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Monday, September 26, 2016

Black Men Dying

At the gym on Friday the TV news caught my attention and that of a number of other women as we passed through the locker room. Video of one of the latest shootings by police of a Black man had just been released.

I didn’t happen to know any of the other women who had gathered near the TV. The dominant question the newscasters were debating was whether the video answered the question of “Had the Black man been holding a gun”. The question most of us around the TV were asking each other was, “Which shooting was this?”

That’s not an entirely surprising question for several reasons. First, we all had been just passing through the locker room, either coming or going to a class or physical therapy, using the equipment or facilities.

Second, shootings of Black men regularly are in the news. Almost every day or so another video or newscast of such a shooting hits the headlines.

Finally, the actual news program was adding to the confusion of which shooting was on this video. Some of the women standing there with me thought this was the shooting in Tulsa.

As you may recall, in Tulsa a woman police office had just been charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. While we watched a video of police officers shooting a Black man, the scroll across the lower portion of the TV screen stated that a policewoman in Tulsa had just been charged with manslaughter.

Although it was thus not unreasonable to assume we were watching video from Tulsa, in fact, the video being shown was of the Charlotte shooting.

In the Charlotte shooting, Keith Lamont Scott had been sitting in his vehicle waiting for his son to arrive on the afternoon school bus. Police officers had come to this particular apartment parking lot to serve a warrant on another man. The officers had seen Scott sitting in a vehicle.

The latest reports have been that the officers saw Scott rolling a joint with a gun visible when they asked him to exit his vehicle. None of the videos so far have confirmed or refuted what Scott was doing in his vehicle or what he had in his hand when he exited the vehicle.

The video on TV on Friday afternoon had been taken by Scott’s wife before and during the Charlotte incident. She can be heard telling the police her husband had a “TBI”--for traumatic brain injury. She also said several times he was unarmed. And she repeatedly said to her husband, “Don’t do it.”  

None of us watching could be sure what she was telling her husband not to do. Nor did the video conclusively show, at least to the naked eye on TV, if Scott was holding a gun.

Most of the women watching the TV in the gym were about my age, seniors. Most also were white. Not too surprising since it was the middle of the afternoon on a Friday at a very nice, suburban gym.

One woman turned to me and said, “I think he must have had a gun. Why else would his wife say, ‘Don’t do it.’ to him?”

I replied “I’m not sure why the wife was saying that.” And then I added, “I still don’t know if he had a gun.”

As my fellow gym member turned to walk away, seeming to end our conversation, she said, “I’d hate to be a police officer nowadays.”

I replied, “I’d hate to be a Black man.”

Now the police have released some of their videos in the Charlotte shooting of Scott. Those videos also fail to answer the question of whether Scott was holding a gun when he exited his vehicle or at the time he was shot.

Lest you think I and the other woman ended up in a shoot-out at the gym on Friday, let me reassure you. The woman I had been talking to turned around and came back. We continued talking. We both agreed with the other’s point: it must be very difficult to be a police officer and make split-second, life-or-death decisions. We also agreed it is very difficult to be a person of color, particularly a Black man who is stopped by the police in today’s America.

The woman who had turned around and come back to talk to me told me about how afraid she sometimes is. She mentioned that she volunteers at a program to help recent immigrants. One of the women immigrants who had come for help was robbed by three young men as she waited on the porch of the office. The young thieves had taken her purse and all the cash she had saved. The woman told me how she had warned her granddaughters in college to never be by themselves, always stay with a group. We both agreed these can seem like dangerous times.

Science has documented most of us fear the “others”. People who don’t look like us. People of other colors. People from different backgrounds, different countries, of different religions. We fear terrorists. As we get older we may fear the young. Women often fear unknown men.

Minorities also no doubt are more likely to fear the police. And not without justification. They are 30% more likely to be pulled over than Whites; three times as likely to be searched; and twice as likely to be shot by police.

So what do we do to pull our country together? Maybe we need to start by turning around, talking and listening to each other, thinking about what the other person must be feeling and thinking. The cop on the beat who just wants to go home at the end of his or her shift to their family. The person of color who probably is thinking and feeling the same thing. Most of us thinking and feeling those same things

And a lot of this talking and listening would be so much safer and easier if the cops were the only ones with guns. 

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