On Saturday afternoon in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb outside St. Louis, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown. There are conflicting stories about what happened. One witness told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she saw police try to put the unarmed Brown in a squad car. Brown’s mother said her 18-year-old son was walking to his grandmother’s house a few homes away. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said there was a struggle over the cop’s gun. An investigation into what happened is underway, and the civil rights division of the Justice Department is monitoring the case.
Brown’s death came two days after Theodore Wafer was convicted of second-degree murder for killing Renisha McBride. The 19-year-old African American woman reportedly banged on his suburban Detroit door and windows in the middle of the night last November seeking help after a car accident. Wafer, who said he feared a home invasion, opened his front door and shot McBride dead.
Wafer’s conviction came two days after John Crawford, a father of two, ventured over to the toy department of a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio. There he reportedly picked up a toy gun and walked with it while talking on the phone with LeeCee Johnson, the mother of his children. According to the Dayton Daily News, two other shoppers became alarmed and called police. Johnson told the paper she heard Crawford say “It’s not real” before he was shot and killed by police.
And that horrible incident occurred one year and one month after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin. The neighborhood watch volunteer called the Sanford, Fla., police department because he thought the unarmed black teen walking in the neighborhood was a “real suspicious guy.” The 17-year-old was returning to the apartment where he was staying after going to a convenience store.
When I wrote first wrote about Martin’s killing, I said that one of the burdens of being a black male was bearing the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. The McBride murder shows that such suspicion knows no gender. I also wrote about the lessons my mother taught me growing up. How I shouldn’t run in public, lest I arouse undue suspicion. How I most definitely should not run with anything in my hands, lest anyone think I stole something. The lesson included not talking back to the police, lest you give them a reason to take you to jail — or worse. And I was taught to never, ever leave home without identification. The reason was not only a precaution in case something happened, such as an accident, but also in case I’m stopped by police for whatever reason. To this day, whether I’m going on a run or just running to get something out of my car nearby, I never step out of my home without my driver’s license, insurance card and my Washington Post business card with my partner’s cellphone number written on it.
When you’re black and especially male — in the United States — you have to go to these seemingly overboard, extra lengths in the off-chance they might save your life. But none of those things would have helped me if I were in the shoes of Michael Brown or Renisha McBride or Trayvon Martin. We don’t know yet if Brown was asked for identification, but we know the other two weren’t. Perhaps their assailants saw all they needed to know.
What frightens me more than anything in the world is that the chances are very high that one day I might be in their shoes and might meet their tragic end. The so-called victims of the nonexistent “war on whites” have absolutely NO idea what living under that kind of siege, that kind of very real threat, is like.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj