By Ernie McCray
A couple of weeks or so ago I dined with a number of friendly folks at a RISE Urban Breakfast Club forum that asked, concerning Community-Police Relations, “Can we build a safer San Diego together?”
The answer seemed to be “Yeah, we can,” as panelists, in a room where smiles drifted in the air like tissues in a breeze, talked of everyone chipping in to find good cops and of how we all need to shed our various biases, as “Trust is fragile.” And it was good to know that the wearing of “body worn cameras” is going kind of nice.
I drove home convinced that there are some people truly dedicated to making relations better between the police and people they’ve harassed for centuries.
But the Tyrannosaurus Rex sitting smack dab in the middle of the discussion, “racial profiling,” was glossed over as though it was just a slight hiccup in the way of sound relationships between “Mr. Do Right” and angry black folks, rather than it being “The Problem!!!!!!!!!!”
I mean it is written down that we are stopped more than other people are; our children, many of them as innocent as innocent can be, are charted on gang lists and getting off those lists is about as hard as understanding and applying the kinetic theory of gases and getting on the list is as easy as 1-2-3 and do-re-mi and the abc’s.
A black kid can be documented for just hanging out with a gang (his neighbors) or for being seen frequenting places where gang members gather (a park, a local hang out, a corner, an alley, granny’s house, all places in the neighborhood) or for wearing gang stuff (kids love to fit in, especially if they’re feeling safe and protected). Truth is almost anybody who lives in a gang’s territory could make the list. And many of those registered, I found out at the breakfast, don’t even know they’re on the list. Not to mention, gang membership is not a crime.
What law enforcement doesn’t understand and/or doesn’t care to understand, is that their tactics inflame emotions in people who are already feeling the deep burn of just being black in America.
And, if I may speak for a race of people, we just want it to stop. Being profiled is a hurdle we’ve faced in our struggle for freedom and dignity in this country since before we got here up until this very day. From the very start we generally were profiled as people it’s okay to mess with (and “mess” ain’t the four-letter word I really want to use here).
Hey, when slave traders saw us, we fit the profile they were looking for: sturdy looking black people with good teeth and strong flexible muscles that could adjust to all the lifting and hauling and picking and hoeing and raking and digging we were to do and all the positions they were to put us in, in order for us to do it.
Then came a decree saying that we were free and we were quickly profiled as folks to be subjected to a host of “can’ts”: can’t eat here, can’t drink at that fountain over there, can’t swim down the street or skate at the rink or sit on the first floor of the picture show…
Along comes Martin and Malcolm and Fannie Lou and Medgar and Angela and Bayard and Rosa and Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte and John Lewis who’s continuing the struggle in D.C. for freedom and dignity… Some of them were beaten and killed and imprisoned. All of them were scorned and ridiculed for having the audacity to take on the status quo.
Now, here we are today, still scrambling to vote without being hassled, still holding fast, playing tug-of-war with those who can’t stand any degree of affirmative action that might allow our children to rise out of the muck as we are confronted, every step of the way, with cries of “reverse racism” which is the insult of all insults, considering that we don’t have the power to do anyone any harm with our prejudices, and we don’t want to. We tremble as our boys are shot down in the street, by the police, a fate not new to us in the U.S.A.
And we don’t, as the beat goes on, have the means to solve the problem or it would have been taken care of a long, long, time ago. So many thousands of us have worked our whole lives trying to get unprofiled.
The lack of empathy for our situation is heartbreaking. Mainly because the key to making our country more inclusive is in the hands of the country’s privileged citizens. They’re the missing link. Other than a few white folks, those who have been with us throughout all our trials and tribulations, over time, our white brothers and sisters have been reluctant to help us overcome. Instead of trying to understand the problem, they’ve stood on the outside, having never, for a moment, experienced what black folks have had to undergo, mumbling about how all we have to do is “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and how sick they are of us playing the “race card” – as though there are other cards in the deck.
The big problem is we can’t ever become what we are capable of becoming as a society until black people are no longer profiled just because they are black people. We simply can’t move on until minor crimes in our communities are no longer felonies, until the school to prison pipeline for so many of our children no longer exists, until welfare and section 8 rules stop breaking up our families and creating environments where children are profiled to fail and the system is designed to put them in jail.
If healthy community-police relations, specifically, in San Diego and other American cities are to ever evolve, racial profiling has to come to an end. Black people have to be treated like the rest of society by those hired to “serve and protect.” It’s as simple as that.
Law enforcement has the power to do that immediately. All they need to do, with local politicians standing with them, is get on TV and the radio, perhaps at an event like a RISE Urban Breakfast Club gathering, and say into the mike: “In fulfillment of our nation’s obligation to extend equality to all its citizens, and acknowledging that one’s skin color is not a crime, we are ending racial profiling. As of right now! Ahora! Enjoy your sausage and eggs.”
It should be done with the kind of passion in which a new field for the Chargers is discussed. Anything short of that would be the same old, same old.
And we’re tired of that aren’t we?
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