Perception vs. Reality

It’s happened again. I didn’t really expect it stop. I’m more than certain it will happen again in the future. Still, the murder of Terence Crutcher is particularly disturbing. A man in need of help was killed by those sworn to protect and serve. Four children will grow up without a father. Why?

This happened because the police officers on the scene were scared. A black man, with hands up, fully cooperating, was seen as a serious threat. Terence Crutcher didn’t break any laws. He didn’t shoplift, sell loose cigarettes, change lanes without signaling, jaywalk, remove a tag from a mattress, or anything else. He was having car trouble and needed help. That’s the reality of this situation. Unfortunately, that didn’t matter. The perception of the situation was that he “looks like a bad dude” and “might be on something”. In the eyes of these officers Mr. Crutcher wasn’t a law abiding citizen, he was a coked out drug addict planning to kill 4 police officers. Why?

What we perceive, and what’s real, are often very different things in this country. Our view of the world is based on what we see in movies and on the news. We live in segregated cities with people who look, act, and think like we do. We stay locked up in our homes with guns and fear, praying that the monsters outside won’t hurt us. When someone saw Terence Crutcher’s vehicle stranded on the road, they didn’t offer help, they called 911. Police officers, who should be able to deescalate situations, turned a very innocent situation into a shooting. Why?

The reality is that we’re safer than we’ve ever been. Crime rates have been consistently dropping for decades. Yet, the rate of homicides committed by law enforcement has been steadily rising over the last 20 years. The response to communities making steady progress has been more cops and more shootings. I’ve heard many people say these types of shootings wouldn’t happen if black people just get their acts together. Of course, the reality of things getting better can’t compete with the perception that things are getting worse. When someone sees multiple shootings on the news, it clearly means that everything is worse now than it ever was. Even if actual stats paint a very different picture. African-Americans have also seen improvements in graduation rates, drops in teenage pregnancy, and drops in drug use. Sadly, our reality is that reality doesn’t matter. Feelings are what matters.

Reality may be a kid walking to a convenience store to buy skittles, but perception is that he’s a drug dealer who always gets away. Reality may be a kid playing in a park, but perception is he’s a rampaging gunman. Reality may be a man shopping in Wal-Mart, but perception is he’s a gang leader out for revenge. Sorry fellas, but perception has lead to fear, which means you have to die.

I don’t blame the media, politicians, or reality TV. I blame the people. We’ve made producing ignorance very profitable. The news organization that focuses on responsible journalism will be out of business faster than Usain Bolt. The politician that tries to offer real detailed solutions is criticized for being boring. The entertaining TV program that offers positive minority role models has weak viewership, and will be cancelled very soon.

We live in a Capitalist society where our consumption helps to shape our world. You can control what forms of media you support. You can control where you spend your money. You can control who you vote for. You can confirm if the claims being made by that media personality or politician are actually true. You have the power to shape the world we live in, and thus control perception.

You can also choose to accept whatever is fed to you. You can be that person angrily screaming on a street corner about something that was never true. You can forcefully rebuke one set of lies, while gleefully accepting another group of lies. I hope that you don’t though.

We need to question everything about everything. We need to seek truth in a world full of confusion. We must call out those who sow seeds of hate. I can’t control what people perceive when they see me. I don’t deserve to die for it.

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