Is Flight Right?

I am a white man. I live in a major US city that is comprised predominantly of people of color. A series of systems have enabled me to make a high income at a young age. I try hard to use that money for good: I volunteer, mentor at-risk youth, tutor children of color in my (valuable, overvalued) skill-set pro bono, give to charity, and try hard to support local businesses—especially those that form a culture threatened by gentrification, a process I’m certainly a part of. There is more I can do. There is always more I can do. But I’m trying.

Last night I watched a group of teenaged black boys on bikes surround a taxi, bust out its windows, and attempt to beat the driver to death.

I called the cops. I knew as the phone rang that if these kids were caught and entered our justice system then statistically they wouldn’t make it out; I knew that if a group of my friends, of my color, had been caught doing the same we’d probably have gotten a lecture and been released with a boys-will-be-boys shrug. But: another person’s life was in danger. What else could I do? I gave the police a statement and went home.

I got home. I petted my dog. I was overcome with the desire to move out of the city immediately. But… that’s not the right answer, right? Giving up? If I stay I may through my volunteer efforts or local support or dumb luck contribute to helping one of those kids not end up in jail. A series of systems had to fail them before surrounding that taxi and hefting that chunk of concrete seemed like the right thing to do. Perhaps even the only thing they could do.

Okay, yes, but who am I to impose my values on others? How do I know my presence is helping? It feels patronizing, chivalrously so. And I’m trying to start a family soon. That could have been my partner and child in that taxi. There are regular reports of similar groups of boys ambushing bikers on the commuter trail by our house: that could be me. And as the jagged piece of concrete is lifted above my head will they listen to my protestations of being an ally, of trying to dismantle the terrible systems that put the rock in their hand?

I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to flee. I don’t know what to do. Do you?