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    • Chris

      My God this issue is heart-breaking and so hard for a large part of the population to understand. I want to believe that even though I'm a white adult, growing up as the only white boy in a black neighborhood in Oakland helped me understand at least a little.

      Mom and I were poor enough when I was in 2nd-5th grades that we sometimes had an apartment to live in and sometimes didn't. But we tried to stay around the same neighborhood in East Oakland because it's where all my friends were. They were all black except one Japanese boy, Tanaka (we called him by his last name), that we considered neither white nor black. Tanaka and I were good street baseball players and that's all it took to be accepted.

      I remember, though, that we made crude skateboards out of scrap lumber + discarded roller skates. We wanted to go to the hills to ride them. When we asked our parents, the black parents would say things like "No, baby, not in the hills. It's not safe for you."

      We went outside as elementary school-aged kids and talked about why my mom would let me and their moms wouldn't let them. No fair. They told me it was because white people lived in the hills and it wouldn't be safe for them to be there. I understood because I could see how some white shopkeepers and policemen talked to my friends, how they treated me differently.

      And then my father got custody of me and I moved to Orinda, an all-white upper middle class neighborhood on the other side of the Oakland hills. I don't remember meeting another black boy the whole time I was in middle and high schools.

      The transition was incredibly painful. I didn't dress, walk or talk like an upper middle class white kid. At least until high school it seemed to me the kids were incredibly superior and cruel. I had been popular in Oakland and now I was the one being made fun of. What saved me were the years we played baseball and football in the streets, because even in Orinda they all wanted me on their teams.

      What I remember most is the fear both sides had of each other. If a black boy was seen in our white neighborhood, was he there to break into houses? If a frightened white neighbor called the police, would the white officer who responded get the wrong impression?

      When I grew up, I often wished for the equivalent of a foreign exchange program so each side could empathize with the other.

    • wx

      I can't speak to anything that Chris or the community is feeling because I've never walked in their shoes.

      On the face of it, how do you excuse shooting an unarmed person in the back while they're running away?

      And yet I wouldn't be surprised if this is called a justifiable shooting, for a few reasons (beyond racism, that is.)

      1/ The car matched the description of a vehicle wanted in connection with a shooting. So police are immediately aware that guns could be in any stop they make.

      2/ Two guns were indeed found in the car.

      3/ The car's window had been shot out.

      4/ The police officer could reasonably argue that he believed the 17 year-old who was running away was a threat to the community (which probably puts him within his department's rules for a justifiable shooting.)

      I'm not saying it's right. Racial tension is at a high right now and the relationship between police and black communities across the country is obviously completely broken. There's no trust, no respect, maybe very little communication. My personal opinion is that most police departments are under-funded and cops don't get the kind of training -- initially or ongoing -- they need to defuse and handle similar situations. I'm guessing they might resist such training anyway, so broken is the thing.

      Anyway, that's how it struck me. I don't know how this gets resolved, short of figuring out how to improve the prosperity of entire communities.

    • Chris

      Thank you, wxwax, very well said. Nor can I speak for police because I've never walked in their shoes.

      I listened to an interview of a North Philly documentary filmmaker the other day on Fresh Air, who was profiling a black family who made a recording studio for kids in the neighborhood to have something to do. During the filming, the family's 13-year-old daughter caught a stray bullet in her eye (she lived). The dad (Chris Rainy) was in the interview too and he talked about what it's like to live in a place where there are so many guns and bullets that fly so often.

      Here's one of his quotes:

      RAINEY: See, I'm old school. I'm going to be honest with you. Like, I'm really old school. Like, the reason why I started letting these kids come because I feel as though I was the one that understood them. I was from the streets, too. I was the rough guy that carried guns and did dumb stuff back in the day, too. So I felt as though I would be able to communicate with these guys. You know, the ones that everyone was scared to talk to, the ones that nobody wanted to approach, those are the ones that I invite to the studio. And, you know, there was a lot of talk about, you know, we can get this person, or you want us to do something? And I'm like, for what? What is that going to solve? Or who are you going to get? And nobody knows who did what, you know? It was me now. I'm trying to keep the peace in the neighborhood.

