Confession time: I’m a protester.
I haven’t been going to all of the marches here in New York City, and I haven’t been chanting “Fuck the police!” or blocking traffic on FDR Drive when I do, but I’ve made it a point to show up.
Why? The simple answer is because walking down the street with my hands up seems like the least I can do when something horrendous has happened – and keeps happening.
I kept a low profile about my involvement not because I’m embarrassed to be a part of the demonstrations, but because I didn’t think it was anyone’s business but my own.
So imagine my surprise when a friend, a member of the NYPD, texted me last week and asked me where the protest was going to be that night.
“How did you know I was protesting?!” I asked.
“Wait. You really are?”
Fuck yeah, I am. And I was perfectly proud to admit it, though I might not have been if I realized that I was starting an argument.
We jumped right in by debating the use of chokehold, a topic that I know virtually nothing about.
“A chokehold is a full compression of someone’s airway,” he said. “…If someone were choked, they would be unable to speak.”
“Well he sort of died so… guess he was choked a little,” I answered.
“People die all the time for various reasons… Especially when not in shape. Had we used pepper spray and he would’ve had difficulty breathing due to asthma, he could’ve died. Had we used a taser and the electric impulse triggered a heart attack, he could’ve died. Or had he hit the ground head first after being tased, he could’ve died.”
“That’s all moot,” I replied. “Because it’s not what happened.”
My friend then suggested that I participate in a “police ride along,” which is something that I would actually love to do because I’ve always been curious about police work. In fact, when I met him years ago and listened to his stories about work, I looked into joining the force. I got as far as failing the practice entrance exam before deciding that I didn’t have what it takes.
“I suggest you try one of the rougher neighborhoods… where being polite or asking nicely will get you nowhere quickly.”
“I live in Harlem,” I reminded him. “But thanks for the tip.”
“It’s one thing to live in Harlem and it’s another to experience it,” he wrote. “You have immunity from the neighborhood you live in. A white female is less likely to be robbed than a young black male in the same neighborhood… read the statistics if you don’t believe me.”
I’m not sure how we arrived at this point, but we did. And it was shocking. Because this friend is one of the people I am thinking of when I tell people that I know “good” cops. This is someone whose opinion I valued and work I respected. This is someone who, if he hadn’t just told me that being a white woman makes me immune to danger, I would have tried harder to hear him out. But now here we are, talking about believing statistics – which for the record, is something that I’ll never do because working in PR has taught me two things: that no one writes their own speeches and that if you look hard enough you can find data to back up any point you want to make.
“By the way, I’m not upset or angry that you have a differing opinion, just think that it’s not as clear cut as you might think,” he added.
“I actually am upset,” I wrote back.
And that I was. Because I have a hard time debating what I think are facts: a man died because someone else killed him and then the justice system shrugged. Repeat. If that doesn’t make you mad, you might want to check your pulse.
I identify with this movement because I see it as something bigger and more powerful than a racial issue linked to police brutality. I see it as a reminder of our need to consider that everyone experiences the same world under a different set of circumstances. It’s race. It’s gender. It’s socio-economic background. It’s religion. The world we see is seen on a slant.
And yes, that logic can be applied to cops too. “I don’t deny your job is hard and requires quick thinking and good judgment. And I don’t think I could do it better. And I do appreciate that you’re there when I need it… But I’m sorry. That’s bullshit,” I told him.
I got angrier than I meant to during our conversation. So angry that I ended it by sending two rapid fire texts, one of which was in all caps, and then blocking his number. (How mature.) My first friendship casualty over these protests, but probably not the last.
Perhaps my conversation that night was a microcosm of the debate overall: one side boiling mad by the injustice of it all and the other not even willing to admit there’s a problem.
I’m not going to solve that problem – but I’ll do what I can. Which is to say that next time, I’ll walk a few more blocks and yell a little louder. Hopefully with less of a slant.