Today I watched 4 minutes and 30 seconds of black man after black child after black man dying at the hands of police officers, men who were hired (and presumably trained) to protect and serve.
It is clearer than ever that our country has a huge problem with racism both on the institutional and personal level. Institutional racism, however, is what protects, permits, and propagates these tragedies and is, arguably, more dangerous. On a good day, institutional racism leads to gratuitous arrests. On a bad day, institutional racism leads to unwarranted deaths– the murder of innocent Americans.
We’ve had a lot of bad days in America.
While police brutality may be a “black issue,” it is not an ONLY black issue. We must stand together. While my skin may be fair, I refuse to remain silent while innocent Americans are dying.
Regardless of how you personally view these events from a racial perspective, it is absolutely evident that our police force needs better recruitment and better training. It is evident that the men we are sending out on the streets armed with a uniform, a badge, and a gun are not equipped to handle confrontations, even with non-violent citizens.
Here are a few principles I suggest we include in training materials moving forward.
Just because you have a gun, does not mean you get to shoot it if your suspect (of a traffic violation) begins to run.
Just because you have a gun, does not mean you get to shoot it if the black man in front of you is holding a screwdriver.
Just because you have a gun, does not mean you get to shoot it, especially if you’re already constraining a man face down on the ground with the weight of 2+ grown men, presumably trained at detaining suspects, on top of him.
Just because you have a gun, does not mean you get to shoot it when a 12 year old boy is carrying a pellet gun through a park, or another child is carrying a bb gun.
Just because you have a gun, does not mean you get to shoot it when a man of color, a legal gun owner, reaches for his wallet.
Just because you have a gun and you get a little scared, does not mean you get to shoot it.
Guns should be an absolute last resort for police officers. This concept seems easily understood and widely accepted when it comes to confrontations with white offenders/suspects. Unfortunately, for whatever reason (many of you still insist it can’t be racism– not in 2016!), the standard too often does not hold true during encounters with black men.
I beg law enforcement to reevaluate the screening process, the training, and the culture that currently exists in our police departments. I beg current law enforcement officers — the “good cops” — to report ill behavior from your fellow servicemen before they get a chance to brutalize someone. If you don’t, you’re only compromising your own ability to serve and protect. To do your job, the community must trust and value your service. Without mutual respect and dignity, we will never have peace.
And finally, I beg my friends, my family, my peers, and even strangers to speak out, stand up, and support each other. Silence cannot ignite change. Silence only excuses the status quo.
**It would be irresponsible for me to finish this statement without acknowledging the violence against police officers last night in Dallas. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. It should go without saying, but my support of #BlackLivesMatter does not equate to a hatred for police officers. The fact that I value black lives, does not take away from the value I assign to the lives of any other race. Violence, at the hands of anyone, is not the answer.
My first blog post has been in the making for a while. It was going to be sassy, smart, and explain to everyone why feminist is not a dirty word because being a true feminist is really just being a humanist. And it was going to explain the *ahem* interesting name I chose.
Then the 117th Boston Marathon happened.
And today, it is more important than ever to simply be human. So I’ll trash my sass for empathy, but keep all the brains– but today, accompanied with a lot of open, aching heart.
A little background:
For 117 years, the Boston Marathon has been a beloved global tradition. The race itself draws an elite group of committed runners from around the world- all participants must qualify by running a minimum time on another marathon course. But the community surrounding the marathon is far from elitist. The race is run on Patriot’s Day, a citywide holiday, and the whole city of Boston comes out for the race. In the neighborhoods of Newton and other Boston suburbs, families and friends lounge in their front yards to cheer on the runners. Once entering the city, the streets are lined by spectators rows and rows deep with people. Known for being a college town, the students of Boston colleges are better fans for the marathoners than any fans I’ve seen at a SEC football tailgate. The women of Wellesey are a notoriously rowdy and enthusiastic bunch. The Boston Marathon fosters a community where it doesn’t matter if you’re racing for first place or racing to finish with a smile, you are part of something bigger than yourself. You are united by the miles, the sweat, and all the extra, pain-in-the-ass-quads-calves-achilles-and-muscle-you-didn’t-even-know-existed hard work each athlete, each runner, put in to make it there for Marathon Monday.
