Tolliver: Another letter to a white boy named AndyWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
By now you should have heard a lot of talk, comments and opinions about the death of the black teenager Michael Brown who was recently shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
As you also may have heard, the black community has been up in arms due to this shooting of the unarmed teen, which follows a long line of other police shootings of young black males across the country.
It is as if some white police officers have a predisposition to shoot first and ask questions later about their state of mind at the time of the shooting and why they did not engage in lesser means of controlling or confronting an alleged miscreant.
Remember the recent case of the black man Eric Garner who was placed in an illegal choke hold by a policeman in NYC? He also died at the hands of police.
His crime? Allegations that he was selling single cigarettes. No proof. Simply allegations of such conduct.
Why they did not simply serve him with a summons to appear in court rather than accost him and place him a chokehold is known only to the offending officer.
Again, such conduct leads many black people to believe the police do not value black life and for them to quickly snuff it out means that they are not concerned about any adverse consequences against them; and they can either use the shield of limited governmental immunity or in many cases, say they were “fearful” for their lives or the person make a “furtive gesture,” which lead the officer to believe that a deadly weapon was at hand.
Time now does not permit me to rehash the case of Trayvon Martin or many, many others who were caught up in a police web that lead to their being imprisoned or — worse — killed for petty nonsensical reasons. But, nonetheless, reasons that a grand jury accepted as truth and exonerated the offending officer in killing Michael Brown.
Now, when such results build up and build up, they create a reservoir of mistrust of police officers and when combined with antagonistic racial attitudes toward people of color by white police officers (not all white officers) you get a volatile and inflammatory cinder box of rage and resentment that your life — a black life — is of minimal value, if any value at all.
No, I am not condoning the prior actions of Michael Brown in which, according to a store video, he committed a strong-armed robbery of some tobacco products and seemingly threatened the frightened store owner as he was exiting the store.
And no, I do not understand the family dynamics in which Michael Brown was raised insofar as that family unit and the imparted values, or lack thereof, that produced a child who believed that bullying people was acceptable conduct.
My discussion with you, Andy, is to realize that there are other lesser means by which a person can be stopped or corralled by a police officer when that person does not possess a gun or a deadly weapon.
The officer who shot Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, did not use a baton nor did he use any mace or a TASER gun. It was deadly force or nothing at all. Could he have waited out Michael Brown so that his back-up officers could arrive and with a show of force subdue the teenager? We will never know.
It is almost that when white police officers deal with people of color even in situations that are not hostile, their first reaction is to pull out their gun and fire…fire…fire! Something is terribly wrong with that mindset when the first and last option is to use deadly force.
At least the police officers in Los Angeles beat the living heebee jeebees out of Rodney King and did not simply execute him on the spot.
Andy, the country is in trouble. The racial divide is wider than before and as troubling as the days of Jim Crow since the American system of justice has shown by its mass incarcerations (read the book “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander) that black people are still relegated to the dredges of being given legal fairness and judicial empathy versus similarly situated white perpetrators.
You then fast-forward to the Michael Brown scenario and to a secret grand jury composed of nine whites and three blacks and that jury votes 9-3 to not return any charges against Officer Wilson.
To some such a “no bill” is incredulous to believe but as for the forensic evidence, it indicates that the officer was within his legal rights to blast Michael Brown into eternity, firing over 10 rounds at the kid.
Andy, you may have heard of black parents now either telling or re-telling this story and other police misconduct stories along with their parental admonitions to their male children that they need to “step lightly and circumspectly” when dealing with any situation involving any police officer.
You may have heard the recent story of a 76-year-old white male in Minnesota who confronted, shot and killed his next door neighbor who was a 13-year-old black kid whom he thought broke into his house and stole some guns.
The kid was shot to death while his frantic mother and other witnesses looked on. The kid’s crime at the time of the shooting? Taking out the trash, in the middle of the day and being confronted by this gun-toting angry white man.
Andy, the conversation has again been with black parents telling their kids, especially the black male child, that living in America, even in a so called safe gated community (such as where Trayvon Martin was visiting his father at the time of his killing) is fraught will danger and you just do not know when a black parent could get a call from the police department or worse yet, the coroner’s office, saying that your son has been shot dead.
For your parents, Andy, such a call would be rare because you walk around with the mantle of the presumption of innocence due to white skin privileges; and the gun-toting policeman or wannabe vigilante is, for the most part, white.
Andy, you got it “made in the shade,” with the societal grant of white skin privileges! If there is a doubt between you and a black kid in the same and similar situation, the investigators (probably being white) will give you the benefit of the doubt when they see who you are, where you come from and how well you speak the English language.
Yes Andy, society has weighed it “goodies” toward you and your posse. The good low-hanging fruit of this society bends and weighs toward the kid who has white skin and blue or brown eyes, who does not drop the endings of his words — even if you wear a hoodie and like to listen to black rap or hip-hop music blaring out of headphones or out of a car.
Andy, society allows the white skin privileges that you consciously or unconsciously enjoy as a cloak, giving you the benefit of the doubt that you are a good white kid and as such, you are given every presumption of being OK; and when in trouble, law enforcement will say to each other and to the media, “That’s Andy, he is one of us.”
Andy, my boy, society has given you a pass that it will honor and protect unless and until you do something so foul and heinous that it will revoke your white skin privileges in order to make sure that the next Andy can still use or benefit from them.
Andy, by accident of birth, you are given a pass to the American Dream if you just keep your nose clean, work hard and follow the script.
You know the script: You can act out while you are young and even act like a wannabe black boy, and with all of the gesturings, clothes, shoes and music; you can act out your fantasies but when it is time to close down the show and act white, you gotta know when to assert the white skin privileges and return to “your own.”
So, go ahead Andy, have the time of your life walking that tightrope between obedience and disobedience, indulging in any forbidden fruits that catch your eye with the safe realization that if things get tough, really tough, and you are caught up in a jam involving race, you can lean back, smile and throw down that race card, that “get out of jail free card” and walk away and make it home…alive.
In closing Andy, enjoy your race card but at least have some respect for yourself that you will seek to know how America’s long and tortuous racial history has caused such a card to be issued to the Andy’ of the USA.
We will talk later.
Lafe Tolliver is an attorney. He can be reached at Tolliver@Juno.com.