Tag Archives: police safety

In the Blink of an Eye

“Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.”

 

I read a blog sent out by ACLU that said just because police are afraid of an African-American man (or woman) that is no excuse to kill them.

It got me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.

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He says that we make decisions in the blink of an eye. Sometimes this is excellent. Some could call it intuition. But it often leads to the kinds of tragedies that are played out on the streets of big and small cities across America.

Police officers answering calls, especially domestic violence calls, are afraid for their lives. They know what has happened to other officers and that it could happen to them. They pull their guns fast and use them faster. If it’s a person of color it seems even faster. I’m not sure it’s because of racial hatred. It’s definitely racial profiling.

Ruminating about this, I started thinking about my own quick impressions of people. If I see a white older man in a suit, I think to myself: If that guy is a senator and a Republican he’s probably a Christian who only feels charity to other Christians. If he’s a “southern gentleman”, I throw in that he’s a racist bigot. I know it’s wrong to think that way. I’m trying to get over it.

Living in California there are many Hispanic people around me. Yesterday I got my car washed and sat next to two women speaking rapid fire Spanish. I’ve been working on my Spanish so I always eavesdrop to try to figure out what’s being said. As usual, I could pick out a few words here and there, but it was too quick for me. The men washing the cars, the man who took my information, the young woman who checked me out—they were all Hispanic. Should I generalize that all Hispanics are working class so how could they afford to get their car washed? A scene in the movie Beatrice At Dinner illustrates this well. When Beatrice, a guest, comes up to speak to Lithgow’s character, he asks her to refill his drink. He assumes she’s a servant. It’s not only because she’s wearing casual clothing; it’s because she’s Hispanic by birth. It’s a cringe-worthy moment.

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The ACLU blog got me thinking about how I feel if I see a black man. Do I immediately blink and feel fear? I don’t. I’m very happy to say that. I do not want to be a racist. I do not want to jump to conclusions about a person because of his or her race.

I was fortunate to grow up in Seattle and attend schools that were multi-racial and ethnic. I went back and taught in my junior high school and learned as much from my students as I taught them. So I avoided a lot of the scourge of racism. Not all, of course. But like Spanish, I keep working on it.

Besides being “white”, I am Jewish, which makes me a little schizophrenic in America, and always a little afraid.

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I don’t “look Jewish” so I can pass easily in society. Until someone spouts a Jewish slur. That’s why I announce early into a conversation with a new acquaintance that I’m Jewish. I don’t want to suffer again the embarrassment of hearing someone say: “Don’t Jew me down.”

I’ve never wanted to admit that America is not the land of the free and the home of the brave. I love that myth. I love the stories of the Pilgrims and the Indians sharing the first Thanksgiving.

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It’s so sad at 71 to be aware it was a mythology we were taught. My generation was raised on Westerns where homesteaders and cowboys were heroes.

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We never realized that the scalps being taken and the arrows being shot were from the knives and bows of the people the land belonged to.

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They were defending their property! We had no compassion whatsoever. It’s taken me a long time and perhaps the Donald Trump administration to pull the blinders fully from my rose colored eye-apparel.

I’m not saying I’m not proud to be an American. I am.

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I know how lucky I am that my grandparents had the courage to immigrate here, to a democratic capitalist nation. To a place where they had opportunity. I’m just acknowledging that the United States is not perfect. Nothing is. (Not even me.) But we can keep learning and growing.

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We don’t have to be a melting pot to create a fabulous America. We can be a mixed salad with innovative and flavorful ingredients. Remember the posters United WE Stand after 9/11? Let’s remember that is our greatness.

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