When my daughter was in her early teens, she went trick or treating with a couple of friends. Our town had a strict 6 to 8 p.m. curfew on Halloween, which was signaled by a siren from the Borough’s Fire Department. At 8:20, a police car pulled into my driveway and two police officers escorted my daughter to the door. They respectfully told me that my daughter was on the street after the curfew and had broken the rule.
I thanked them and, after they left, listened to my daughter’s indignant rant about her treatment. She said that she and her friends were just walking back home and that the police had no right to treat them like criminals. I told her that she knew the rule, had broken it, and been caught. End of discussion.
Today, however, I cannot help but think about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and countless other young black men being murdered on our streets by the police and their agents. What if my white daughter had been a black boy wearing a mask, maybe carrying a plastic sword? Would she have been treated with the same respect? Would she have been handcuffed, arrested, even shot? Would the police have arrived to drive me down to the morgue? Maybe not, but I am no longer as certain as I used to be.
Racism is alive, well and thriving in America today. Anyone who refutes that statement is ignoring the facts and rationalizing our history of racial violence and oppression, and the ongoing impact of poverty and privilege in this country. Racism must not be ignored. And racism cannot be conquered by the feeble efforts of politicians and officials looking to find excuses to justify these preventable and horrific tragedies.
Racism must be looked at straight in the eye. We must confront racism at every corner and label it for what it is — ignorant, unjust and unacceptable. As Americans, we have a duty as citizens to seek equal justice for all. And White Americans have a special duty to imagine their world if their skin was brown. Why should any American be treated differently by anyone, especially the police, simply because of their skin color?
Would Michael Brown have been killed if he was White? Would George Zimmerman have been acquitted if Trayvon Martin had been white? We will never know. But how many more times must this happen before we know the answer to those questions? Who has to die next until we are all convinced that racism must be exterminated if America has any hope of being the paragon of freedom and justice it purports to be?