      It just seems unimaginably hard to solve. I really admire the people trying so hard to do it.

    • MarniWolf

      It's true we can be very pragmatic and factual and see all these factors by which people might claim the case is justified. I think in the issue of tension between the black community and police there would be a lot to learn from comparing and contrasting cases that resulted in unjustified shooting and compare them to similar cases where no one was shot, being sure to note the victims race and the race of those not shot.

      It's really important I think in this discussion to note those of us who are white. Who although we all care and even like Chris who has background living in similar conditions, we will always have the privileged advantage. We can never speak for a person of color nor their community.

    • PaulMRobertson

      white people always find a way to justify violence. It’s our greatest magic trick. Police violence toward people of color is the easiest trick to pull, it seems. The fact is, police commit more unjustified violence toward black people than Latinos and white people.

      Another fact is that we’re living in a system full of rigid stereotypes regarding people of color. This stereotypes take over in split-second moments of stress. Inexperienced officers have nothing to rely on in those moments but the readily available assumptions about black men.

      There are ways to mitigate this type of violence. One would be to issue a firearm to a police officer after a certain number of years on the force. Inexperienced officers are more likely to get into trouble. Also, some police departments have started sending out individual officers rather than teams of two or more. This also reduces the number of violent encounters because the officer alone is more cautious.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      I think this No Lacking Challenge video is pretty eye-opening about the challenges facing the black community and the police.

      I have a very deep belief that the best solution is to provide poor communities with what we provide to wealthy ones: education, health care, opportunity, and respect. Providing lavish tax cuts to the rich while cutting budgets to the bone for education, good policing, and health for the poor produces tragedies like Antwon's shooting and a prison population that looks like this:

    • wx

      Wow, that guy is something else. If anyone's searching for the definition of a man, I offer him.

    • wx

      Absolutely. I'm white and wouldn't dare to speak for anyone but myself on matters of race.

      Two small examples that are really a bit of a hijack of this thread.

      My (deceased) dad, who was born in Texas around 1919 and who was never intolerant or racist in any way, said two things that have stuck in my mind. One when was when he referred to a black neighbor as "niggra." It's not the n-word but obviously it's not very far from it. This would have been in the 1990's. I corrected him and I never heard him say it again. It stuck with me because I think it was a generational and Texas thing. To him, it wasn't a slur.

      That's one example. The other happened when I was a child, in the 1960s. I was messing with his tools and he told me to take my "cotton pickin'" hands off of them. I remember it because I was mortified that he snapped at me. Because I'm not black, it wasn't until this year, some fifty years and one Oklahoma City Thunder broadcaster later, that I realize the intense racial overtones of what had seemed like a mild epithet.

      I bring them up because my father didn't consider the first to be offensive and I didn't consider the second to be offensive. That's because we're white and are oblivious to the reality that other people live.

      One last thing: it's not just white people who do this. All races are racist, all peoples are bigots. In my opinion it's in the human DNA to fear anything that is other. It could be the color of skin, or it could be the color of eyes. It doesn't matter. We instinctively huddle protectively against anyone who's not like us and it takes conscious effort not to.

    • wx

      100% agree with you. Prosperity would make a dramatic difference to crime rates. Very hard to do, however. I've read convincing things about how institutional racism is embedded in our society and has been for a very long time.

    • Chris

      Yeah, it's soul-crushing. I've had a long-term fascination with the criminal justice system in America, maybe since I was in 5th grade and appeared in front of a judge for shoplifting. It was in Oakland and I sat on the front row with other inmates in our juvenile detention center clothing that made us look like criminals while the police got to sit high on the stand in their neatly pressed uniforms and badges that made them look like heroes.

      When I was asked to stand and answer the judge I was so terrified my bladder let go. It was maybe the most humiliating moment of my life.

    You've been invited!