One of the things we’re taught to believe as American citizens is that we cherish our freedoms and our rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion.
And if we’re accused of a crime, we get to face our accusers and have a fair shot at defending ourselves. It’s in the base Constitution, and in the 6th expansion pack it even says “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
We’re presumed innocent until proven guilty.
We’re taught, “Look at THOSE countries. The oppression by the government, the jack-booted thugs executing people without trial or with sham trials where the deck is stacked against the accused. We have it much better here.”
We Americans have it good, right?
But some of us don’t.
In fact, many of us look the other way when again and again and again and again the police carry out executions against people of color. We look the other way when it happens in broad daylight. We look the other way when there is video footage showing it happening.
Somehow, even when the evidence says, “You can’t look the other way”, we find a way to look the other way.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the victim is a teenager or a grown adult. It doesn’t matter if the victim was a model citizen or had a colorful past. It doesn’t matter if the victim was fleeing or standing or sitting or had his hands up.
It doesn’t matter, because if we are being accused of a crime, we as Americans expect to be able to defend ourselves before we’re found guilty of the crime. In court. With a fair trial.
To stand that trial, we expect to be alive. We should NOT have to worry that our lives are forfeit just because someone suspects we might be bad guys.
Worrying that the government will bring about my death if I breathe wrong when accosted by police is not how it is supposed to work in this country. That’s for other, lesser countries with totalitarian governments.
And yet, we live in a country where some of our fellow citizens are not being afforded the right to a trial by jury.
We live in a country where some of our fellow citizens are being told that the basic rights guaranteed by the third article of the Constitution and the 6th amendment do not apply to them if a police officer decides to act as judge, jury, and executioner.
We live in a country that has tolerated actions that we are supposed to look down upon.
So what kind of country are we living in?
Because the totalitarian-type actions happen predominantly to Black people, we ignore them. We justify it by looking for reasons why they got themselves killed by police officers, people who after all have a tough job and risk their lives to keep us safe.
As a White male, I live in a completely different America. My America looks a lot like the one I was taught about growing up.
And because of my White privilege, I can look the other way when there is too much cognitive dissonance. When what I want to believe about America and what the daily experience and death toll for Black people in that same America are at odds, I can choose to say, “No, I live in the greatest country in the world, so it must be something else that’s going on.”
I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Philando Castile.
I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Alton Sterling.
I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Eric Garner.
To Michael Brown.
To Tamir Rice.
To Eric Harris.
To Samuel DuBose.
To Freddie Gray.
To Walter Scott.
To Laquan McDonald.
I can stay silent, because it doesn’t happen to me.
After all, I live in a completely different America in which I don’t have to fear being executed by a police officer for a routine traffic stop.
I live in a completely different America where even if I was violent and a threat to the people around me, and even if I killed officers trying to detain me, I could be sure that I would be arrested, alive, and ready to stand trial.
Executions in the streets? They only happen in other countries.
Including that other America I can pretend doesn’t exist.
Because Black people are being regularly harassed, beaten, terrorized, and executed by police officers, and because those actions get covered up often enough by those same police officers, there is a movement called Black Lives Matter.
Because in this America, it’s clear that they don’t matter to the majority of Americans.
Because if Black lives really mattered in America, we wouldn’t be silent about the injustice of death sentences being metered out by police without a trial. We wouldn’t keep saying, “Keep calm. Let’s wait for all the facts,” while simultaneously reaching for tenuous justifications and defending the indefensible.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the victim was a good guy or a bad guy.
We live in America. We don’t execute people in the streets. It’s not how it is supposed to be in this country. And we shouldn’t tolerate it when it happens in our name.