Yesterday morning the local UU hosted a discussion on how to reach out to people warped by intolerance and help them to become tolerant. It is a vital discussion, especially given the current climate, but the whole time I was there I felt a critical component was missing. While the information was good and vital, such as don’t mock people’s beliefs, try to find the common ground, etc, several people talked about how they just couldn’t have these conversations without them deteriorating. As I was driving home it hit me. It’s easy to talk about calmly having these discussions with people who hold intolerant viewpoints in a safe setting filled with people who agree with you. It’s another thing to hold them when you hear someone spout hatred, especially if you are, like I am in the southern US, surrounded by people who hold these views.
Last night I was stunned to see a livefeed pop up on Facebook about an active shooting in Dallas. I used to live and work in Dallas. I actually worked in downtown Dallas, in one of the high rise buildings for a time and would take walks through the city during my lunch break. I watched in horror as gun fire rang out against the backdrop of streets I have walked down and remember thinking about the sheer amount of shots fired. That this was happening in a place that was familiar, not some place I’ve never visited, added another level of horror to the experience, and I started doing a mental tally of everyone I knew in the metroplex and hoped they weren’t there.
Back when I was a college student I was driving my old Mitsubishi at night when I was stunned to see police headlights in my rearview mirror. I drove to a populated parking lot and pulled over, where a police officer informed me I had a busted tail light. He checked my licence and registration and wrote a citation for the light, and left. At no point was I ever instructed to put my hands in the air.
This morning I read about how a black man named Philando Castile was shot to death by a cop while reaching for his wallet during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Castile was pulled over because, like me, he had a busted tail light. Unlike me, he was treated like a criminal from the start. The first thing that the officer did was instruct Castile and his girlfriend, Reynolds, to put their hands in the air. For the record, Reynolds’ four year old daughter was in the backseat, which for a white family would likely have completed the innocent family image, but not for a black one. Once again, at no point during my traffic stop was I, a white woman, ever told to put my hands in the air. Further, as a woman driving alone at night, I was even able to drive a block after noticing the headlights so I could get to a crowded parking lot where I could feel safe pulling over. A black person trying to pull over at a safe spot would likely have been accused of attempting to flee.