For over 10 years, The Boston Marathon has been a beloved Outlaw/Halvorson family tradition. Today, April 15, 2013, should have marked my family’s 10th trip to Boston for the marathon. My kickass mom, Annis Outlaw, also known as a true superwoman, has consistently qualified for Boston for over a decade now. I have had the honor and ability to take part in another Boston tradition- bandit running- and 2 of those years have run the last 10 miles with her. Together, we ran through cheering crowds, over the infamous heartbreak hill, past the iconic Citgo sign, down Boylston Street, and hand-in-hand across the finish line. Feeling like rockstars the whole way. Over the past year, my mom has dealt with injuries keeping her from marathon-training mileage, and sat out the 117th Boston Marathon. We considered going as spectators, to be a part of the unparelleled atmosphere and community, and cheer our fellow runners on- but we decided to save the money. Could a herniated disc have been a blessing in disguise?
Oh, how things could be so different.
But it’s not about me.
If you are a running nerd, as most runners are, you have probably seen Without Limits. Even if you’re not a runner, I highly recommend the film. (I mean… if nothing else, who’s complaining about Billy Crudup in short-shorts? Exactly.)
In the movie, based on the life of American Track Star Steve Prefontaine, Bill Bowerman addresses his team after the news is released about the Israeli hostages at the Munich Olympics. I am not sure if this is an actual Bowerman quote, or just a line from the movie, but either way it is powerful and was one of the first things I thought of when I heard today’s news.
“And if there’s one place that war doesn’t belong, it’s here. 1200 years. From 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., your fellow Olympians laid down their arms to take part in these games. They understood there was more honor in out running a man than in killing him. I hope the competition will resume, and if it does, you must not think that running… or throwing… or jumping… is frivolous. The games were once your fellow Olympians answer to war – competition, not conquest. Now, they must be your answer.”
The events at the marathon today are no different- no less despicable. It is no place to violence or hatred. Like the Olympics, the Boston Marathon is a day when runners are brought together from all different backgrounds to do just one thing: run the damn race. It is not about your nationality, your race, your upbringing or your creed. It is not about whether you are running a 2 hour marathon or a 4 hour marathon, because, hell, you qualified. (OK- on a personal level, it might matter- but it’s not the point. The point is you’re not showing up on Marathon Monday to hurt your opponent. You are showing up on Marathon Monday to outrun your opponent, whether your opponent is the current world-record holder, your running buddy from home, or the clock) The strongest people in this world know and understand that true victory is won with integrity and sportsmanship. It is won in a race. It is being the fastest, the strongest, the person with the most guts that day. And not the kind of guts that will you to pull a trigger or press scary big red button (because what’s more cowardly than harming another person without even looking them in the eye?) but the real kind of guts that will you to push your body and your mind out of your comfort zone and into true, victorious success. That spirit is unique. It is something truly human that should never be tainted by or lost to acts of hatred or violence.
The Marathon was touched but not beaten. True courage was witnessed today. In the wake of the explosions, first responders, policemen, and volunteers ran straight into danger, risking their lives to save the immediate victims. Runners reportedly continued past the finish line marking the end of one of the toughest 26.2 mile courses in the world and straight to the hospital to give blood. Plenty more heroes have certainly gone unrecognized for their acts of courage and compassion. Be angry and disappointed that someone could commit and act so wrong, but be proud that for every villain there are many more heroes. Real, live, every day supermen and superwomen.
And to all of those that were there today in any capacity. Maybe the injuries that kept my mom from running the 117th Boston Marathon and subsequently kept my family from attending was, seemingly, a “blessing in disguise.” Who knows where we would have been when the explosions occurred otherwise. But I could not, and I would not, look you in the eyes and tell you I am glad I was safe inside my Washington, DC classroom instead. No. We are a community. We are human. We are a people. I much rather would have been running alongside and/or cheering alongside any one of you today. For better or for worse, we could not all make it this time, but let it be known that we are with you.
Today was disgusting. Today was heartbreaking. Today an institution was touched by filthy hands. But if there is one thing runners know how to do – and we all have a runner somewhere inside of us – it is wipe off the sweat, blood, and dirt, smile at our opponent, keep moving forward and pass ‘em all.