A number of years ago a friend of mine had a buddy who happened to be black. That man was also a professional trumpet player. He was driving through Pasadena, California, obeying every traffic law, but was pulled over. Two officers approached him and made him get out of the car and stand with them behind his car. One officer looked into the car and saw the trumpet case. He asked the man what it was and the man told him. The officers looked at each other, discussing the fact that they thought he was lying to them. They said they needed him to prove it wasn’t stolen and that he could play. They got the trumpet out and handed it to him. But first, so he wouldn’t try to run away, they made him pull down his pants to his ankles. There he was, pants bunched around his feet, playing the trumpet while cars passed, and while the two police officers laughed at him.
Another friend of mine runs a program that mentors kids in poorer areas of Pasadena and Los Angeles. He helps them graduate high school and gets them into colleges. He had one student who has to regularly drive through San Marino to get to art school. He’s black. Every time he gets pulled over, most likely because the police officer says, “you match the description of someone we’re looking for,” he puts a notch on his dashboard. The last I heard the count was up over thirty-five.
My friend, James, who happens to be black and I were talking. I asked him how many times he’d been pulled over for no reason. He lost count.
My friend Byron, who happens to be black, received a phone call on his cell phone. Obeying the law, he pulled to the side, put the car in park, and answered the phone. A police officer yanked his cruiser in behind Byron, leaped out, and yelled at him, asking him why he pulled the car over when he saw a police car.
Another friend of mine who wished to remain anonymous worked at a large, influential church. This was a relatively multi-ethnic church, but primarily white. My friend is black. He pulled his car into the church parking lot and was checking his text before joining the others inside. Three police cars screamed in all around him, made him get out of the car, turned him around against his car, and handcuffed him. After he finally convinced him that he wasn’t the person “who matched the description of someone they were looking for” they let him go without an apology.
These are five situations. I’ve been pulled over a few times in my life and every single time except for one I deserved to be pulled over. I’ve never been stopped and told that I matched the description of someone they were looking for.
Now, please hear me out on this one, especially if you are a police officer. I believe in the work of the police. I believe that across this amazing country we have thousands of police officers who, while placing their lives at risk every single day, are trying their best to do the job they were called to do in a manner that is worthy of the badge they wear. Seriously. There is simply a handful who, for whatever reason, carry something inside them that lessens the value of a person of color.
That being said, I have some advice for white people. Please give some grace to the Black Lives Matter movement. Sure, they may not be doing everything right as you see it. Sure, things are often said that may cause you anger or concern. But we have a beautiful set of people in our society who genuinely feel hurt. Anger is a responsive byproduct emotion that has its roots in feeling hurt. So many of our brothers and sisters who have darker skin have felt constant fear when around our police officers, in spite of there being no need for concern the majority of the time. When the killings continue I think these good people simply had had enough.
One more thing. When we white folks hear “Black Lives Matter” and immediately shoot back with “ALL LIVES MATTER,” I’m quite sure this does nothing to help the situation. I’m also quite sure that the black community understands and agrees with the fact that all lives matter. Why don’t we just let them express their frustration and maybe see what we can do to help things?
As with any advice, feel free to take it or leave it. If you disagree with me, that’s OK. But maybe just think a little more. Maybe offer a little grace. I come from a Christian ilk and I believe it is a Christian thing to try and understand a group of people who feel marginalized from time to time…or a lot of the time.
Addendum: Since George Floyd’s death we have seen murder again. I was driving alone in my car the other day thinking about this and suddenly yelled at the top of my lungs to nobody in particular, “This has GOT to end!!!” Total and complete reform of our law enforcement agencies must happen, and I believe it finally…might.