Let me tell you a story, a story that starts out the same way thousands of other stories start out in the US.
I was in my early twenties, had just started seeing some of the real mental health struggles that resulted from my childhood, and was staying at my parents house for some time. I kept different hours than my parents, and much younger brother did, so I was up relatively late one evening when I noticed that we were out of milk. It was late enough that much of the house was asleep, but not so late that running over to the Dairy Mart was out of the question. I had made this run at much later hours when I was living off campus, and even though this was in the “burbs, it wasn’t THAT late. Not wanting to wake the house by opening the attached garage, and with Dairy Mart being two blocks away, I slid out the front door and started walking.
Half way there, I was stopped by the police. I “fit a description” of someone who’d been breaking into nearby apartments recently according to them, and since I was walking alone this late, it was suspicious. The officers and I talked, I explained where I was going, why, and most importantly, that I did live in the area. They took all of my information, verified it with someone, and let me continue on my way eventually. They did pull into the parking lot of the Dairy Mart and watch me go in, buy milk, and head back toward home though.
This resulted in a lighthearted exchange concerning whether they could have just offered me a ride if they were going there anyway, and even though I don’t think they found that comment as funny as I did, it all ended peaceably.
Now, I share that story for a couple of different reasons. First, and foremost, I am fully aware that the ending to that story, might well have been very different if my skin was darker than the Irish-white that it is.
I am also aware that while I was relatively stable at that time, there have been times in my life when I was in a mental health crisis, when an encounter with the police could also have ended very differently. We know that both of those things can create dangerous situations when it comes to police involvement, but it shouldn’t.
So, I am all for changing the policing and criminal justice system in this country. We have issues, and those issues fall squarely on groups who are, still in 2020, considered “less than”.
I want it changed for all of the people with mental illness who I learn about and come across due to having this site, and I want it changed for all of the black men and boys who I have known as friends, coworkers, met on one of the campuses my wife has worked on, or are part of my family, who may not get the same treatment I got when walking at night to get milk. The ones who wouldn’t dream of even going out to get milk at 11PM in the first place, because of the risk of looking suspicious doing it. Those things anger me, they frustrate me, and they frighten me.
But, what I will not let them do, is cause me to dehumanize other human beings. I will not wish death and destruction on police officers, the ones working to make the world better, or even the ones who are truly racist, in the same way that I will not wish for people who refuse to distance or wear masks to get COVID19, or for politicians I do not agree with to be shot (and believe me, that list is not small, it includes just about all of them on all sides), and I won’t even condone wishing for rapists to go to prison and be raped.
I don’t believe the solution to dehumanizing some groups is to dehumanize others instead. I believe the solution is in understanding that each of us, all the way from George Floyd, to Donald Trump, is a human being, worthy of protection and dignity. I don’t care if someone is a white supremacist or a Mao supporter, they are still, in fact, a human being. Now, I want someone who is willing to commit a crime by trying to take away others rights punished by our legal system, for sure. (The one we improve!) But I do not find it ethical, or helpful, to spend my time causing, or even wishing, harm on others, no matter how stupid and terrible I think their opinions and actions are.
So yes, as I see things on the news, I get as angry as you do, I want things to change. But where I’m going to part ways with many of those calling for change is when they wish harm to come to any other human being. That’s not the way forward. The way forward is for all of these marginal groups, the ones who’ve traditional be told they are less than, to be built up, protected, and granted the privilege of having their existence as human beings acknowledged.
That is something I will argue for, and something worth aiming for.