The death of George Floyd continues to bring into focus how people of color face different scrutiny and that makes them more vulnerable to police violence.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m a 60 year old white man who lives with white privilege. I’m a hospice chaplain who (frankly) looks like a doctor and I’m able to take respect for granted.
But when I was about 14 I went on a bike ride with my next door neighbor Andy who is black. It was a hot day and we stopped at a convenience store to buy a soft drink. There was a sign on the door that stated that only one teenager at a time was allowed in the store but we ignored that and went into the store together. The woman behind the counter demanded that we stop immediately and one of us needed to leave and pointed to the sign.
Enraged, we both left. I couldn’t believe that this woman, who knew nothing of us, looked at us as possible thieves. She knew nothing about us. She didn’t know that we were both honor students with strong moral compasses who were guilty of nothing more than thirst. She didn’t know that my friend was a boy scout who, a few years later, would blast classical music when he worked on his car in the driveway.
I’ve thought about this a great deal in the last 46 years. As an adult I know that I can enter a store and not be followed by an employee who wants to make sure I’m not there to shoplift. I know that even if I do something suspicious they will assume I’m OK.
But here’s the thing: my black friend never had the luxury. My bike riding companion who became an Eagle Scout is now a 59 year old black man who now knows that if he tries to spend a $20 bill that turns out to be counterfeit he may die.
This is wrong. I haven’t seen him in nearly 40 years but I think of him whenever I hear about black men who are killed by law enforcement for actions that would have been different if they were white.
I pray he’s OK.