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Race Tue Dec 15 2015

Want to Stop Police Killings? Then White People Need to Truly Care.

By Dave Stieber

If you haven't heard of Cedric Chatman, then you should know his name. Cedric is another tragic example of a black youth being killed by police and the city trying to cover up the murder. Cedric was killed nearly three years ago, almost two years before Laquan McDonald. To no surprise to anyone in Chicago, Rahm is currently trying to prevent the video from being released.

Black Americans being killed by police is not just a Chicago problem. This is an American problem.

I can't sit back and witness the continued murder of black Americans, while far too many white Americans sit back and say nothing at all about it or even worse, blame the victims themselves.

As a white person who grew up in a majority white area, I know how white people view the police. They help keep us safe. The only times a white person fears a cop is when we are going more than 15mph over the speed limit and spot them in our rearview or when they show up to peacefully break up our youthful parties. The general consensus among whites is that the police won't harm us, or our children; they will save us from the bad guys and give us due process if we mess up. If any interaction falls outside of this norm, it is ludicrous.

As we have sadly seen over the past few years, the world does not operate like this for black Americans. Whiteness lets us have that sacred, safe privilege.

I know if you don't experience something personally it's hard to really internalize it. But this is the very reason why the intense, disturbing, police videos are so important to see.

Of course, no one wants to see someone being killed on camera. But if you don't watch it, then it never happened.

If white America is as tired of hearing about race and racism as some media outlets claim, then there are ways to help.

Start by giving a damn. I could call this empathy, but we are past that point in this struggle.

White culture tends to blame the victim, not the police officer, with comments like, "If Eric Garner had just... " "If Laquan McDonald would've...", or "If Tamir Rice's parents would've...."

Or we try to deflect from the real conversation about racism and ask questions like, "What about black on black crime? Why don't black people care about that?." Firstly, black people do care. Secondly, they do protest it, which just doesn't get the press coverage that black conflict gets on mainstream media.

Even comments like "Most police are good" are harmful. Yes, I agree that most police are good, but we're focusing on the ones who aren't. It is clear that there is an issue with the police and/or police training that needs to be addressed in this country. This has been going on for decades and as an example, Chicago operates Homan Square, a secret police site used to illegally hold and torture primarily black Chicagoans.

Here is a list of all the black people killed by police across America from 1999-2014, if you still need more proof.

So what can white Americans do?

Listen to black people when they share experiences about race.
Some white Americans would rather go out of their way to find the most random black person saying how race isn't a problem anymore and that black America just needs to "get over it" than actually listen to the overwhelming amount of black narratives and stories that show how racism is still so prevalent in our country. Rule of thumb, if it is just a black person sitting in their car talking about how racism isn't real anymore you need a more credible source — and for that matter, if you only quote Ben Carson as your "black source," you again need find a more credible source.

Read articles, books, and narratives about race. The authors of these writings should be black.
There is a plethora of researched articles and books about race out there. It may not be comfortable to learn about how racism benefits us as white people and what white privilege is and does for us, but if you really want to consider yourself empathic or even Christian for that matter, then you need to spend the time educating yourself. Here are a few good places to start.

STOP listening to white people on the news tell you about black people.
This isn't specific to any news or TV station (although some are much worse than others). But, if you are getting your information about issues of race, including but not limited to police abuses, violence, protests, racism, etc. solely from white talking heads, you need to stop and refer back to the previous point #2.

Put yourself in the minority.
Go to areas of the city that aren't white. The first step with this point is realizing that yes, you are welcome and yes, it is safe. (No you won't be killed, robbed, raped or shot at---actually the odds are better that those things would happen in a white area, but that is a different article.) Try to take the images portrayed in movies out of your head. Try to limit your unnecessary fears. Use websites like Yelp & Trip Advisor to help you figure out where you want to go. There are great places to eat, shop, and see in black communities no matter what city you live in. When you go, plan to interact, not just observe "another culture."

