Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Driving While Black

Hey, here I am, in the front right, holding up the sign with the Buddha icon.

An unarmed black man was killed by a police officer. The man was still strapped in his seat belt. The police officer claims he 'resisted arrest' and that he thought he had a weapon. I still can't shake the feeling this was a deliberate hit, but why would they want this young man dead? The coroner's office says he had cocaine in his body that would have killed an ordinary person. (Black man as beast.) I have to wonder, why did the shooting officer's partner taser the victim for THREE MINUTES after he was shot. After he was dead. I wonder, is there any way to know whether this would keep the blood pumping, send drugs into the system? You see where I'm going here: like the victim's family, I have to wonder if the cops planted those drugs.

As you can see from the photo there were quite a mix of people there. This photo might lead you to believe a lot of Caucasions were there. Not really. About ten percent. I didn't think that was enough. While all the media settled on "hundreds", I would say there were at least a 1000 people there. At least.

Both James Perez' aunt, and another woman whose child had a run-in with the Portland police spoke of their comfort zone, how they'd been in their 'comfort zone' and these instances shocked them out of it. This issue should be one of the top issues of the mayoral campaign, yet I'm afraid it won't be, because we are in our comfort zone.

Portland has a larger majority of white people than most other urban centers. Perhaps that is why this issue has not been addressed the way it should have been, before now, before another unarmed black person was killed by the police. Our "liberal" mayor believes racial profiling indeed exists in Portland. Perhaps she felt she addressed the issue. Clearly she didn't.

I have to say this really brings home for me how, even though I have an active imagination, I cannot imagine what it must be like for a person of color to live and work and raise a family in the midst of racism. It has never crossed my mind that I could be beaten if I was approached by a police officer. I have never feared for my life when pulled over for a traffic infraction. I haven't even been afraid they might search my car. I have never been pulled over for failing to signal correctly, nor did it even occur to me I could be. It's become pretty clear all of these things occur to a person of color in Portland.

Sadly, whether black or white, or whatever race, as long as we are in our "comfort zone", we do little to change society for the better. In some ways, we as peace activists are stretched too thin. We try to bring in all the issues, show how they are interconnected, then cannot address each one as deeply as they need to be.

Also, as James Perez' aunt said, this is not just a black issue, this is a white issue too, a human issue. The Portland Police are trained a mere ten weeks. As one speaker pointed out, cosmetologists get more training. I happened to be standing next to one who told me it took a minimum of six months to get her license. The national standard of police training is 22 weeks (still too low). When police are trained to shoot, that's what they do. They don't have training in diffusing conflict. Don't have training in dealing with the mentally ill. Don't have training in communication. Don't have training on dealing with stress. If they do, it's not enough.

Often people will excuse the police. They have a tough job. They put their life on the line. And they do. All the more reason that this should change. For their own sake they should have better training. For our sake, they should be held to the highest standard, because they have our lives in their hands. As my sign said, NO ONE should be afraid of a TRAFFIC STOP. And NO ONE should be targetted as suspicious because of the color of their skin. NO ONE should be guilty for Driving While Black.

One of the speakers had us point to the Justice Center. Engraved on that building is a quote by MLK Jr. She started reciting it, and we all joined in: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This injustice hurts us all, and we all really need to do something about it, need to make the change happen.

No comments: