• author
    • Kelvin Wade

      Columnist
    • November 26, 2014 in Columnists

    The racial fire next time may consume us all

    (NOTE: When you talk about racial issues, you often have to speak in generalities. There are plenty of whites protesting, and plenty that are understanding and sympathetic on these issues. If the shoe doesn’t fit, then don’t wear it.)

    When I heard no charges were to be filed against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who killed an unarmed Michael Brown in August, I wasn’t surprised at all.

    Some willingly take Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony as gospel and see the matter as settled. Others think the process was a sham. We’re never going to know what happened on that street. Even the evidence dump doesn’t tell the whole story because A) Michael Brown isn’t here to give his side and B) the evidence and testimony hasn’t been tested at trial and it will never be. It’s the surrounding racial conversation that concerns me.

    It’s a conversation that follows predictable ground with both sides not hearing each other. A HuffPost/YouGov poll on Monday found that 74 percent of blacks felt the Michael Brown shooting was part of a broader pattern with only 31 percent of whites agreeing. That comes from a nation that doesn’t know its history and still self-segregates. The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute caused a stir earlier this year with research that showed most whites have few nonwhite friends. Blacks, on average, had eight times as many white friends as whites have black friends. By and large, we live in different neighborhoods and communities and view the world through different lenses.

    To make matters worse, we all tend to read or listen to news and sources that reinforce our beliefs rather than challenge them.

    But our collective life experiences color the world. Think of Robin Hood, who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. To the wealthy, it’s the story of a criminal. To the poor, it’s the story of a hero. Both sides are looking at the same act and reaching different conclusions based on their experience and status in life.

    We keep having these racial earthquakes whether it’s Rodney King, O.J. Simpson, Henry Louis Gates,Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown because we have an empathy deficit based on the fact that we have an integration deficit. We live in a nation built on racial oppression, and when the federal courts and legislatures dismantled Jim Crow segregation laws that kept blacks economically impoverished and second class citizens, there wasn’t the equivalent dismantling of stereotypes and attitudes. These attitudes and resentment merely sank out of public view. (The same thing is happening right now with the LGBT community and marriage equality. The laws are changing but hostile or ignorant attitudes have merely been suppressed, not eliminated.)

    There’s a narrative out there in the ether about black people that many people buy into. It goes something like this: They’re on welfare and food stamps and get free health care from Obamacare. They’re part of Romney’s 47 percent that won’t take responsibility for their lives. They’re violent, dangerous criminals. And any time they get into trouble, they play the race card. This is the sentiment that’s made clear through too many Republican politicians, conservative radio and the ignorant.

    You can see this attitude percolating on social media following the rioting in Ferguson. When mostly white people riot after sporting events like the rioting after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last month or the spring break riots in Santa Barbara, you don’t see the same level of anger and outrage. No one is calling rioting white kids “thugs.”

    The fact is the overwhelming majority of protestors went home after the No True Bill was read. The media reports made that clear. The majority of people didn’t set police cars on fire, loot or burn buildings. But like the fact that most black people aren’t on welfare, are not criminals nor are they thugs, the reality doesn’t seem to matter. With this mindset, real life stereotypes, and they do exist, tend to taint the entire race.

    The only way to know that what you’re seeing represents a minority within a minority is to broaden your horizons.

    Since most whites don’t have black friends, they never hear firsthand accounts of what too many black people experience with law enforcement and the justice system. If you’re white, think back to how you felt watching the O.J. Simpson verdict. Now imagine that happened in nearly every high profile case. How would you feel about the system?

    So when blacks hear about a young black man gunned down by police, our first inclination is not to expect justice. With that history and our experience, we sometimes overreact and view every exoneration of a white cop as an injustice. That’s not fair either.

    And let me say that if Michael Brown had paid for those cigars, then it’s likely he’d still be with us. Look, I’ve sat in a car with two friends with my hands up as a hostile CHP officer tried to goad the driver into making a wrong move. I’ve feared for my life from the police. I’ve had 13 interactions with law enforcement and have never been arrested. I’ve had police demand ID and tell me to get out of town.

    My point is it’s not that difficult for an innocent young black man to get stopped by police. And if that’s the case, why would you do anything to up the chance of being stopped? I know some folks are saying that it doesn’t matter, that Brown didn’t deserve to be killed for stealing cigars. Of course not, but to have credibility on this issue we have to hold everyone accountable. And that brother was wrong when he took those cigars and wrong when he threatened the storeowner.

    But I can’t go any further than that because I don’t know what happened at that police car and neither do you.

    In general, white folks are scared of black people. “White flight” is a thing because it’s real. As neighborhoods and schools become darker, whites tend to move out to the suburbs. This goes back to those prevailing attitudes about blacks that I mentioned earlier. Whites fear crime, deteriorating property values and lax educational standards, so they move away. So it’s not surprising to me that when they see a video of a large black man, Michael Brown, threatening a store owner, they find it far easier to relate to Darren Wilson. White friends who are to my left politically have told me that the video of Brown frightened them.

    My condolences to Michael Brown’s family but this case is bigger than what happened in Ferguson. Our attitudes are important if we expect to live peacefully in a diverse nation rather than one that implodes based on racial animus.

    And that’s not limited to black and white. Latinos are the largest minority in the U.S. and are growing faster than any other. The Asian population is exploding, too. By 2040, whites will be a minority in America.

    Maybe when there are so many black, brown and yellow people in everyone’s friends and families, we’ll understand each other better and coexist.

    Or, this most heavily armed nation in the history of the planet could devolve into horrific violence like we’ve seen in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq and other places. We’re not immune. That’s why we have to face this problem like our lives depend on it.

    Because maybe they do.



    • LOVE the line about O.J. Simpson… maybe THAT will help whites understand how it FEELS. What a thoughtful, honest piece. THANK YOU!


      • Kendall Wright

      • November 26, 2014 at 10:15 am
      • Reply

      The countless discussions I’ve seen never mention the actual events that set this off. It doesn’t matter. First, as you say, I don’t know what happened, and neither does anyone who wasn’t there. As usual, eyewitness testimony is proving unreliable. Second, sadly, it’s not important. You listed other trigger events that loosed the anger and frustration that are absolutely ripping this country’s gut out from the inside. If a cell vid had miraculously surfaced showing events exactly as Office Wilson described them, the anger and frustration already triggered would still have played out. I don’t wear the shoe, and you know it, and it has long been my hope that the racial rainbow I see all over town would cause the gradual melding you mentioned. I don’t see much evidence of it, and I fear that your last paragraph may prove prophetic.


        • Kelvin

        • November 26, 2014 at 12:11 pm
        • Reply

        I have no doubt things would’ve played out the same even with a video because these things, these sad events that happen are unleashing tons of resentment and anger on all sides. the facts of the case don’t matter.( I’m not saying they don’t REALLY matter but they don’t matter to the drama we’re seeing being played out. ) Just as I think many protestors would disregard a video I think it works the other way too. The Rodney King video didn’t matter to people who were afraid and want police to protect them. Just like the facts of this case don’t matter to people that want to see someone held accountable for all the other incidents. These incidents are used to send a message and I don’t think its a conspiracy or something people think a lot about. It’s organic at this point. I think this is what happens when you have so much unspoken, unresolved pain and fear. I’m not optimistic.


      • Donelle

      • November 26, 2014 at 10:42 am
      • Reply

      Kelvin , my son is white and must hold the record for being stopped and not ticketed in Fairfield, his only offense being between the age of 17 and 25 . I think if you looked at the facts the odds are if you pull this age group over the odds are you find something. Once when he was 15 he had a early day at school ,I picked him up from school and stopped at McDonalds on the way home , after eating he decided to take a run to his grand parents as he was an athlete and needed to run of the junk food his mom just fed him. While he was running a local police officer stopped him and asked him why he was running then proceeded to frisk him because his shirt was baggy. I call that grounds to be frisking (not). I called the officer to question him and he said my sons action were suspicious. It was obvious this officer was young and lack of experience with teenagers ( all there actions are suspicious) . That being said . We often here the statement driving while black, correction driving while a teen. There are many comedians who joke about driving while black ,spreading the misconception that blacks are the only ones pulled over like this. I think spreading this creates mistrust among our black youth and creates the feeling of being discriminated against. its not all about being black , its about there age……look the facts are , we have youth on our streets behaving badly , we pay the police to patrol our streets and keep us safe all while we do nothing to protect them from our youth. who have access to guns and ammunition like never before. Please remember officers are people to with families they have to go home too. Sadly the actions in Ferguson and across the country only re-enforce the ignorance of those who judge by color. We should not form opinions on a person because of their color,sex or profession.
      PS. I have friends that live in Mo , they are scared . No one should live in fear in America..


