Prior to the previous weekend, I stumbled upon an article that mentioned the first anniversary of Ferguson. I was shocked. Had it really been that long? It felt like just a few months ago.
But then I realized it hadn’t felt like a year because of the constant stream of police-related violence and deaths over the past year. How many? A lot. Like 1,091 a lot. (Mapped and featured on Vox.com, courtesy of the non-profit Fatal Encounters.)
Based on that number, you would easily think the problem has gotten worse. In many ways it has. I think there are a good number of scared, under-trained, but also power-hungry and cocky (and in the worst cases, racist) police out there in our communities. I also think there are a lot of scared people of color in these same communities that don’t want to be pulled over/stopped/arrested and potentially become the next headline. Unfortunately, mixing the two can make things even worse, so the need for change is even more urgent.
Then you have memes going around social media like the image you see to the right, with over 28,000 likes and 195,000 shares when I took the screenshot. Brutality in quotes and blaming all of this on bad parenting and bratty kids! Really? That take seems completely divorced from reality. If anything, white kids and parents dominate those categories, hands down.
For one, there have been many high-profile examples of police violence happening after minor traffic infractions or no infraction at all. (And not so high profile.) Secondly, the issue crosses age, education and any other demographic, with one exception: race. This issue disproportionately impacts minorities. (See this Vice article for more detail and breakdowns.)
On the bright side, systemic racism and inequality are in the news nearly every day. That is a good thing, if we ever want to truly tackle that problem. Vox has the numbers on how this is changing society:
But recent surveys show the shift. A June survey of 2,000 US adults from Gallup found that all Americans are more likely to say that black people are unfairly treated in all aspects of society, including police encounters. And a July survey of 2,000 US adults from the Pew Research Center found a 20-year high in the percentage of Americans calling racism a "big problem" in society.
Now the question becomes, what are we going to do about it? Part of it rests on policy makers and enforcers. We’ve already seen politicians pushed to take policy stances and police departments being pushed to make changes, like requiring body cameras on police officers. Much more needs to happen (and soon), obviously.
But the other part rests on us to keep pushing the issues until we see real, sustained change. We can’t put our head in the sand and blame it on bratty young people or bad parenting. Or be scared to speak up because you know a police officer that isn’t part of the problem. (‘Cause you know, police are needed. That isn’t the issue. The issue is they should be held to the same societal standards and laws they are paid to enforce.) Or just pretend racism doesn’t exist, because you don’t see it. Or inequality doesn’t exist, because you believe in the American Dream. (Hint, social mobility doesn’t exist in the U.S. any longer.)
Quite simply, just take a moment to remember that your experience in this world isn’t the same experience others have over their life time. Everyone is battling their own inner demons and baggage – even generational baggage. Sometimes we all just need the benefit of the doubt and a little help.