Jayme Watson reflects on why he is so frustrated with the systematic assumption of guilt applied to men of color.
So over the last few days, people have asked me my thoughts on what is currently happening in Ferguson, MO. And I can honestly say I am torn in my feelings. On the one hand I understand ‘don’t commit a crime’, ‘don’t fight with the police’, ‘obey the police officer’s commands’, etc.. I have the utmost respect for law enforcement. Full disclosure– for many years I had plans to have a career in law enforcement on both the state and federal levels. And many of my closest friends and family either currently are members of or have retired from law enforcement. On the other hand, I understand the frustrations of the people in Ferguson. I understand the firing of your pistol in self defense while being attacked in your vehicle; but, the further firing when your life is no longer in immanent danger puzzles me. So like I said I am torn.
The ruling that came down in NY last week is a different matter. When someone can utilize a maneuver that is strictly forbidden in training and procedure and kill someone with it there is a problem. But even still that is not what has me frustrated. What does is the apparent lack of compassion to check on him once he was subdued, and to allow him to suffocate is unconscionable. The motto of most police forces is “protect and serve”– once you have him in custody, you have protected the community. Criminal or not, it is still your responsibly to ensure the safety and well being of ALL citizens.
This is where my frustration comes into play. We are all taught to respect the police. The problem comes into to play when you respect them, but don’t trust them, and you don’t trust them because they don’t seem to respect you or your humanity. Those who knew me when I was growing up know I am about as far from a “thug” as you will ever see. Even during my “militant Afro-centric rebellious” phase, I was more apt to dress like Dwayne Wayne than Ice Cube. I would listen to KRS-one moreso than NWA. I was a non-threatening, preppy kid going to one of the most prestigious high schools in the state. Yet, I still was stopped multiple times by police officers, including being pulled over in my own driveway and being accused of not living there (needless to say my parents were not happy about that).
All through college, the most dangerous thing I did was drive my car in excess of the speed limit on occasion. Still, whenever something happened that involved a police officer showing up, I was always the one getting the accusing stare. One incident in particular I remember vividly to this day. Two of my closest friends (one is Italian and the other Irish) and I were doing our weekly post- club ritual of going to the diner after the club closed. We sat down in our normal booth and ordered. After we ordered, 2 very drunk non-minority males entered the diner and proceeded to harass the waitress as well as other people at the diner. My friends and I tried to intervene to at the very least get their attention off the others so they would leave them alone. More so my friends, as I was drinking a milkshake (it was very good I might add).
Anytime they tried to drag me into the conflict I would just look at them and remain perfectly silent, those who have seen it know the exact look that I gave. Eventually the local police were called, and I was the first person they made a beeline to stating that I needed to leave for causing a disturbance. No questioning of the the patrons or staff, just assumed I was the issue. The waitress and the owner quickly told them that I was not the problem but the other 2 were. Flash forward to later in (and after) college, I have been pulled over for “fitting the description of” too many times to count. And this has occurred in every vehicle I have ever owned from an RX-7 to a beat up Saab 900, to a Ford escort, to a Pontiac Grand Am and BOTH of my Santa Fe’s.
This is why people are so angry and frustrated. It isn’t just these two cases, it is an ongoing series of little incidents that have built up over time. I have probably done fewer “bad” things than the majority of my friends in law enforcement. I have never done any type of drug, I don’t smoke, and I rarely drink (haven’t actually been “drunk” in over 12 years). Even when I “partied” or clubbed I was always the sober one. But yet to this day, at 40 years old, I feel like a kid about to get yelled at every time a police car pulls behind my “incredibly threatening” Santa Fe. There are certain towns that I still breath a sigh of relief when I drive through them without seeing a police officer.
The frustration people feel lies not in the fact that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed, the frustration lies in what seems to be a systematic assumption of guilt applied to men of color. Not just black– I’m talking about all men of color: Hispanic, Asian, Native American included. This is a discussion I used to have with my father all the time, but we never really hashed out a solution to it. We were more sounding boards to each other rather than problem solving. Maybe that is part of my frustration as well, not having my sounding board. I am by no means justifying rioting of any type, that is just dumb. But I am saying that the anger and frustration is justified. But instead of “burning this muther down,” how about we take the time and actually talk to each other? Find out why there seems to be an inherent fear, and do something about eliminating that.
Until we can have that conversation, this is going to continue to happen. And please don’t believe everything the media shows or “reports” remember they make their money by having viewers, and they feel that the best way to get viewers is to make every story a sensation. Feel free to use this post as a chance to voice your thoughts and opinions freely and openly. I want something good to come out of this. And if this starts the ball rolling towards unity, then great. At the very least I hope it makes you think.
Photo: AP / Jeff Roberson