A Moment of Life in Black and White

I’d like to share something with you that has been weighing on my heart heavily. I can only hope that this is received in the way it is intended. As a white middle class woman, I’ve wondered what my role was in this and in many ways I feel as though my voice doesn’t have a place or a right to speak up, but I can’t be silent any longer. I’m outraged and heartbroken. You’ve likely heard it on television, social media or in conversation. It’s a story of humanity or lack there of. The most recent travesty isn’t the reason I have chosen to write this. It wasn’t the story before that, or the one prior to that. I’m writing about this because it isn’t right. None of it is right. I’ve struggled with where I fit in the scenario. I haven’t felt I had a right to speak on the topic for both obvious and non-obvious reasons. I’m certain that I am unaware of all of the things and privileges that I have just by virtue of my gender and skin color. I think it’s natural to see things from our own unique perspective, whether those are coming from privilege, experience or social awareness. What is wrong, is to assume that everyone is like us and in doing so, discounting another’s perspective. A perspective can only determined be right or wrong based on the individual to whom it belongs to. I find myself inquiring are there any arenas in which we agree? What is the value of a life? How do we stop this and where does each one of us fit in this picture?

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have choosen the side of the oppressor”.

Desmond Tutu

Let’s start with, what I believe we can agree is, common ground. A brief civics refresher because it’s been a while since some of us (myself included) have been in school. Adopted in 1776, the United States Constitution declares that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Bill of Rights, further clarified individual rights some of which are: freedom of speech, religion, and that of a quick, impartial trial (should you be accused of crime). After the atrocities of WWII and Nazi Germany, nations around the world gathered to solidify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The first article of which states that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. If you read it, it echoes that of the Bill of Rights, naming freedom from slavery, torture, and a right to justice if wronged. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights later became part of the International Bill of Human Rights (1966). Still with me here? Basically, the United States, verifiably the World, and you (by virtue of being a human being, living on the plant Earth, citizen in a country in which you enjoy the liberty and freedoms guaranteed to you), all agree that life is valuable and every person is intitled to certain rights.

“If machines can learn to value human life, maybe we can, too.”

Terminator 2, Alternate Ending

If we can agree that human life is valuable where did we diverge from this? When did we put stipulations on human life being valuable? I don’t recall reading that human life is valuable as long as it’s not someone who; didn’t cut me off in traffic; eat the last of my favorite snack; was accused of a crime (I’d like to add that eating the last of someone’s favorite snack arguably should be a crime-only jokingly said); committed a crime (regardless of what crime it is); or if they happen to have been born black/white/immigrant/illegal immigrant/gay/transsexual/law enforcement or any other thing that you aren’t or may not like or agree with. Do you recall seeing such an agreed upon criteria for when a human life can be discounted? My guess is no because to my knowledge none, that are acknowledged and accepted, exist. I love the people in my life, my family, friends and acquaintances. I bet there are people in your life that you also love. It’s reasonable to say we value the lives of people we love. Still in agreement?

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

George Orwell, Animal Farm

Likely, we don’t know or love all the same people, in fact, you may dislike someone I love and vice versa. Is the life of a person that you don’t like worth less than that of someone you do? If you answer yes, I would like to remind you that just because you dislike someone and think their life is not as valuable there is likely someone out there that does think the life of that very same individual you dislike is in fact priceless. Who is right? That fellow citizens of Earth is why we have such inalienable rights, laws and protections. Your feathers may be slightly ruffled. You may have come up with an argument or situation that you think justifies a demotion of a person’s life value. If you don’t agree with me, perhaps you have (or can imagine) been wronged in the past in such an atrocious manner that you are all out offended by what I am saying now. Before you start sending hate mail, let me ask you one question. Have you ever pissed someone off, been accused of something, wronged someone or have anyone that dislikes you for any reason? Ever? There may be a person who would argue that your life isn’t as valuable as theirs. Ouch, that hurts to comprehend. The reality remains that we do not care about the same people and not everyone is going to like or love you. This is why we need the protections we’ve previously agreed to.

