A Black Man’s Worst Nightmare: Living with a Bulls-Eye On Your Back. “No Protection For Your Complexion”

A B C (Angry, Black & out of Control) or Advocacy, Balance & Calmness?

Times have changed.  Or have they?  It used to be that the old and young were deemed “neutrals” or “innocents” from those seeking the thrill of the hunt?  The hunt?
Summer is here.  It is that time of year.  More of “us” will be out & in the open.  It’s open season– otherwise known as “get black males” documented and placed into the national computer database i.e. NCIC otherwise known as the National Crime Information Center.
Summer is right around the corner.  Summer is in the air.  Can you feel the changes of the seasons? Fear is here too.  Look around yourselves.  Maybe you can’t smell it. Nevertheless, it is there.
Who do we fear?  Who are they? Answer:  Those who are sworn to “protect & serve.” Protect whom?  Serve whom?  Well that may depend on the following variables:
·         The gender of police officer.
·         The location of the incident or situation.
·         The gender, physical size and color of the individual being questioned by the police officer.
Notice that the variable of age was not included.  Age is not a criteria that determines whether an individual will be deemed a citizen worthy of protection and service or determined to be a possible suspect or perpetrator.
In a recent Seattle Times article (3/26/13), a New York City police officer admitted that he had “taunted” an African-American potential suspect who turned out to be an innocent 13 year old teenager.  The officer had detained the boy under the New York Police Department’s program of stopping, questioning and frisking people on city streets.
The officer, called as a witness in a civil rights case, conceded that he had told the handcuffed teenager to stop “crying like a little girl.”  Another officer involved in the civil suit testified that the teen was stopped because he was walking alone at 10:00 at night. The officer further testified that the teen “reached for his waistband as if he had a gun.”
One of the officers testified when he stopped the teen he “assumed” he was much older because he was tall for his age and out on the street without supervision.  The officers also claimed they could not “recall” the teen’s objections to being stopped.  However, the officers do selectively “recall” the following:
They claim the teen was “jaywalking” and when stopped, started “yelling and making a scene” and “fighting” when they (the officers) tried to “frisk” him.
The officers handcuffed the teen and in their “legal search” did not find a weapon.  The teen was then taken to the police station where he was placed in the police computer database while he waited for his parents to “retrieve” him.
So, it seems like the story has a successful ending if one doesn’t count the fact that the teen sued the city and the police for civil rights violations.  The bright side:
·         The suspect was not hurt.
·         No weapon was found.
·         The police were doing their job, securing the suspect without injury or harm to themselves.
·         Another suspicious person has been documented and placed into the database for further follow-up in the future.
·         A potential crime was averted.
·         The “citizens” of the city can move around comfortable knowing that they are being “protected” and “served”.
Wait!!  The story does not end there.  The teen’s father who arrives to retrieve his son turns out to be a retired police officer.
Somewhat upset, as reported in the article the father got into an argument and “tussle” with the police officers at the station. (As an aside, have you ever wondered why when police officers have altercations with each other, it is referred to as a tussle yet altercations between a police officer and civilian is an assault on a police officer?)
One would wonder why the father may be upset with his fellow brothers/officers when they were simply carrying out their duties? Imagine that?  Perhaps the father felt that his status as an “law enforcement officer” extended to his son to some type of special protection or privilege freeing him from being stopped like any other African-American male.
I too am the son of a retired police officer.  I remember the pride he had when he put on his uniform and went out to protect and serve the community.  I also remember the sense of powerlessness he felt when, due to our complexion, he could not afford the same protection for his children.
Let’s return to “fear is in the air.”  The fear that I am writing about is based off of stereotypes.  In a previous At the Crossroads i.e. “Men of Iron Can have Tears Too” a stereotype was defined as:
“A widely held, but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Realistically speaking, stereotyping only serves to reinforce the fears that are maintained by the “larger group” i.e. family, community, and society.”
Let us be clear about fear.  Fear is nothing more than an emotion. Fear is no different than any other emotional response, i.e. happiness, sadness, joy, fright etc.  The real issue is how emotions are integrated (internalized) and expressed (externalized).
We must want to understand that fear is here.  Fear is here forever.  Forever.  We have choices of whether we “live in” fear or “live with” fear.  It is up for the individual to choose which path he/she will take.
Fear has been given a bad rap.  I conceptualize fear as a blessing.  In my personal life as an adult male, spouse and father and in my profession as a psychotherapist, I want fear. However, I want to be able to live with fear and not be forced to live my life in fear.
One may say “that Dr. Kane must be out of his mind.” How in the world can fear be viewed as a blessing? As stated before, fear is here.  Forever. In understanding this, the individual must want to learn how to “utilize” fear, rather than have fear used against him/her.
