An Honest Discussion with a Black Cop

When I went home for Thanksgiving, I was ready for the relaxation, food, and fun with my family. I didn’t think that I would end up having deep conversations and debates with my family members, specifically my uncle. My intentions were never to have any type of conversation; it was Thanksgiving after all and we were supposed to be enjoying each other’s company. However, my uncle and I began talking.

To preface this, my uncle is a cop. He came in with a blue lives matter wristband. At first, I was a little defensive. Of course, cops need to be protected as well, but at the end of the day, the blue comes off and the skin they are in remains. The black skin my uncle is in remains. I’m as nervous for him to be out doing his job as anybody else. He’s a good cop and great at his job, but there’s still forces outside of his control.

I asked my uncle what he thought about all of the cop shootings that we had. His opinions were ones that stuck me. Not in a negative way, but in a way that had and continually has me thinking of how everyone can do better. My uncle is a corporal, which means he sometimes train the new recruits.  He recalled a story of when he was with a recruit that did a horrible offense.

My uncle decided this particular recruit was not feasible to be pushed through to the next level of work, so he wrote it in his report. The next week, the same recruit had been pushed through anyway, even though my uncle had specifically said in the report he would not be good on his own. For the next couple of months, that recruit had been demoted and pushed through time and time again for breaking the rules or doing something that put others in danger.

My uncle explained that the police force is looking for quantity over quality. They need people, regardless of how good or bad they might be. Sometimes it’s not as simple of having good cops and bad cops. It’s not that the good cops aren’t doing anything. It might just be that there are higher ranking police officers pushing people through who aren’t trained well enough to have a gun and a badge. While my uncle is saddened by the shootings, he hates the narrative that the good cops aren’t helping because they are. Citizens, especially protestors and activists, just can’t see that part.

On the other side, we talked about the black community and what they are doing wrong in this situation. Don’t get me wrong, he was not defending these senseless shootings, but we did talk about how the black community is locked up on a much higher basis than the white community. Black people, especially black men, are being locked up for the same crimes that everyone else does. But why is this so? My uncle discussed the dynamic that happens when black people get caught repeatedly. Something most people know is that most of the black men in jail are there for non-violent drug offenses. If a person gets caught one time, the judge considers this your first offense and the sentence, if there is one, will be light. As a person continually gets arrested for the same offense, the punishment gets harsher. The importance of knowing and recognizing this by everyone is extreme.

We have to have a discussion about both of these situations that are happening on a daily. We have to create a dialogue between police and the communities, especially the black ones, they are supposed to protect. Everyone needs to work together to make their communities better. We have to stop calling for good cops to speak out because they genuinely might not be able to. Police precincts are still filled with politics just like everything else. Everyone can benefit from information from the other, so let’s sit down with our officers at the local precincts and have an honest, open discussion.

Street Harrassment

Eyes straight ahead. Keys firmly clutched in hand, pepper spray ready. Headphones in, music on mute. Keep walking. Stay brisk—don’t slow down.

The sun is setting. Franklin Street is suddenly bathed in a warm, glowing light. You allow yourself to briefly relax, a moment to take in the picturesque scene before you. A male pedestrian asks you a question.

Ignore. Continue walking. A group of women across the street catch your eye. Cross the road. Walk behind them.

Finally, you arrive at your destination—you can breathe, a sigh of momentary relief before you soon must leave again.

This script is repeated over and over and over again, no matter the time or place.

Go out in groups.

Carry a pocketknife.

Always stay alert, never let your guard down.

Check, check, check.

If someone attacks you, it’s because you missed something. A slip-up. You’re targeted with questions.

Why’d you wear that?

Can’t you take a compliment?

Why were you out so late?

When arriving at UNC-Chapel Hill, incoming students are told that Chapel Hill is the Southern Part of Heaven—a safe, fun, inclusive haven where you can freely learn and grow. For many students, though, this promise rings hollow.

This insidious, constantly unsafe feeling in public spaces is characterized by street harassment—sexual harassment in public spaces, including catcalling, stalking, touching without consent, etc.

Street harassment is incredibly prevalent. In a study conducted by Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment organization, and Cornell University, researchers found that 29 percent of those who shared their experiences of street harassment on Hollaback!’s website were physically touched in a public space without their consent, while 57 percent were subject to verbal harassment.

On college campuses, harassment has other implications, too. The threat of street harassment often will dissuade women from studying in a library late due to fear of walking home late at night, negatively impacting academics. According to Hollaback!, 67 percent of students experienced harassment on campus, 61 percent witnessed another student being harassed on college campus, and only 18 percent of students had not experienced or witnessed harassment on campus. Hollaback! Also found that a staggering 46 percent of students said harassment caused disappointment with college experience.

I can recall multiple times in which I simply decided to remain in my dorm to complete assignments during the evening, even though I focus significantly better in a quiet, studious library—a choice male students, specifically cis, white, heterosexual men, rarely have to consider.

Women and other marginalized folks should be able to freely exist and move around in the world without fear of potential bodily, mental, and emotional harm.

If We Ignore Institutional Racism, will it Actually Go Away?

I’m sure we’ve all heard the story of the teen from Memphis, Tennessee who stood up to her racist parents and earned herself a crisp $35,000+ right? If not, here is a quick rundown: a teen from Memphis stood up to her parents because they were against her having a black boyfriend. They denied her college tuition, so the teen took matters into her hands and started a GoFundMe page. The reaction to her tragedy was quite positive and she has proceeded to collect over $35,000 for her tuition. One might think that this story is a heart-warming tale of one girl’s fight for social justice and her rewards in the process, but it is much deeper and much more complicated.

Racism, in all of its complexities, can manifest itself in, more or less, 2 ways: institutional racism and interpersonal racism. The latter is more individualized, meaning that the individual/s involved are in control and are choosing to be racists to others, be it in a blatant manner or in the form of a microaggression. The former, however, is more systematic. It seeps into every part of our society, from our political systems to our educational systems and beyond. It is essentially built into our society. The former is derived from the latter, but the most important difference among them is that institutional racism is far less acknowledged than interpersonal racism. Institutional racism is a myth to all those who do not experience it, which unfortunately means that the majority of the U.S.’ population does not believe that institutional racism is real. So, if it’s not real, why bother acknowledging or fixing it?

Asking those kinds of questions is the problem. Racism does not just boil down to a dispute between one individual and another. It is constantly perpetuated by the society we live in and the rules we follow. Media outlets fail to address the fact that the institutions that govern us were built specifically to oppress minorities and people of color. Instead, we are given story after story like the teen from Memphis. Stories like these are great, but if we continue to ignore the fact that structural racism exists and solely bolster the idea that racism is an isolated issue, we will never be able to make real change.