American Skin

I feel that in light of last night’s tragedy, this post needs a disclaimer. I wrote this yesterday before the tragic events in Dallas last night. I still think there is something worth saying here. But I want to state for the record that this is NOT an anti-police screed. I am very grateful for the professionalism of the police that showed up to my house a year ago today. I am trying to draw a distinction between my treatment and those in different neighborhoods who receive a different reception. I do not, nor would ever, support the wanton murder of police officers. What happened last night will only lead to more division among us. It does not serve us as a country or a civilization to condone or celebrate the murder of anyone. This morning I fear for my country. We may have crossed a line in incivility that may be hard to undo. With all that said, here is what I wrote yesterday:




Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”
— Bruce Springsteen “American Skin”
On these streets . . .

It was one year ago today that I could have easily been killed by a SWAT team responding to a call originating with my employer.
I wrote about it a few days ago here.
There was something else about that situation that I didn’t write about and it has nothing to do with my mental condition, so I am going to write about it now.
There are particulars to my story that are very important in understanding what I am about to write.
First, the police were notified, and to this day I don’t know by whom and why, that I was holding my wife hostage in our house with a rifle.
They showed up ready for war. There were about a dozen officers from multiple jurisdictions in SWAT gear that formed a perimeter around my house while I was sitting on my couch, sipping coffee, unaware.
There were cops in my driveway, cops in my backyard, cops in the neighbor’s yards, including a sniper team that were under the porch awning of my neighbor’s house waiting for me to come out.
If I live to be 100 (which I won’t), I’ll never forget the sight that greeted me when I opened the door. Cops in riot gear everywhere. M-16s pointed at me.
The first thing out of the hostage negotiator’s mouth was “I need to see your hands.” 
Not these streets – my front stoop

I was holding my smart phone in my right hand. I thought briefly of dropping it but thought that might be misinterpreted, so when I raised both my hands slowly, I kept the cell phone (thankfully in a bright red case) in my right hand telling the police it was a cell phone.

Thinking back, I am surprised I didn’t wet myself. I was trembling, not understanding what the hell I had done to deserve this. But I knew any sudden move might be my last and I didn’t want to die on my front lawn.  

I was given verbal commands to walk slowly down my front steps, hands in the air, to my wife’s car where I was frisked. 
It was there that I was allowed to tell my story, show the cops my cellphone which proved I had emailed in sick for the day and that email had been received and approved. Up in my house, my wife, who had just come out of the shower, was being asked if I had intended to hurt her. 
My neighbor strolled up to my driveway, recognized one of the cops, and vouched for me. “He’s a good guy,” my neighbor said. “He was just in my pool last Sunday.”
After five minutes the cops were apologizing to me for the inconvenience.
I know I might get a lot of crap in light of what happened last night about what I’m about to write, but here it is. 
I’ve always had the nagging notion that I wasn’t shot and later was treated with respect and civility by the police for one reason and it wasn’t just because of my compliance.
Because I’m beginning to believe that compliance doesn’t always matter. It didn’t seem to with Philando Castile.

I was a white guy in a white neighborhood. I believe my odds of being perforated by bullets were substantially reduced over a person of color by an unknown, but sizeable factor that day.
Understand please, the seriousness of the call the police received – domestic situation (always a big caution for cops), hostage situation, and a firearm present.
This was no broken tail light.

Here is what happened in my situation:

1.     Unlike Mr. Castile, I was not shot.

2.     Despite the report that I was holding a gun on my wife, It appeared to me I was not assumed to be armed when I left the house: I was not asked to kneel on my front steps and assume a prone position while armed police came up with weapons drawn to cuff me (which would have been the procedure), nor was the phone in my hand mistaken for anything else.

3.     Upon reaching the police, I was not taken hard to the ground and cuffed or tasered. I was given an extremely polite and brief pat down while standing and then allowed to drop my hands and give the police my side of the story.

4.     My wife, who was going to pieces in the house, was comforted by a police officer. Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her child, were not comforted by the police. In fact, according to CNN, the St. Anthony police separated her from her daughter, didn’t tell her until 3 a.m. that Castile was dead and didn’t take her home until 5 a.m. “They took me to jail. They didn’t feed us. They didn’t give us water,” she said. “They put me in a room and separated me from my child. They treated me like a prisoner.”

5.     My neighbor was not angrily told to back away and keep his distance. He was allowed to literally walk up to a police action and, because he knew one of the officers, talk to them about what a great guy I was. Ask yourself how many people of color would be afforded such a privilege?

6.     And, I received an apology from the police. Two of them also gave me their business cards. I mean, please, let’s not be crazy here. Cops generally don’t apologize for doing their duty even when a mistake is made: it’s a potential legal liability to do so. 

I can only speak to what happened to me. But when I look at my situation as opposed to Mr. Castile’s especially, I can only draw one honest conclusion and it’s one that makes me very uneasy. 
Sometimes, despite our upbringing, our culture and our own personal prejudices, we have to face the truth. Let me just say this for the record: on July 8, 2015, I was damn happy to be the beneficiary of white privilege. 
Because I’m thinking that it was about 50/50 odds that without that privilege, I would not be here today or in one piece.
And that is wrong.
41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We’re baptized in these waters 
And in each other’s blood
  
This entry was posted in Alton Sterling, black lives matter, Philando Castile, police shooting. Bookmark the permalink.

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