Two unarmed black men, Michael Brown and John Crawford, have been gunned down by police in a matter of days, tragedies which have once again illuminated the dangers black men face for merely going about their day.
The statistics are sobering: one African-American is killed either by law enforcement, security guards or stand-your-ground vigilantes every 28 hours. And that's to say nothing of the shocking frequency with which black men are imprisoned compared with their white counterparts.
Also sobering, for me, is the following thought: given my anti-authoritarian leanings & sarcastic angst, there's a chance I'd already be dead if I were black in this country.
It's not a bombastic thought. In my younger days, as a white Jew raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, I had several run-ins with law enforcement which, had the color of my skin been any different, could have turned out much worse, perhaps even fatal.
In one incident, I was crossing into Canada from Maine, a scraggly college student on an exchange program looking for adventure. When the U.S. border patrol agent, running through his litany of questions, finally got to asking me if I had any contraband, I sarcastically answered, "It's funny you mention contraband; that's actually why I'm headed to Canada."
He immediately dropped his clipboard and ordered me out of the car. I did not comply, opening the door with my hands raised, as any sane individual would. Instead, I refused and asked, comfortable in my white skin, "Why? You know I'm just joking." Yes, my car was searched. But I was not arrested. I was not physically mistreated. Nor was I shot for resisting.
In another incident, again from my college years, I was pulled over in Texas along with several of my white friends, all of us vacationing in Big Bend National Park for spring break. When some marijuana (not belonging to me, of course) was found in the vehicle, we were read our rights in separate groups. However, when the officer got to me, I put up my hand and said, "Don't bother. We know our rights."
The officer looked at me, paused, and began again. I interrupted him a second time and told him to stop wasting our time before being punched. Not by the officer, but by my friend standing beside me, dumbfounded by my poorly-placed sarcastic angst. The result? He laughed and eventually let us go.
Now, those stories might not seem remarkable. However, when I tell them to black friends and acquaintances, they uniformly shake their heads in amazement.
Dave Chapelle, in a moment of comedic brilliance, performed a bit on exactly this topic, contrasting how black and white men engage with police. (Warning: NSFW)
It's a funny bit. But the laughter is paid by the price of too many tragedies continuing to plague the black community, too many instances of African Americas still being treated as separate and unequal. A fact which inspired this, from Nathan James:
Black parents in America, particularly those with boys, understand what it is like to live without peace of mind, wondering if their child will survive the evening due to the color of his skin.
Yes, justice for the victims, and peace for everyone.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.