Fear provides the individual with the following understanding:
Alone – The individual once outside the residence is “alone” and vulnerable.
Abandon – The individual is at risk of being “abandoned” by the larger group if (when) singled out.
Aware – The individual must want to be “aware” of his surroundings and physical environment.
Alert – The individual must want to be “alert” to presence of others, i.e. personal and emotional safety.
Alive – The individual in following the first four components has improved his or her chances of returning home safe and unharmed.
The police referenced in the Seattle Times article likely represent the thinking of  many police departments throughout the United States.  In turn, the police departments are in themselves representing the voices of the communities in which they protect and serve.
At any point, the African-American male can be targeted as suspicious or suspect or perpetrator.  Again, age is not a factor. The larger group i.e. society lives in fear of the African-American male.
This fear is perpetrated by the stereotypes that are reinforced by the society at large. The idealized society “living in fear” creates indirect permission for African-American men to become “fair game” and vulnerable at any time to being stopped, questioned, searched, handcuffed and jailed, without regard to guilt or innocence.
As I stated earlier, age is not a factor.  Two years ago, three police officers viewed me with obvious suspicion when late at night following a dinner engagement I stood outside a coffeehouse in the University Village, a predominately white community in Seattle.
Instead of walking out together each officer followed the other in single file 15 seconds apart as to provide “cover” for each other.  As each walked passed me, they all gave me the full stare accompanied with their hand on their weapon “at the ready.”  Regrettably, a year or so earlier an African-American male shot and killed three police officers as they sat in a coffeehouse.
The officers’ behavior towards me that evening demonstrated that they were living in fear. It was also clear to me that without any fault or actions of my own that my life was now at risk.   Furthermore, my behavior or the actions I was to take in the next few seconds would determine whether I was able to come home safely to my loved ones.  As the officers passed me, I took the following actions:
·         I did not physically move.
·         I had both hands outward away from my body.
·         I minimized the amount of direct eye contact.
·         I relaxed my personal space and allowed them to “control” the situation.
As the police officers passed by me, not a word was verbalized.  They moved slowly towards their vehicles, entering and drove away.  I believed my actions either saved my life or prevented me from involvement in a tussle by another name had I made any movement that the officers felt placed them at risk.
I was not armed nor have I ever carried a weapon with the exception of military service.  In serving my country I provided a sense of security for others to be able to walk free without fear of police intimidation in their communities; a freedom that I continued to be denied 40 years following my honorable discharge from military service.
 The fact that at the time, I was a 57 year old, gray haired and balding University of Washington lecturer across the street from where I stood was not a question, concern or factor.  The main fact was that I was “out of place” in the wrong community (white) and at the wrong time (late night) and therefore, it was determined that I was of the complexion that did not warrant protection – yet, viewed as though others may have needed protection from me.
By “playing the game smarter and not harder,” I was able to come home safely without being bruised, shot or jailed.
In considering “Fear as A Blessing” I propose the following framework to assist the individual to be able to “live with fear”.  It is called The Five R’s of Relief.
·         Respite -step aside,(step aside, not back) and take a long deep breath.
·         Reaction-it is “your” reaction; the individual must “want to” own it.
·         Reflection-internalize, process, (ie think & feel) what is going in within your internalized self.
·         Response- is what you share with the externalize world.  The reaction you have (own it) and response you provide (share it) “must” not be the same.
·         Review- refers to the formal or informal assessment or examination of the incident and/or actions taken.
·         For additional information regarding this framework please view the Beacon “The Five R’s of Relief: Unmasking Fear at the Crossroads, Responding to the Imposter Syndrome.”
The teen’s civil rights law suit as referenced in the Seattle Times may or may not be resolved in the young male’s favor.  A financial award in his favor may compensate him for the incident.  However, it will not soothe the pain, nor replace or erase the memory of the traumatic experience.
What is real is that he will have to live with the experience of being traumatized, taunted and harassed by law enforcement who most people are taught to trust and respect. This young adolescent learned the same valuable lesson that is learned by thousands of other adolescents of the same complexion.  Being no longer a child, “I am no longer cute or handsome.  Due to no action of my own, I am to be feared.”
We must not want to buy into the stereotypes of another.  Nor do we want to live our lives “in fear”.  We can choose to live with fear.  To do so, we must want to play the game “smarter” not “harder.”
It is our choice whether we are the Angry Black man, out of Control, or the assertive Advocate, psychologically Balanced and able to achieved Calmness.  It is up to the individual whether to focus on the journey and not allow others to impede his right to achieve one’s destination.
“I’m a kid.  I’m going home.  Leave me alone.”
As stated earlier, fear is here.  Forever.
At the next Crossroads:  Playing the Game Smarter not Harder.
The journey continues…
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