Time magazine recently unveiled its latest cover, which declares Black Lives Matter. But as news of yet another killing of an unarmed Black man by police spreads across the nation, I’m wondering if our lives really matter, and if so, to whom?
Clearly, our lives matter to us and to those who have flooded streets and malls and bridges and universities and embassies to declare it so. But do they matter to those who actually wield the power?
Do Black lives matter to our politicians who pay lip service to our concerns, or to those police officers who view folks with brown skin as suspicious?
I’m not so sure.
When I look at my son I see so many things. I see a kid who’s hilarious and loves to dance; I see a little boy obsessed with dinosaurs and trading Pokémon cards with his friends; and I see the promise of an awesome future.
But I also see a tall kid who will grow into an even taller Black man, and that scares me.
I have yet to have “the talk” with my son. You know, the one so many Black parents have with their sons about how to behave around the police. At 9, I feel—perhaps naïvely—he’s too young to be burdened with such things. But it’s coming, and that frightens me.
Some people will say that if I just raise him to be respectful and teach him to always do the right thing he’ll be protected from run-ins with the police, but I know differently. Racial prejudice and profiling knows no economic or academic bounds. Being rich or smart or “good” cannot protect my son from someone else’s prejudice, especially when that person is a police officer.
Recently, Chris Rock made news after he shared yet another selfie of being pulled over by police. So far, Rock has been stopped multiple times in the past few months, each time snapping a photo to record the incident….just in case.
Stopped by the cops again wish me luck. pic.twitter.com/6t0wlgwkrJ
— Chris Rock (@chrisrock) March 31, 2015
It seems ridiculous that someone would need to leave a record of a routine traffic stop, but as Walter Scott—the latest unarmed man to be gunned down by a cop—shows us, sometimes it pays to have a record of what went down.
According to reports, Michael Slager pulled Scott over for a burned-out taillight, but things quickly escalated, and by the end of it all Scott was dead. Though Slager claimed he “feared for his life” when he shot Scott multiple times in the back, a video showed an entirely different story. Without video of the horrific incident, Slager may not have gotten fired or arrested for murder, Scott’s death wouldn’t have made national news.
As people praise Feidin Santana for recording the damming video of Walter Scott’s death and turning it over to the press, others have criticized Rock for posting selfies of his police stops. But he isn’t the only famous Black person to experience racial profiling. Both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have spoken about being profiled as well, even while serving the nation.
During a trip to Ferguson, Missouri last year, Holder talked of having “the talk” with his father and being pulled over—multiple times—for no reason at all:
I thought of my father’s words years later, when – as a college student – I was pulled over twice on the New Jersey turnpike and my car was searched – even though I was sure I hadn’t been speeding. I thought of them again some time after that, when a police officer stopped and questioned me in Washington while I was running to catch a movie – even though I happened to be a federal prosecutor at the time.
…I couldn’t help but think of my father just a couple of years ago when I sat down to convey the same message to my own teenage son after the shooting of Trayvon Martin – a conversation I hoped I’d never have to have.
As the phrase Black Lives Matter continues to permeate the mainstream, I can’t help but wonder if it’s actually true.