Uncovering, Recovering and Discovering: The Morally Right Thing to Do

My Dear Readers,

     It’s time that I bring closure to these writings regarding the mob action in Detroit MI. As I bring this to closure, I seek to honor the feelings that lay deep within me.

     I have really questioned myself regarding my outrage about this incident, and I continue to be confronted with silence—the same silence that has stymied the police, prosecutors and the judiciary. The same silence of the community that has been reluctant to assist in the identification of the remaining assailants so they can be held responsible for their criminal actions.

     As I stood at the crossroads, utilizing the re-evaluation phase of the Five Rs of Relief model,  I began asking myself the following questions:

  • Have I ever been in a situation where I felt conflicted in my decision to do the right thing?
  • What was this troublesome feeling laying within my psychological self about doing the morally right thing”?
  • How would I feel about myself for “not doing the morally right thing”?

      And then the moment of awakening arrived! Standing there, “at the crossroads:” I began to reflect on an experience I had:

     33 years ago, I worked for one of the suburban counties surrounding the city of Seattle during the summer break from graduate school. One day, I witnessed an accident involving multiple cars.  My office was across the driveway from the local police department, so I went to the front desk of the police department and informed the desk officer of what I had observed.

     The police officer immediately rose from his seat and came out of the office. Standing directly in front of me, he demanded to know what I had to do with it.  I replied that I’d witnessed the accident and was simply reporting what I had observed.   As I turned to leave, I watched him continue to eye me suspiciously.

     When I returned to my office, it dawned on me as I looked at my surroundings, that I was a young black man, working a summer job in a white community in which I did not know any of the residents. And, I’d just had a rather uncomfortable encounter with a white police officer.  

     A chill went down my spine as I realized that in attempting to do the “morally right thing,” I’d placed myself in a position where I could be viewed as a person at fault for the vehicle accident I witnessed, and that the basis of that suspicion was due to my skin color and ethnicity—the fact that I am African-American. 

     I became fearful.  I realized that it was not too late for the police officer to decide to detain me, so I quickly retreated to the safety of Seattle, where there were other people who looked like me.  

      Upon seeing the image of the Space Needle, I finally relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief.  I chided myself for being stupid for putting myself at risk in my attempt to do the “morally right thing,” and I swore to myself that I would NEVER, NEVER do that again.   

     Today, I recall the relief that flooded me as well as the anger at myself for the danger I’d placed myself in. Given that experience, I want YOU, THE READER, to consider the experience I just stated.

  • Was I being paranoid?
  • Was I being oversensitive?
  • Was I overreacting?
  • Was I ever at risk at injury?
  • WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT TIME?

     I wonder what was going through the mind of the white motorist when following the accident:

  • He found himself in a community in which no one resembled him:
  • He was being surrounded by an angry mob
  • He was saying he was sorry and pleading for his life
  • The members of the crowd of 100 either stood by in silence or cheered on the mob.
  • After having experienced being severely beaten, what would he do the next time should he be in a same or similar situation?
  • If you had been the motorist, what would YOU have done?

     Being human, we respond to the experiences and events that have impacted our lives.  I cannot speak for the white motorist, nor can I speak for African-American people.  I can only speak for myself.   

      There will be those who will believe that unlike the white motorist, I was never in danger.  Consequently, there may be an unwillingness to make a reasonable comparison to these two very different events. 

     Yet in both situations, there is a journey, and from that journey came an experience. And, experiences often form the foundation of our belief systems, and in this case, my belief system regarding interaction with law enforcement.

     I will certainly admit that during that incident 33 years ago, I lived in fear of the police, a fear that was born when I was 8 years old.

     I grew up during turbulent times, including the stressful 60’s and the civil rights movement.  I have lived in racially segregated communities.  I was raised during a time that “strange fruit,” was growing bountifully throughout the Southern and Midwestern United States. For those unfamiliar, Strange Fruit was a song made famous by the jazz and blues singer Billie Holiday for its lyrical depiction of the mob inspired lynching of black people that occurred in this era.