Teach your children that black people aren't scary, by your words and actions.
The words you use around children are powerful; strike ghetto and thug from your language to describe places and people. Watch movies and shows with black leads or majority black actors. If possible, have your kids interact with kids who aren't white, in situations where they are equals. Also refer back to my previous point #4.

A former black student of mine wrote an article titled, "The Reason I Can't Have White Friends." The title is sad and justified and the words are powerful. But, we white people need to read his words and then start educating our children and ourselves.

I have grown tired of having to explain to people why mouthing off to police shouldn't get me killed. I am tired of having to try twice as hard to smile on the train so people aren't automatically afraid of me. I am tired of being afraid of police officers as they drive past my house or walk by me on the street. I am tired of being too afraid of police violence to go to the public pool, walk down the street, go to the movie theater walk with skittles or exist in my own skin. But I am unable to express this pain to people other than those of my own race. It is almost impossible to get other people to understand my pain. It is even harder to get people to acknowledge that the pain I and my people feel is even real. We live in a "post-racial" target="_blank">society but it seems that this "post-racial" target="_blank">attitude has tricked people into thinking that denying racism will completely destroy it.


David Stieber is a father, husband, CPS teacher of History. Dave is passionately committed to promoting and improving urban public education, while simultaneously improving the lives of his students. He earned his masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. You can follow Dave on Twitter at D_Stieber.

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Mare / December 15, 2015 10:43 AM

I agree, and I'm with you, and I (a white person) do listen and do care. But what are more concrete actions we can take? Before Thanksgiving, I googled "Chicago Protests on Black Friday" in hopes of finding a protest to join, and all I got were broken links and inactive websites for activist groups. How can we support organizations who are fighting this injustice?

Teresa Roberts / December 15, 2015 11:17 AM

I'm white and these are the further actions I've taken in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter:
1. I join civil rights protests and actions in a background role (it's important that black members lead so their community is empowered, and white allies being present make them safer from police brutality).
2. I work on the #15NOW campaign to raise the minimum wage, which will lift people out of wage slavery, for which the black community is targeted;
3. I speak out within my family when racism is posted on their FB pages, always with factual links & credible news stories.
4. I call and email my city council, my police commissioner and police chief when their racism is showing to demand change.
5. I submit my petition against police brutality to the DOJ every 250 signatures and at 1000 it also goes to the IAPC. I hope you'll sign and share it.

Dave Stieber / December 15, 2015 11:47 AM

Great suggestions Teresa.

Mare, I know that a concrete action that I need to take is to engage in discussions when white people (especially family relatives) make some comment that is coded in racist undertones. We white people must do the hard work of educating and speaking to other white people.

A few very active organizations to look into are the:
Black Youth Project
Teachers for Social Justice
CORE Teachers Chicago
Action Now

Dennis Fritz / December 15, 2015 3:24 PM

Excellent post.

It seems we've reached a point where most white Americans--maybe as many as 2/3, if you extrapolate from poll results--view black Americans the way most Israeli Jews view Palestinians--i.e. as a "bad element" who need to be controlled by any means necessary. Most white Americans seem to have little empathy with black Americans. They don't seem to regard any of black Americans' grievances as being legitimate, and seem to have no interest in anything black Americans have to say about racism. They just seem to want black Americans to keep quiet, stay far away, and not pose a threat.

Josh / December 16, 2015 9:44 AM

Dennis, I generally agree with your post, but find it strange that started it with the phrasing that "..we've reached a point.." The fact that some significant percentage of white people sees black Americas as anything other than a "bad element" means that we are at the absolute pinnacle of race relations in the history of this country. This isn't something that has gotten worse. As awful as it is, it has never been better.

Patricia Van Pelt / December 17, 2015 8:39 AM

This is an excellent piece. Everyone should share it. Another great organization to look to for support in this area is the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations. This organization works within a multi/ethnic framework to address stubborn problems across racial, religious, and social lines.

Reza / December 22, 2015 6:18 PM

You are more likely to be killed, robbed or raped in a white area? Is this a joke? How do you expect to be taken seriously when you write obvious lies like this?

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