If You’re a Cop . . . (or have cops in your life).

Dear Police Officers,

Let me share a story that illustrates something like how this should go.

A few months ago, my nephew T. was at school. A fellow student was relishing in a bag of Doritos he’d brought for lunch. The student was quickly deluged with other children clamoring for a chance to smell this young boy’s Doritos.

The student allowed his classmates to come up, one at a time, to stick their nose in the bag and take a deep, long, delicious sniff. (Oh that glorious Doritos smell.)

When T. walked up for his turn, the student snapped the bag shut: “Not you!” he said, “You can’t smell them. You’re Black.”

(So, if you’re tempted right now to use words like “shocking” or “in this day and age?” in response to this story, I’m going to ask you to refrain. We have a deep, disastrous, deadly problem in this nation. Please take a deep breath and recognize that unless you are in dangerous denial still about the racial reality in this nation there is nothing shocking about this story.)

When my sister shared this story with me, I told it to my two young children–both of whom are white. They were very upset and angry their cousin had been treated this way.

I then asked them how they would have wanted to handle it if they had been there.

Here’s my five-year old’s response. (She gave this response slowly. As she was obviously carefully thinking it through as she went.)

“Well,” she said “I’m thinking that kid who did that was probably white.”

I nodded, “I think you’re probably right.”

“So, if I was there and I’m white, or if someone else was there and they were white, the white person should have told that kid to stop, and that he was wrong and mean.”

Tell them to stop!

Basic logic: The people who are part of the group doing the wrong need to be the first to step up and make clear they want the wrong to stop. Then they take steps to stop it.

Guess what? Five-year old white kids can learn this.

Those charged with serving and protecting, and who the state has authorized to carry guns could learn this too.

Dear police officers, it’s past time for police officers to step up, step in and step out. Tell all of us, but especially start telling other officers, that you too want this to stop.

How many times have those of us who’ve been part of various conversations about this epidemic of violence against Black people heard (or even said) this mantra: “Not all police officers are bad.”? More times than I can count.

We invoke that mantra simply to try to get a public hearing. It’s essentially a ritual of submission. And, I’ll admit, I’ve been willing to say it sometimes too just to try to get folks to have the conversation. Like we hope that if we say “not all cops are bad” three times for every one time we say “Black Lives Matter” maybe folks will hear it when we say there’s an epidemic.

But, guess what else? You don’t get credit for being good unless you act good.

When Black people—adults, children, men, women—are being gunned down in the streets by the folks whose identity, badge, affiliation you share . . .

Well, here’s something like how this goes:

My white daughter doesn’t get to be counted as one of the “good white ones” just because she didn’t snap the Doritos bag shut herself. Her “goodness” stands or falls on whether or not she refuses to be a quiet bystander when someone else who’s white snaps the bag shut (whether the kid he did it to is her cousin or not).

Until or unless she does that, my daughter’s just another white kid and that other kid’s racist behavior reflects on her as deeply as it does on the kid who did it.

Happily, my five-year old totally gets this. (I’m really proud of her for that.)

Dear police officers, if my five-year old doesn’t get a pass, you surely don’t get a pass either.

We’re waiting to hear from you. Public and visible condemnation of the murder of Terence Crutcher, of the almost-certainly-shot-in-the-back murder of Tyre King (a child); that’s only the beginning. We don’t need you to go hug Black folks right now to show that you’re not like those other cops. We need you to actually stand up to and figure out how to stop those other cops. And, if you can’t start there . . . well, then where the hell are we?

In grief and outrage,

A white American (mom, aunt, teacher, and friend) dying for this evil to stop

5 Responses to “If You’re a Cop . . . (or have cops in your life).”
  1. lbacon says:

    I totally love this clear message and request. You nailed it, Jen! Thank you.

  2. Yes, thank you so much, once again. I get so much from all of your posts, as I did from the two books of yours I have read and that I recommend to others regularly. I first heard you speak, eloquently and unforgettably, at Plymouth UCC Church, and discovered you are on the faculty at Drake.

  3. I’m an old white guy who doesn’t pretend to know all about police and policing though I am married to the widow of a white policeman who passed away while on the job in 1997. His son is a policeman nearing retirement who works in North St. Louis, a pretty scary beat for any officer. Once upon a time, I was an alderman in a medium size midwestern city and had responsibility for the budget and oversight of the police department. I have or have had many friends who were police officers. I don’t pretend to now their racial orientation (are/were they racists). My point is that I do have some familiarity, if not intimate knowledge of police and policing.

    As I read this powerful post, I stopped to reflect upon the public relations that are conducted by police departments…or should I say that are NOT being conducted all over this nation. Police departments are generally not trying to get out in front of this problem of the shooting of unarmed black people. They aren’t holding press conferences or pubic meetings to meet the public and discuss this issue or the matter of race relations in general. That fact is very telling in and of itself. Do police departments really not care? I don’t think that is the case. My fear is that their concern is racism-based. If neither white politicians nor white police chiefs are bothering to open and maintain a public discussion of this issue in order to get out in front of it and thereby to stop civil unrest before it spirals out of control once again in America, then I am afraid that all efforts to open and maintain discussions by anyone else is futile. In the past, I didn’t think that an insurrection or a race war would be necessary to institute change. After waiting and watching all of 67 years for the situation to improve, I’m afraid I’ve been fooling myself into believing that my hope would be fulfilled. Sadly, I no longer believe that. White folks are arming themselves and changing the laws to enable unfettered distribution of weaponry so that a civil war can begin in earnest.

    My hope is that my fear is without grounding.

  4. Malii Brown says:

    Thank you for being explicit with folks: “Please take a deep breathe and recognize that unless you are in dangerous denial still about the racial reality in this nation there is nothing shocking about this story.” As a (child free) Black woman, I very much appreciated your story, and your positionality as a white woman with white children and a Black nephew.

    Note for those who may have noticed: My colleagues and I partner with schools and community-based orgs to advance inclusion and equity, especially for the benefit of our young people. We also happen to have different perspectives about the capitalization of white and Black. 🙂

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  1. […] this like what happened to T. [reference to an encounter with racism their cousin who is Black had] at school? Remember? With the Doritos?” E. asked. “Yes, this is happening because of […]

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