A Story You May Not Know…
There had been complaints in the neighborhood. And folks who worked for the City and the Police already knew about them because this was their second location. Neighbors were tired of the loud noises and legitimately worried about the barely dressed children who clearly weren’t going to school. Like I said, complaints were made.
Everything would change shortly. Police cleared out the block of all the neighbors. They blocked off the road. And they prepared to evict them. But this wasn’t an ordinary eviction. In a 90 minute period, more than 10,000 bullets were used by police. Water cannons poured gallons of water into the building for hours. And then came the helicopter, from which they dropped a bomb on the house.
The thinking was that this would get the adults and children out of the building. But the bomb didn’t just create an opening in the roof. It started a fire that engulfed more than 60 homes on the block. 60? Yes. Because they decided not to put out the fire.
Other than 1 adult and 1 child, no one got out alive from that burning house. And the adult was the only one that went to jail.
While locals will never forget the bomb in Philly on Osage street, most everyone else has never heard of the story. That special day when black lives clearly didn’t matter. When local government and police decided to bomb its own citizens. But this wasn’t yesterday, or last year. It was in 1985.
This Isn't New…
When you hear a President talk about looting and shooting, you may be surprised. But I’m not. This isn’t new. It’s not even original.
The reality is that we’ve spent the last 35 years witnessing exactly how little the lives of people are valued if they’re not part of the dominant culture. I’m wrong. It’s not just 35 years. It’s been 35 years since the Osage Avenue police bombing. But we’ve been dealing with this for longer than I’ve been alive.
People are talking about the lack of efficacy shown by protesters burning down buildings. They want protesters to be more well-mannered and more well-behaved. But the burning down of a building by police 35 years ago, with lives lost, resulted in absolutely no consequence or accountability.
And since then we’ve seen brown and black people killed by the very people who were supposed to protect and serve. For having a car that broke down, for walking, for running, for playing loud music, going to church, driving or reading a book in their own car.
This is Personal…
My wife, when we first started dating, noticed how uncomfortable I was while driving, every time I saw a cop. The first time I “fit the description” I was a young 17 year old Latino in an upscale white neighborhood.
By the time we were dating I was already doing most of my shopping online. Not just because I was a technologist and early adopter. But because I didn’t like getting followed around stores or watched in mirrors.
I know several policemen today. They’re great people. Amazing public servants. I appreciate the ones I know, so much.
But the uniform and vehicles do not afford me any level of comfort. Because they don’t know me and I don’t know them. And we both can easily get pulled into pre-conceived notions of each other.
Living Under Stress…
When COVID started, I encouraged leaders and staff to give people grace and mercy. They were stressed. They weren’t prepared to deal with the constant worry of loved ones who could be ill, friends and family losing jobs, not knowing how they’d make it thru this time of so much “not knowing.”
I know those feelings well because it’s like an outfit that I put on daily as I get dressed.
And I have it good. I work with smart people. I live in a nice place. I have discretionary income. In many cases I can choose to step out of certain situations. Not everyone has it that good.
But I hear and read all sorts of things that leave me stressed. That give me pause. Do my dominant culture friends really not understand what’s going on? People will (and often do) say, “I just think of you as White.” Thanks, but that’s not been my experience.
I grew up among the dominant culture. But my experience wasn’t like theirs. At least I never saw other kids get their skin touched to see if they were also warm when it was raining, or asked if they wore feathers on holidays. My African American friends had it worse, as people asked to touch their hair.
I went to college hating White people. Until I met a few who helped me navigate out of a constant state of anger – along with African American, Asian American and other Latino friends who shared their own stories.
During this COVID time, I’ve heard folks talk about the trouble they have had being stressed, non-stop, for weeks in a row. I feel that. I know that. For me it’s been so long that it takes something really big to remind me that I’m constantly under stress.
I put on a nice watch, a nice pair of shoes, a custom fitted shirt and drive an expensive car simply to signal to certain groups of people that I belong. That I shouldn’t be sent to the back door of a hotel for a delivery and can instead walk into the front door.
I have that luxury. Just not always. Because nothing ensures that any of those signals will be paid attention to in times like this.
We saw a Black man have a knee placed on his neck for more than eight minutes. But that story didn’t hit me as much. Horrible as it is to say, it didn’t surprise me. Not the first or last time. Just the first time it was so clearly captured on video.
No, the one that got me was the Latino CNN reporter who was arrested mid-report, while on the air, wearing his press badge, and with an entire film crew around him. And his White counterpart a block over had to explain what happened because the three minority folks were arrested.
It got to me because it said, “even if you do everything right and signal that you belong, it doesn’t matter.”
There’s a point where you get so exhausted of being angry, stressed, and sad, that you can’t yell or cry.
You just start shutting down. Today was that day for me.
I hope the tools and strategies I’ve developed over my 49 years help me tomorrow. But I can’t be sure.
Please, don’t tell me that people are protesting incorrectly.
Don’t tell me that white privilege is a myth.
Don’t tell me that burning down buildings is wrong and deserves a legal consequence.
Please don't tell me that protests with the destruction of property don't work. Remember the Boston Tea Party?
Every single life matters. That’s what you mean when you say, “All lives matter.” Great.
Then please don’t talk about buildings, fires, and broken glass.
That’s property. Just stuff.
Prove that all lives matter by demonstrating what you’re doing for people who don’t look like you. Making sure they feel like their lives matter.