     I have experienced race riots.  I remember being locked down in my community when the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated and the resulting burning, rioting and turmoil in major cities across the country.

     I have come to realize that my community, in its desire to obtain a better life for those generations to follow, willingly sacrificed a generation in order to achieve the goals.  It was in school that I truly learned the meaning of the expression “the ends justify the means.”  I learned that if a goal is morally important enough, then any method of achieving it is acceptable.

     So, day after day, African-American parents sent their children to what was, in many cases, a school environment that was openly or covertly hostile to integration, while the adults suffered the same indignities at restaurants, public drinking fountains, and other establishments.   And yes, at the end of the struggle, we were successful. We succeeded in achieving our goals of integration and the re-definition of our ethnic identity.  Victories had occurred in the areas of housing, education, military service and employment, among others. 

     But what about the children?  What had they observed?  How were they impacted?  As a child at the age of eight years old, I remember the pastor leading us in singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” as if to prepare us for the very real battle we were going to wage.  The first verse goes as follows:

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war

With the cross of Jesus going on before

Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;

Forward into battle see His banners go!”

     And off to war we went.

     We made our parents and community proud.  We had faith in our leadership, clergy and parents. We kept our faith, but we also kept quiet. We were often traumatized by what we saw and endured. On the outside we looked good and yet on the inside, those of us, who were emotionally and psychologically wounded, did the best we could as we “suffered in silence.”

    In my own “Journey of Self Discovery,” I have come to realize that life is really about “uncovering, recovering and discovering its true essence and meaning. Specifically, I seek to uncover the layers of emotional and psychological scarring that may have limited my life; advocate towards healing and recovery from the wounding and finally work towards the discovery of my true self and living the fullness of my life and what it has to offer.

      Many of us, “the children of segregation,” experience this trauma again in modern life when faced with all too familiar circumstances.    For me, my major concern was an abiding fear of the police and German Shepherd Dogs.

     As a therapy patient, I would often come across therapists who were just as unfamiliar with the specific issues present within my community’s history as they were with my specific issues. These well-meaning, but sometimes patronizing mental health professionals told me that I had a “phobia,” an extreme and irrational fear of the police–, and that I should just take some pills, relax, and in time, I would just “get over the fear.”   

      I never got over my fear.  In fact, as I continue to move on in life, as I saw that I was continuously being viewed as a suspect by police officers, my fear only increased.  It was only while writing my dissertation on complex trauma under the direction of the internationally acclaimed trauma expert and licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Brown that I learned that my fears were not phobias and were instead normal reactions to racism in the form of stereotyping and racial profiling. 

     Furthermore, I was able to learn and appreciate that my reactions to the police were not based on paranoia, but a vigilance I developed, and that it was again, normal given my experiences.

     Returning to the incident in Detroit, I believe the white motorist was also a victim of racism in the form of stereotyping and racial profiling.  In stopping to help the child, he did so because he felt it was the morally right thing to do.  

     His action speaks loudly, where the shame of the crowd of the 100, the political leaders, civic activists and civil right organizations continues to be hidden in silence. 

Concluding Words

     In acknowledging the end of this journey and the beginning of another, I want to reiterate that fear is neither good nor bad.  It is neither black nor white.

     Fear is simply an emotion that can be accompanied by a range of other emotions.  Fear is here.  FOREVER. 

     I have lived the earlier part of my life “in fear.”  The sadness that remains true is that the consequence to living in fear is not to live, but to just exist.  

     That portion of my life cannot be returned to me.  However I can uncover the scarring, recover or heal the wounds and in doing so, discover how to live a full, purposeful and meaningful life. 

     Many years ago I chided myself for placing myself at risk in reporting to the police my observance of a motor vehicle accident. I hope that should another opportunity come along in which I observe another motor vehicle accident, that I will do as the white motorist did in Detroit: the morally right thing. 

     Fear is here.  Forever. Live In Fear or With Fear.  You Choose….  

Until the next crossroads….  The journey continues….

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