. Instead I just want to acknowledge how much harder it seems to be to find the beauty in life, the positive aspects, the love and kindness and compassion and tolerance that I thought we were known for and told my kids is all around us.

I want to acknowledge that people of color have had to live with fear, doubt, loss and violence – and the sense of being victims, hated and ignored by those in power – for too long. Based on data compiled by The Guardian, black males between the ages of 15 and 34 were nine times more likely to be killed by police officers than any other demographic. This group also accounted for 15 percent of all 2015 deaths from law enforcement encounters, despite making up just two percent of the U.S. population. Last year alone, The Guardian estimates, at least 306 black people were killed by police. (Sadly and unbelievably, a Google search of Africa-Americans who were killed by cops resulted in more names and stories than I can count. Literally.)

I want to pay tribute to just some of the men, women and children who’ve lost their lives because of bad cops and bad gun policies: Allison Wyatt, Benjamin Wheeler, Victoria Soto, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Russeau, Jesse Lewis, Sandra Bland, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, AnneMarie Murphy, Eric Harris, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi , John Crawford III, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Michael Brown Jr., Chase Kowalski, Catherine Hubbard, Madeleine Hsu, Dawn Hocksprung, Walter Scott, Dylan Hockley, Ana Marquez-Greene, Josephine Gay, Rachel Davino, Olivia Engel, Daniel Barden, Charlotte Bacon, Trayvon Martin, Andy Lopez, Jonathan Ferrell, Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. (There are multitudinous others; these are the individuals who received media coverage.)

And I want to honor Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, just the latest – but regrettably, probably not the last – victims of unjustified violence at the hands of our Boys in Blue.

Including the names of all the victims of gun violence in Chicago, Detroit, Orlando, San Bernardino, and other cities would make for too long a list.

A Facebook friend from an Asian country wanted to know why we don’t do something about gun violence in America. This was my reply:

Because our lawmakers work for the gun manufacturers, not the voters. We have a part of our Constitution that says "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed." Some people interpret this - which was written in the 1770s when single-shot muskets were the weapons of the day - to mean that anybody can have as many guns as he wants and any effort to control guns or stop gun violence (or even to study the issue) is a violation of the Second Amendment. So with gun makers giving money to politicians, the police being able to do whatever they want and a hatred of black people on the part of some, things aren't getting better. They're just getting worse.

Am I wrong? Are they really getting worse? I'm really not sure.

You’ll notice I don’t suggest remedies, provide names and numbers of organizations and politicians, or offer next steps to my readers in this blog post. I’ve done this before and nothing’s changed.

I know all cops aren't rotten. I know not all white people are racist and not all black people hate white people. But the ugliness, the negativity and resentment and unfairness are so loud and dark and big. They're so debilitating and disgusting. It's hard for most people to move on from the horror of what we do to each other. Needless death, murder, violence and betrayal are hard to ignore, especially when they occur more regularly than the ebb and flow of the tides. It's not easy to spot flowers in a field of old tires, used diapers, fast food wrappers and condoms. We need more flowers.

At the risk of skewing your reality, I’ll share just a few of the many relevant memes and images that have appeared on my Facebook wall in the last day or two:

For more information, read “Here’s a Timeline of Unarmed Black People Killed By Police Over Past Year,” “Guns in America: By the Numbers,” “15 Statistics That Tell the Story of Gun Violence This Year (2015),” “There are Now More Guns than People in the United States,” “Why Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Are Dead,” “Philando Castile shooting stirs anguish from Shonda Rhimes, President Obama and others still reeling from Alton Sterling's death,” “Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop” and “Why Most Police Shootings Don't End With Prosecutions.”

Sources: National Public Radio,,,, New York Daily News, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Nation,,,

1 comment:

  1. Every word is a thought in my head..thank you for writing it.