I keep thinking about him. I keep looking at his picture: a father, wearing a white t-shirt with an unbuttoned, plaid shirt holding his two sons – one on each leg sitting in front of a typical Sears or J.C. Penney’s backdrop. Both boys grasp onto their father’s fingers. All 3 are smiling, but his is the biggest. A daddy and his boys. The picture speaks to hope.
But that father is dead now. He was shot 20 times in his own backyard by police officers, who claim that they thought he had a gun. It was a cell phone. I keep thinking about Stephon; and I keep looking at his picture; but I haven’t been able to write about him or his murder. Frankly, I don’t know what to say. What can I say that I haven’t already said? What can I say that I didn’t say when I wrote about Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Freddy Gray, and Philando Castile?
Frankly, I’m weary . . . exhausted in fact. Another Black man has been killed at the hands of police officers; more marches, more comments from unsympathetic people blaming the victim, more bullshit statements from the police, more officers on paid leave, and my guess is, more broken hearts when we don’t get justice, when Stephon and Stephon’s family don’t get justice.
It pains me to say it; but most likely, justice will not be served because not a damn thing has changed in our country. We keep dealing with the symptoms, while ignoring the disease. We are a racist country, filled with people who have biases. All of us do – even the most well-meaning. This fact scares people. But to get better, we all must admit some ugly truths. White people, in particular, prefer to avoid this depiction . . . this reality. It’s uncomfortable. I understand that.
But if we don’t get honest and real about the race issues in this country and about the biases we hold – then we are doomed for more Black men and women to be killed by police. We are doomed that these killings will continue to go unpunished. Consider that Police officers are trained to kill if they are in fear of their lives. Studies have shown that most people have unconscious bias against Black people and view them as scarier and more threatening than Whites. Is it any wonder then, that Blacks are shot by police at a disproportionate rate? Similarly, more Black people will be arrested for drug use, although white people have a higher percentage of drug use; and Black people will get stiffer sentences for the same crime as White offenders. This has to stop.
But like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. We – and I mean ALL of us – need to own our biases and the fact that our country and our culture incubate them. We need to accept that we have been raised to view some races as less worthy, as scary and menacing. And we then need to start putting measures in place from birth to: a) meaningfully prevent these biases from arising in the first place; and (more significantly) b) to consciously counteract them in our actions. Acceptance and conscious action – by everyone – is the only way to move away from our racist status quo. We, Americans, cannot allow the melting pot myth, or the fantasy of how we’d like to be, or the concern for hurt feelings to hinder us from being honest about who we are, flaws and all, and getting to who we want to be. Our willingness to be honest is a matter of life and death.