White George, Black George, and the vast bucket of worry that differentiates them

Dear President Biden,

I haven’t had occasion to tell you this before, but my dad is a big White man and before I conjured a big White George the other day it had absolutely never occurred to me that my dad could be the victim of police brutality, let alone be killed by police. And really, that possibility is not a real possibility at all – there is no more chance that my dad would be mistreated, let alone killed, by police than there is that he could fly to the moon under his own power. None. No way.

It wouldn’t matter how many broken taillights my dad had or how expired his car tabs were or how many red lights he ran or whether he did or didn’t get right out of the car when ordered (or more likely, politely asked) – he would be safe. The police would see him as an older, very tall law-abiding (or mostly, depending why he’d been pulled over) gentle-man, a salt of the earth guy, a pillar of the community, a good man, an ordinary American. He would be afforded every benefit of every doubt because he fits the American model an upstanding citizen.

The twist is not that my dad is really some scofflaw jerk who has eluded detection by police all these years. He actually is a big White man who is an upstanding citizen.

The twist is that while it is truly unimaginable that my tall White father is at risk of being harmed by police, this is not at all the case when it comes to my brother, who is a medium height Black man.

Everyone who has a Black brother, son, father, uncle, grandfather, or male second cousin (or is one of these types of people themselves) living here in the US knows that their loved one (or they themselves) are in danger of being disrespected, brutalized, or even killed by police simply for existing while male and Black. Black girls and women are also at exceedingly elevated risk of such mistreatment by police, but it’s Black men, like my brother, who are especially at risk.

If you add mental health challenges to the Black + male equation, things get even worse. More times than I care to count, my brother has been in a bleak space and not entirely in control of himself and during those times, he has often had to deal with police. So far he’s been fortunate. He’s also convinced that the police in his particular county in Oregon know how to deal with people who are having mental health crises and that now that he himself has been through such encounters with police a bunch of times, he knows what to do and what not to do.

I, however, worry every time he starts sounding bad.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that the particular police officers that show up are going to handle the situation safely and there’s no guarantee that my brother won’t be too distraught to follow orders or not make sudden moves. And as we both know, the fact of his Blackness means that he is unlikely to be cut any slack at all and that he will be perceived as much more of a threat than would an equally dysregulated White man of the same stature.

So I worry.

And my worry is just one tiny drop in the vast bucket of worry about the safety and well-being of Black people when it comes to the police.

I hope that in addition to having contingency plans in place for when Chauvin’s verdict is rendered, you’ve had time to rethink your position on defunding the police state. This isn’t a matter of a few rotten apples, the tree itself is rotten and it needs to be uprooted so that sane, equitable public safety systems can be put in place.

May we all be safe and well cared for by our public systems.
May we be willing to lay to rest those systems predicated on systemic racism.
May we stop piling worry and fear on people of color.
May we accept that our policing systems are broken and are beyond reform.

Tracy Simpson

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