“The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.”

Aldous Huxley

What happens when the laws and protections we’ve agreed are due to all aren’t enforced? When they aren’t enforced for everyone equally? Fairness and protection of rights and justice cease. You give tacit consent (ie. you agree to obey) with the rules of every store you enter that says, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”. If you don’t follow the rules, there are known consequences, even at the convenience store which you aren’t allowed to be a patron of. Taking this logic to a much broader scale-by being a resident in a city, state, country or dare I say the world, you give tacit consent to abide by the rules (laws) of said locale. If you break one of the laws, you then expect to be treated accordingly, in the prescribed manner of the law all the while maintaining your rights and protections afforded you by those laws. Let’s simplify this equation, let’s say you are playing a game with a group of people. Before the game begins the rules are explained to all the players. The game is going well and everyone is having fun until it is discovered that one of the players is cheating. It would be reasonable to assume that the cheater could receive a range of consequences for his actions, whether they be a verbal scolding or being removed from the game altogether. Now, let’s pretend the cheater was discovered but no consequences given. None. I don’t know about you, but I would be mad. Let’s up the ante, because we are only speaking of a game. Let’s say, that in the game that someone cheated, that someone bet and lost their entire life savings. What if you were the person who lost. If it were me, I’d be raising hell and demanding justice. In my mind, it would be reasonable to say that when you are playing by the rules and others aren’t and you are hurt in some way by this, you’d be upset. Obviously the current situation that has played out repeatedly isn’t a game but all the same, rules haven’t been followed and someone has been hurt. Frustration and anger are the emotions that I would fully expect. That is exactly how I feel. I’m not by any means condoning violence or crime, but I do understand that people feel victimized and in cases are!

I think it is important to note that I fully support our law enforcement officers. They are human beings too. We need laws and law enforcement officers to protect us. Just like the rest of generalizations, I believe that for every cop that abuses power, there are ten others that have and would never do so. I also don’t pretend to know what it must be like to have a job that requires me multiple times a day to be in situations with people who wouldn’t hesitate to harm me. Even if you have a dislike or distrust of the police, you must acknowledge that they do put their lives on the line daily for our protection. They deserve our respect and thanks. Being in highly emotionally charged life or death situations, none of us know how we are going to react. I can tell you this from experience. I was robbed at gun point once and I would have never expected myself to do what I did-I cussed the guy out. That being said, I think the role Brothers in Blue can play is to have each others backs. Not only in the traditional sense I suspect you expect, but also have each others back to call each other out and be willing to stand in when they see someone beginning to lose their cool and overstep the bounds.

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

Albert Einstein

So what do we do now? How do we move forward towards an equal and fair society that, we all seem to agree every human being is entitled to? What is our role in this? History, however distant or recent, cannot be forgotten and I’d argue shouldn’t be (otherwise we are doomed to repeat the same wrongs). The wounds of this history run deep. When the wound is the loss of someone you love, it is a wound that may likely never heal. We know people have lost loved ones, we know the trust has been broken. How then do we proceed? I would suggest with caution, kindness and consideration for others. Words mean nothing if you promise something and nevertheless break that promise. Actions speak louder than words. We have a duty to ourselves and to our fellow human beings to hold each other accountable. Would some of the tradegies have ended differently had the person behind the camera, the fellow law enforcement officers or heaven forbid “Karen” (random woman who tattle tells about every single petty annoyance) spoke up? I’ve been encouaged to see images of those that stepped up, as a barrier, between protesters and law enforcement. But it’s not enough to standby as witness while someone is being mistreated. It’s not enought to catch it on camera and blast it on social media. You, I, we have an obligation to have each others’ backs. It’s not enought to participate in a protest or stand in at such an event as a barrier. What would have made a difference, so that there would be no need for protests to occur, is someone, everyone stepping up in the moment to prevent it from ever happening.

Photo by Matheus Viana on Pexels.com

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