I have a hard time writing about police officers. I just do.
My aunt is a literal hero cop in Connecticut. She has the documents and medals from the city of Hartford to prove it. And I am proud that she woke up one morning as she approached middle age and decided to bank hard and change her career and her life in such a big way and became an officer of the law. So maybe I always feel like a bit of a hypocrite knowing that and writing about police in negative ways. I don't know.
I do know I have written a version of a piece on Ferguson and delete it multiple times. At least five, in fact. And part of it is the above. And part of it is that the last thing anyone needs to read is another white guy stumbling around his pile of feelings on the matter in written form. At least that's what I have told myself.
But, I think that perhaps the bigger sin is to say nothing at all. The bigger sin is to let my skin color keep me quiet, to let my family connections make me sit on my hands.
So, what to say.
I can comment on, statistically speaking, how often grand jury's hand down indictments (nearly always) and how often they hand them down in cases involving cops (significantly less often). They would not be kind comments.
I can comment on a Presidential speech that waved at anger and pain with the tossed off phrase "good TV" as though minorities in this country do not feel this as deep wound to their soul but rather it is all just something ginned up by the press for ratings. They would not be kind comments.
I can comment on how this killing is hardly the only this year, this decade, this century, this recorded history in which an officer of the law killed a human being who, for all the world, appeared to be unarmed. They would not be kind comments.
But instead, I will focus on this, a comment that just crushed me. Someone I know, someone I like, someone who I think incredibly highly of, tweeted that the miracle of his life is that he has reached the age he has without being killed for the color of his skin by a white man.
And while his is the tweet I read, I guarantee that is not the only tweet tonight that said something akin to that. Here. In America. In 2014. How can I read that and not feel caved in? How can I read that and fret about how what I want to say will be received because I am white?
So here it is. A scream into the proverbial void. An angry, wounded howl made with zero expectation of change or impact.
I am sick. I am angry. But mostly I am just so damn sad. I am sad we are a country where people still feel as though cops--people who we have given the power to enforce the law--are an active danger to them. I am sad because even if it is not true, it sure as hell FEELS true and even that says something twisted and hideous still exists in the fabric of this nation. And I have no response to that.
I can say it'll get better, it has gotten better, look at how far we have come but when the anchor of that scale is slavery maybe "look at how far we've come" is just not enough in the 21st Century. Maybe "look at how far we've come" is just not enough in a nation that disproportionately jails and sentences young black men and women in comparison to their white counterparts, in a nation that thinks "minority" when asked to imagine the typical welfare recipient even though white people use welfare more often, in a nation that is currently in love with voter ID laws that disproportionately limit minorities' abilities to vote. Maybe "look at how far we've come" does nothing to erase the reality that Michael Brown is dead by a police officer's gun.
Which brings me back to where I started. Wanting so desperately to do something, anything, to feel differently.
So what am I trying to say? I do not know. I just...to say nothing at all seemed untenable. Seemed wrong. In the streets of Ferguson, there is smoke and fire and broken glass and yes, it is wrong to loot and riot but... if I feel the way I do 1200 miles away, how must they feel? If I feel the way I do with my skin the color it is, how must they feel? The least I can do for my fellow Americans in pain is do my part to scream with them. To howl. To look into that tragic abyss and not simply throw up my hands and shrug and say, "Yeah, but look how far we've come." Not tonight. Tonight, at least, I owe my fellow Americans some unfocused, stumbling, shambling pain. So here it is. Here I sit.
Sick, angry, and so damn sad.