I think I may have had a small mental break down last week. I knew it was coming, I was all tight with emotion after some of the responses I received on an open letter I wrote to some New York school teachers who wore NYPD shirts to school on the first day of class– in a largely minority school. When I skimmed through the comments section, I noted an almost sheer disregard for the humanity of the men I referred to in the piece who were murdered by police in the streets. Men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown and John Crawford, whose unfair deaths justify the movement against police brutality. A movement intended to end discriminatory judicial practices. One that most certainly should not be opposed by teachers of minority students.
To many White readers, the issue was simple: the NYPD deserved support from teachers, even if they mess up a couple of times. After all, not “all cops are bad” and most of these guys were doing something wrong anyway.
In a conversation about my piece on Twitter, one woman argued that John Crawford deserved to die, because he was carrying a gun at the Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart store where he was shot multiple times by police. Despite all of the witness accounts that have said the young man was carrying a toy pellet gun (sold at the store) and on the cellphone with his girlfriend at the time of the shooting, Crawford deserved to die. Despite the fact that the 911 caller who said Crawford was brandishing the weapon recanted his story, Crawford deserved to die. In her mind, he was Black and obviously doing something dangerous, so the cops had to respond. He was a victim of his own thuggery, his girlfriend, who will forever be emotionally crippled after listening to her lover die, unable to help him, was just collateral damage.
At some point, I could not subject myself any longer to the insensitivity of such opinions. I went to a bar and had a few drinks, trying to relax and process all of the emotions that were heavy on my chest like a two-ton pile of bricks.
Afterwards, I came home to my boyfriend. I fell in love with him about a year ago, before we even met in person. He wrote a comment on an article that I wrote and his words were so powerful and unique that I knew he was the one. And when I saw him for the first time, his caramel skin and pink lips were perfection to me — they still are. Everyone thought I was crazy for falling in love so quickly.
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He probably thought I was too, when I got home that night and collapsed next to him sobbing uncontrollably.
“I don’t want you to die,” I said through gasps of air.
“Baby, I’m not going anywhere, I’m right here,” he said, holding me tight. But I was absolutely inconsolable. I curled up in a fetal position as he held me and told him about the comments, the woman on Twitter and John Crawford.
“Baby, that could’ve been you,” I said. He knew I was right.
Just two weeks earlier, we were in Ohio, his home state, visiting his family for the first time. We made several trips to Walmart while we were there. I noticed, immediately, a difference in his personality in that environment. Usually, loud, funny and playful, back at “home” my boyfriend was like a turtle that retreated back into its shell for safety. He had long told me about what it felt like growing up, as he did, surrounded by “the White gaze” with few other Black faces around — in an environment similar to where John Crawford lost his life. As a young Black woman who lived in mostly diverse neighborhoods, even I was insensitive to his feelings. But finally having the experience of visiting where he grew up made everything clear. The fear and misunderstanding which constantly followed him because he was Black in mostly White spaces, had become so palpable and real.
With every sideways glance from a White person if I laughed or spoke too loud, he became tense and uneasy.
“Why are you being so uptight,” I playfully asked.
“When you know what they think and how they feel, then you know you should be uncomfortable,” he said plainly.
He was referring to the life-long interactions with White classmates and peers who openly made it clear that Black people are inferior to Whites, animalistic even.
“Do Black people have tails?”
“Will Black penis taint White vagina?”
“Why are Black people ghetto?”
These were some of the questions White children would ask him in an attempt to conclude whether or not the teachings of Black inferiority they received from their parents and society were right.
“My father would never let me date a nigger.”
“If I didn’t know you, I’d be afraid of you because you are Black.”
“Black people are lazy.”
These were some of the conclusions already reached.
When you understand just how clearly the lines are drawn, the divisions created between the races in most of America, then you begin to understand police brutality as merely a symptom of an entire system plagued by racism. It is not merely an issue of “bad cop” versus “good cop,” it is a battle against an entire country steeped in racial, prejudiced attitudes. Attitudes reflected in the populous, the news, entertainment and even the school system. Attitudes reinforced by stereotypes and enabled by insensitivity and ignorance.
Like John Crawford, Eric Garner and Mike Brown, my boyfriend is a Black man. He is tall, brown and refers to any temperature below 75 degrees as “hoodie weather.” He has probably made a few bad choices in the past. Maybe he has even stolen a candy bar or tried weed. Many find his Blackness intimidating or unsettling, but he is the man I love. And he does not deserve to die.
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Tiffanie Drayton is a freelance writer and graduate of The New School University. She hopes to one day return to an equal and racially tolerant America.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with the kind permission of the Author. We thank Tiffanie Drayton for her open heart, expansive mind, for caring and sharing.