(Sen. Aaron Ford) – On Friday, I responded to a blast email about #FreddieGray and the horrific situation in #Baltimore. Yesterday, I received another blast email responding to my post. That post was entitled: “I’ll surely be called a racist for writing this, nevertheless…”
I don’t know the gentleman well, but we have had a few encounters over the years. He seems nice, and while we’re on the opposite sides of the political spectrum, I find him reasonable and approachable. And I don’t think he’s a racist.
But I disagree with the premise of his retort.
The email partially quoted my post, to the apparent end of drawing an (improper) analogy between the sentiment of some young black men who, based on experience and reports of blatant and unpunished abuse and killings, are afraid of the police and, among other things, that of “white folks [having] rational, understandable fears of young black men on the street based on experiences and news reporting.” The email contended that my “argument was in direct conflict” with the thing with which I seemed most troubled, which the author (mistakenly) concludes was “the practice of profiling.” The author conditionally conceded my point — which I will reiterate later — if I would concede his.
I guess no concession is on the horizon.
By only partially quoting my post, the author actually missed my point. Or maybe I wasn’t clear enough. Regardless, a response is necessary and appropriate.
To be sure, I mentioned profiling in my Friday post, asking whether you had “ever been profiled” and sharing that I have. (Incidentally, so has my 21-year-old son, a college senior studying Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology who wants to be a doctor and was recently inducted into the Spanish Honor Society.) But I asked that question in the context of the POLICE profiling people of color. The author conflates that specific, inappropriate and oft-outlawed practice with the type of general profiling in which one lay person/citizen may engage against another.
Those are qualitatively different forms of profiling and, in my view, one is more pernicious than the other. One is perpetrated by an individual trained and sworn to protect and serve the public; the other is engaged in by an everyday citizen often encumbered by misinformation. I hold the former to a higher standard, especially when (s)he holds the power of life and death in his/her hands more frequently than the average citizen. (So, too, is the “profiling” in which Black youth may engage vis-a-vis cops qualitatively different than cops doing so relative to them. But more on that below.)
The author provides examples of the “knockout game” to demonstrate why some white people — especially women — may be justifiably afraid of young black men and maybe chose to cross to the other side of the street when they encounter a black youth. The author contends that that’s not racist but that “maybe a white man or woman crosses the street because they simply just don’t ‘want to be the next statistic … the next casualty.” He continues: “Maybe, just maybe, they cross the street not because they’re racists, but because they are actually afraid of the young black man.”
A nice play on my own words, indeed. But a false and ineffective comparison nonetheless.
You see, if these young black men were caught, they’d undoubtedly be prosecuted and more than likely be found guilty, WHICH IS PRECISELY WHAT SHOULD OCCUR. Contrast that to what has happened time and time again when a police officer abuses or kills a young black man. Nothing. And that’s the problem.
The author, therefore, uses select portions of my post to convert the conversation into one about race relations in America. Hence his presumption that, by writing the email, he’ll be labelled a racist. I don’t label him as such, and I welcome a further discussion with him in that regard.
To be clear, however, while a conversation about race would be important and welcomed, the conversation continued by my initial post was one regarding appropriate interactions between cops and the communities they patrol, not race. In fact, while the encounters we’ve seen recently have been between white cops and young black men, it is notable that the #Baltimore encounter involved 6 officers, with at least two of them being African American.
Let me be clear, I do not condone profiling of any type, and I suggest we all find ways to alleviate that problem. There must be a recognition, however, that not all profiling is created equal. That said, I find it appropriate to reiterate the actual point of my Friday post — a point possibly lost on the author and, accordingly, NOT quoted by him in the blast email:
The real lesson here is that there must be a renewal and restoration of trust between cops and the communities they patrol. Maybe then, instead of running AWAY from cops, young black men will cordially run TOWARD them with trust and appreciation. One way – one sad but necessary way – for this to occur is for bad actors to be actually prosecuted for, and found guilty of, heinous acts like those that occurred in #Ferguson, #Charleston, #Baltimore, and countless other cities across America. Maybe then cops and the citizens they’re sworn to protect can establish a mutual level of trust and respect that will result in running not being viewed as a sign of culpability and a license to kill.
(Sen. Ford is a Las Vegas Democrat and Minority Leader in the Nevada Legislator)