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Seek Wisdom FTW

Image by Jonathan McIntosh.

An Open Letter to White America

Riots are a form of communication. Listen.

White, suburban Americans are afraid. I get it. I lived through the 2001 Riots in Cincinnati, after Timothy Thomas a young, unarmed black man was shot to death by cops who thought he was reaching for a gun when he was pulling up his pants.

I left work and, inadvertently, drove right into the middle of the protests and riots as they were developing. I was patient. I waved people past my vehicle. I smiled at them. I showed that I was unafraid, but also not a threat. And, they let me pass without incident.

As a former CPS investigator, I’ve worked in every “dangerous” black neighborhood in my hometown. I never carried a gun and my friends and peers on CPD all thought I was crazy to do so without a weapon.

Why? They were afraid. And, I get it. Police work is dangerous.

Still, I worked in those neighborhoods for over three years without incident. Later, to save money while starting a small business, I lived in one of those neighborhoods for almost four years while managing an apartment for free rent. Again, I never had a single incident. I never felt afraid.

But, I did see racism, first hand, both overt and subtly systemic.

Two of my tenants, one white and one black, got into a dispute over beer. The white guy pulled a knife. I called the police. When they arrived, despite telling the dispatcher the white guy pulled a knife, the officers went directly to the black guy and secured him first.

That is but one of many similar stories I could tell.

So, if one has not witnessed systemic racism firsthand, riots in the streets could be seen as terribly frightening AND unnecessary.

To be clear, I am not advocating or condoning rioting or looting.

Rather, I am saying that, given how little we’ve done as a nation, to prevent death’s like George Floyd’s, and to reign in the racist, authoritarian impulses of our current POTUS, it should surprise NO ONE that we have riots in our streets right now.

We could have learned and changed when …

… Dr. King was assassinated,

… Rodney King was beaten half to death,

… Trayvon Martin was shot to death by a street vigilante who was acquitted,

… Walter Scott was shot in the back and killed by a police officer,

… Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer,

… Botham Jean was shot, in his own home, by an off-duty LEO who entered his home by mistake,

… Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and shot by an ex-cop and his son for the crime of jogging,

… Breona Taylor, an EMT, was shot and killed by police in a “no-knock” drug search warrant, served on the WRONG home,

… sadly, I could extend this list with hundreds of names.

We could have learned and changed.

We did not.

When Dylann Roof executed a church full of black folks, the cops took him into custody without incident and drove him to Burger King on the way to booking.

Almost every one of these white mass shooters who kill innocents, including preschool kids, are afforded more dignity, compassion and presumption of innocence upon arrest than George Floyd was afforded when suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, which he may not have even known was fake.

So, when that double standard exists and the rest of America just accepts it as normal, none of us should be surprised that our fellow citizens in the Black community finally have enough and begin to peacefully protest.

Add the fact that, mere weeks before, an angry mob of heavily armed white protesters stormed a state capital and made repeated physical contact with police, who were dressed in standard-issue uniforms, not riot gear.

So, white folks START with armed protest because they cannot get haircuts or get their nails done. Not only are there NO repercussions, POTUS eggs them on and insists governors meet and negotiate with them because they are good people who are frustrated.

Black folks START with peaceful, unarmed protests and are met with a presumption of riots and violence. Their peaceful protests are met with an outsized show of force, including cops in riot gear who deploy tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons. Of course, tensions rise.

Double. Standard. Period. Full. Stop.

No white person with an ounce of compassion, justice or critical thinking can miss such a glaring example of systemic racism.

So, when that still exists, in 2020, none of us should be surprised that peaceful protests sometimes devolve into riots and looting.

I get that you are frightened. And, I genuinely wish no harm comes to you and yours. So, this is not a challenge to you that your fear is not justified.

It absolutely is. Riots are unwieldy, destructive things.

But, the fear that our African-American friends, neighbors and co-workers feel is real too. More importantly, that fear came FIRST and has lived in this nation for almost 400 years.

If your family had lived in fear that long, you’d be angry too. You’d be rioting too. Need evidence? Look no further than the Boston Tea Party.

The fear you may feel today, while real, is new. You have not lived with it every day of your life. You have not had to teach your children to fear from an early age because some people hate them because of the color of their skin.

If you are afraid today, it is only because you refused to see their fear as legitimate and have ignored the injustice too long because it did not directly impact you.

If we want this to be over. We have to hear the message of the riots AS WELL AS the message of the peaceful protests.

And, we all need to do better.

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