The benefit of the doubt…

I really do believe that most police are hardworking individuals who care about the people they are sworn to protect. I know they have a very difficult job…that often they have to make split-second decisions that are easy to critique in hindsight.

I grew up knowing that the police were my friends…that if I had a problem, they were safe people to go to.

When I first began hearing complaints about racial biases in policing, I thought that surely I was missing something. That couldn’t be so. After all, I had never experienced that.

And then one day I visited with a friend whose sons were about the same age as my son. My son at that age was doing some stupid things in his rebellion, and I sometimes worried about his coming home safely because of the actions he might take. She worried about her sons coming home–period. Not because they were doing stupid things–their behavior was what I wished my son would emulate at that time. But because of the color of their skin.

That was an “aha” moment for me.

I’m ashamed to say that while it was an eye-opener, I didn’t really do anything about that knowledge. After all, it didn’t really affect me.

But time has gone on–and technology has made it easier for us to see incidents we didn’t used to. Sometimes that technology is helpful…sometimes it raises more questions. And technology is only as good as the people who use it. Sometimes recordings aren’t started until an incident has escalated–and we don’t know what happened prior to what we see. So I have worked hard to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But last night I saw video that says to me that we have a serious problem in this country in our relationships with each other. The police apparently received a 911 call about an armed man threatening suicide. When they arrived, they saw two men–one black and one white. The black man did something I’ve never ever had to think about doing in an interaction with the police–he laid down on the pavement with his hands in the air as he tried to explain that he was an unarmed behavioral therapist…that the “armed man” was his autistic client who had run away and who only had a toy truck in his hands. And yet…he was still shot. Why?! What else could he–should he–have done?

I am becoming more and more aware that we all have biases…and we must learn to acknowledge that before we can ever begin to hear each other. That’s not easy, because it means that I have to acknowledge that I am given the benefit of the doubt every day…and others are not. This article is a place to start. It’s not an easy read…but until I am willing to listen to others’ stories, nothing will change.