I once told my late brother-in-law that two drivers, making otherwise inconsequential mistakes at the very same place and moment, may easily find themselves in a fatal accident. What follows are some otherwise inconsequential black ‘n blue mistakes which, played out at the same place and moment but on a different stage, have turned deadly.
Black: Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
I have no recollection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ever having discovered anything worth dying for: Birmingham and Selma were each thrust upon him and, on behalf of those, whose well-being, each represented, he accepted the then-and-there risks commensurate with those challenges, as well as a vague accountability to what stirs in cauldron minds. Now menaced by Dr. King Jr’s “isn’t fit to live,” aren’t tens of thousands grasping at a death which would qualify them for such fitness, but not at the true courage of being alert, as had M.L.K. been, to a doing worth this dying thing.
There are qualities which, being held in common by two persons, transcend racial and other differences. When Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr. wanted words to rise to an occasion, they did so and, by that, were placed laurels on each speaker’s head. I would not remove Dr. King’s even if I could reach it, but is it possible that leading up to the above quote, Dr. King’s life was so immersed in day-to-day risks and challenges as to eclipse the origins of it all?
Black ‘n Blue: When one is doing something worthwhile, the focus needs to be on the task not the risk. Any distraction, especially planning to report back to one’s buddies or superiors on a matter’s handling while in the midst of its doing, interferes with effectiveness and safety. Much as a football safety, savoring an interception and the crossing of a goal line, will in an instant, find that ball and self have disappeared from each other.
Blue: Fired by a police officer, several bullets are meant to defend; more, are meant to kill a dedicated assailant; but the riddling of someone could only be to silence that person short of his or her making a dying revelation. If such were shown to be so, a case of self-defense would quickly dissolve into one of murder, unless such had been revealed to one for whom all tallies beyond seven are seven, to one for whom seven is a devourer of evidence.
Blue+: Surely some police officers are getting off lightly because for them, being sent to any of the country’s current prisons could prove lethal: good. But what’s needed is a federal prison dedicated to incarcerate those who, being now or having once been part of our judicial system, are convicted of breaking the law: better.
Black+: There are other inequalities that need to be addressed. If someone tells an officer, even deceitfully, of an intended, malicious action, that officer cannot be required to guess on the matter, but must consider the intention real. If someone joins in struggle with an officer, that officer cannot be required to guess between “an expression of racial loyalty (e.g. Rodney King),” and “a lunge for his gun.” No, the officer must wordlessly leap back, draw weapon, and either shoot or not shoot. I say wordlessly because, under such stress, the spoken warning is distracting and would only encourage or discombobulate the attacker. A further reaching for the officer’s weapon, could then be taken as sign language for: “I’ve been warned.”
Black+: This is no climate for one-up-man-ship; if one is upset with a police officer, take it up with someone else. Perhaps Sandra Bland committed suicide, but far more likely, she was murdered by one for whom a rope would devour evidence, and a video of nuttin’ is much like any other video of nuttin’. Some unseen perpetrator, and my “far more likely” do not a case make.
Blue: To avoid precipitating an event, police-officer guidance must include both when to back off, and when to close in more slowly. For instance:
- When a child is brandishing a look-alike weapon, an officer should close more slowly.
- If an officer fears the loss of his or her weapon, to someone whose people have been, by whatever discretion, put in abject fear of the police, that officer needs to back him or herself off with that weapon. If the person approached demonstrates as to protest, he or she may as easily be initiating the snatching the officer’s weapon; a slower closing would make sense. If such an action is running out of time an officer might back off even faster. Still, to run away, he or she would need to expose the back. With the officer perceived to have the one and only gun, the decision is all about speed and distance; but were he or she confronting someone in an armed-or-not-armed state, why would my advice matter.
- According to a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, black men who, by fleeing, try to avoid Boston police may have a legitimate reasons to do so, and should not be deemed suspicious.
In the early 1980’s, I would drive to a starting point and take off on a 5, 10, or 15 mile run. One day children were lying on the road ahead, and a small dog stared at me from my lane. As I drew closer, I noticed something peculiar about the dog: it was not deferring to me to the right or to the left.
At the time, I didn’t know that it was a pit bull but had a new theory about barking dogs. I began talking to him just as though I were a member of the family. The children themselves began yelling at him which I believe for a dog to be indistinguishable from yelling for help.
His growl became more intense while I set myself to the task of getting through between him and his wards. That day I was wearing long, light, synthetic running pants, and with my passing by, I ran backwards, it approached and sank its teeth in. I continued, speaking as I had begun, “That’s a good boy. That’s a good boy.”
The children let out a unanimous howl of laughter, the likes of which confuse many people. It had waited until they realized that their dog had bitten into air inside my pants. The comedian clown, Red Skelton, also noticed such laughter came with his getting up, not with his falling down.
Black+: Recently, an officer pulled over a vehicle. The passenger told the officer that the driver had a gun. With a growing imperative on the passenger’s part, the officer could not distinguish between “Don’t be surprised if you see a gun,” and “He’s a threat to both of us.” I suggest that, before speaking or engaging in such conversation, vehicle occupants cool it, while awaiting instructions. Such a request would smooth out what is for the officer a repetitive task upon encounters; it is not unlike accepting a waitress’ request: “Will there be change?” when she is holding your payment of 150% of the bill. Neither police officer nor waitress is being pushy: for him it is about less anxiety at the tilting point; for her, avoiding a single, but annoying, mental step.
I am uncertain how much time the officer had, but the art of backing away ought to be a part of training; while the art of staying alive may require one’s not depending on such training having taken place. If you accept the level of anxiety with which police officers must deal, adherence to the previous paragraph may be best.
Black+: Beyond an occupation’s armed struggle with criminality and its occasional failures to duck a wayward vehicle at a construction site, consider a life of witnessing, so rare among those outside the force, as to mess from within with the realities of officer-civilian confrontations. By often attending a colleague’s funeral, or being a first responder to a fatal automobile accident, is an officer’s tilting point is narrowed, and his duties (including to our lives and property), broadened to a single first step: that of staying alive. So that by such recognition, one might find in oneself an openness either to forgive a particular officer or to wonder if, absent a momentary encounter of two confusions, “Had there been something to forgive?”