        • Kelvin

        • November 26, 2014 at 11:57 am
        • Reply

        Donelle, I don’t think anyone is saying white people are never stopped by police for frivolous reasons. When New York’s stop and frisk procedure was studied in 2011 it found that 9 out of 10 people stopped were black or Hispanic. Men are raped but rape victims are overwhelmingly female. The facts are the facts. That said, there is an age component. In my original draft I included this but had to edit it out for length. The overwhelming majority of crimes are committed by young men. And it’s definitely the case that age plays into it. I’ve had many encounters with Fairfield, Sacramento and San Francisco police but it was when I was younger. But though it’s happened to your son and others we’re still talking about a tactic that overwhelmingly targets minorities. I know officers are people. My brother works for the California Highway Patrol. And I have a good relationship today with Sac Sheriffs and I have Fairfield Chief of Police Tibbet’s private cell phone number in my phone. I know and respect the job they do.


      • Kendall Wright

      • November 26, 2014 at 4:30 pm
      • Reply

      I didn’t mean anything snarky by my comments about the “miraculous vid,” I meant exactly what you said. The anger and frustration are there all the time, and these trigger events simply poke the bear. Once the tear is ripped in the barrier, they just come out.


        • Kelvin

        • November 26, 2014 at 9:18 pm
        • Reply

        No, I know. Sadly, We’ll be right back here next year after another shooting.



    • I listened to Michael Brown’s friend who was with him and he said that when they were walking in the middle of the street and Darren Wilson asked them to move to the sidewalk, he used language that was very incendiary right from the get go. Should they have moved, of course, but after countless encounters with police and the disrespect the police show and feel towards these young black men would cause them to respond back in a way that is defensive as well. Nothing will bring this young man back or the countless of other black youth shot for no apparent reason, certainly not worth dying over, is so sad to me. I have so many sad feelings about what goes on with the police and the very people they are to support and serve. I also believe they choose to become cops and they are well aware of what the job entails. They soon become hardened and forget their humanity.


        • Kelvin

        • November 26, 2014 at 9:29 pm
        • Reply

        I laughed out loud when I heard that the cop said something like, “Would you guys move to the sidewalk?” That’s crap. When the witness said the cop said, “Get the F— on the sidewalk!” that was more like it. That’s how a lot of cops talk. It’s the way they talked to me when I was younger. Darren Wilson should know the streets. The law of the streets say you can’t let yourself get disrespected like that and I’m sure Michael Brown acted like an a-hole after that. Older cops usually don’t do that because they want to defuse a given situation.


      • Maya North

      • November 27, 2014 at 12:52 am
      • Reply

      The deal is that cops have been allowed — even empowered — to behave this way pretty much forever. Thing is, it snowballs — the more they get away with it, the more entitled they feel. I got busted for shoplifting in my bad old days and the elderly African American cop was so kind, so gentle and so caring. He sat me down and told me something that literally set me straight for the rest of my life (despite nobody believing I had). He laid out the progression of small crimes to large and how one slides down that slope and winds up doomed, then made me promise never to do that because I was a “sweet, smart young lady who didn’t deserve a life like that.” I made him a solemn promise and I kept it, even though at first it wasn’t for myself, it was just to honor him and the promise I’d made him. If more cops were like this man, we’d never have crap like this. We just wouldn’t. As a parent, which isn’t a whole lot different from being a good cop, there are ways to be firm without being disrespectful, cruel, brutal and murderous. The cops I’ve been seeing lately, the killers, the fomenters of rage and violence, are overstuffed, over-egoed, over-empowered, over-entitled bullies who are drunk on their own power. They also view the people they are supposed to protect as the enemy, as subhuman, as scum — no matter who they are, but far worse if they are young people of color. It’ll take a cultural change to truly solve this problem, but until that happens, new rules that require badge cams 24/7, 100% accountability and training in how to behave with people should be mandatory.



    • I don’t care what Michael Brown did. It certainly didn’t warrant his being shot in the head by a cop that was so afraid that he had to fire 12 rounds. If this guy was such a coward, why the hell was he on the police force. Teenagers have always been smartasses, that will never change. I am disgusted that the cops have been getting away with this crap for so long!



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