“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” — H. P. Lovecraft
A book is not a gun. The event that triggered this statement is still unfolding. Since Tuesday of this past week, the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by Charlotte, North Carolina police is still being investigated and cell phone videos recorded by Scott’s wife, Rayeiya, plus dash cam and officer body camera videos do not definitely prove that Scott was wielding a gun. His wife claimed that he wasn’t carrying a gun, but instead a book that he was reading while he waited for his son to be dropped off by the school bus. Police reported a book was not found on the scene, or in his car, and further allege that Scott did not follow commands to drop his gun. A book is not a gun.
The week before, an officer-involved shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma of Terence Crutcher whose SUV stalled on a North Tulsa road on his return home from an evening class, reignited the controversy regarding the treatment of black men and women by police officers, especially during traffic stops and incidents. The event became all the more controversial as video captured by a police helicopter and dash cam video seemingly showed Crutcher with his hands in the air and complying with police orders just before he was shot. Crutcher was fatally shot by a white female officer, Betty Shelby, who was later charged with first degree felony manslaughter by Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler.
In both police-involved shootings of Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher, the victims’ criminal history and alleged possession of guns and illegal drugs were quickly released to the media by the police investigating the fatal shootings. In the Tulsa, OK case, the videos were released immediately, unlike in the Charlotte, NC incident. In Charlotte, protests have occurred every day since the killing of a presumed innocent victim. Yesterday— select — but not all — available videos were released yet none definitely proved the guilt or innocence of Scott or the police on the scene.
These events followed recent months, no years, of increased scrutiny and debate about racial profiling, unequal treatment of persons of color, and the increased public awareness due to the proliferation videotaped traffic stops and police involvement with minority communities . Earlier this year in July the confluence of the fatal shootings of black men by police during traffic stops, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castille outside St. Paul, Minnesota, followed by the ambush and murders of three police officers in Baton Rouge, plus the terrorist ambush and fatal shootings of five police officers during peaceful protests in Dallas, TX created a perfect storm of attention and debate about race, law enforcement and the proliferation of guns and fatal gun violence in the United States.
This crisis has become a key campaign issue and will definitely be a lightning rod for the candidates as they hit the debate stage tomorrow for the first of three Presidential Debates. It’s also an issue that each of us as citizens bear some responsibility to help resolve. We need to educate ourselves and raise awareness about the issues of guns, race relations, the growing fear that has overtaken our streets, the increasing fatal interactions between police and the communities they serve, and the vulnerability of our children, both girls and boys, and especially young men of color. The time to collaborate and become part of the solution rather than perpetuate the problems is long overdue.
Black Lives Matter. I have family members who are mixed race and family members who are police and protect and serve, so personally for me, both black and blue lives matter. In July of this year as a response to the fatal traffic stops and ambush murders of police officers, I wrote this poem. Fear and guns have made us hair-trigger. I offer the following poem and a reminder, A book is not a gun.
Definition: a trigger of a firearm set for release at the slightest pressure, liable to change suddenly and violently.
the pressure so intense, the fear palpable,
the intersectionality of race and public safety,
someone is dead in the end,
whether driving while black with a broken taillight,
or reaching in a pocket for an ID when commanded,
(or a glove compartment, or for a phone).
If brown or black, you’re told, don’t run, don’t talk back,
ask questions, question authority. Comply don’t reply.
Conceal, don’t carry your rights, you may be dead, right?
Breathe if you can with a foot on your head
and your head facing concrete,
in a choke hold, or bumpy ambulance ride.
Police are scared too, regardless of color,
their finger on the trigger.
So many guns on the street.
So much uncertainty.
So many random acts of violence,
and retributions and revenge, evening the score.
Is this the day I die in the line of duty,
eating pizza at Cici’s,
or refereeing a domestic dispute?
Will I return home to my family after my shift?
Will a body camera protect me or convict me?
Will a concealed gun take my life?
And what about the children, children with toy guns,
children playing with guns as toys?
Dead is still dead,
innocent is still innocent,
guilty is still guilty,
whether in the courts,
or the court of public opinion.
We are quick to judge, convict or defend.
Instead let’s breathe, just breathe,
just take another breath,
take your finger off the trigger; take the guns off the streets,
out of our homes, or leave the gun holstered.
I don’t know all the questions to ask,
or how to find the answers,
yet what we’re doing is not working,
people are dying, and families are crying
and there’s no justice if black lives don’t matter,
or when those who protect and serve
are mourned and saluted
by their brothers and sisters in blue.