When I was around 13 years old, I was walking down the street in suburban Levittown, Pa when out of nowhere a police officer pulled up beside me in his cruiser. The officer inside rolled down the passenger side window, motioned for me to approach the vehicle and immediately began to ask questions about where I was on specific days. It was obvious that he was looking for someone, and as a young black male I apparently fit the description of the person he was trying to find. In the middle of his field interrogation he suddenly stopped his line of questioning and blurted out, “Never mind, it couldn’t have been you, never mind just go ahead.” With that he motioned for me to move along and he quickly drove off.
In the above scenario the officer did a quick assessment and determined that I was a law abiding citizen and not the person he was looking for. No altercation took place, no arrest was made, and no shots were fired. Yet looking back now I realize how things could have spun out of control and I could have been seriously injured or killed. In some ways I am fortunate to be able to tell the tale. Mike Brown’s interaction with a cop didn’t go as well as mine. We may never know what really took place on the day he was shot 6 times and by a white police officer, Darren Wilson. What we do know is that Brown was unarmed when he killed.
By and large people responded to Brown’s murder along racial lines. Some conservative white folks said the shooting had nothing to do with race; Brown was wrong for assaulting a police officer and needed to be subdued. By contrast some black folks believed that race played a factor in the teenager’s death. They argued that unarmed men of color have been disproportionately killed by police officers in the past. Click here for an Melissa Harris-Perry’s on this subject.
After the shooting I took note of what people were saying on social media. Admittedly, I was surprised by some of the comments of my white friends posted on Facebook. It is clear that some of them have have a problem with African Americans and see us as the other. As a perused the net I found other people who shared the views of my white friends. On one conservative web site a person appeared to be glad Michael Brown was killed because his death “just means that there is one less gang banger on the streets.” Another person commented, “Just think if the Obama had a son, he might look like Michael Brown.” Still a third person noted “Who Hoo, another dead nigger!” To me such comments indicate that some Americans in this country still have a problem with race.
I may have survived my brief encounter with the police when I was 13, but countless black men have not been so fortunate. Hopefully, Brown’s death can help us have a dialogue on the tension that exists between African Americans and police officers. Such a conversation is long overdue.