By Chris Richardson
You’re driving behind an old Honda Civic or Toyota Tercel going five to 10 miles under the speed limit. You’re thinking, “Why in the Sam Hill is this person going so slowly?”
I have a theory for you. Warning: The following statements will be stereotypical but there’s a lesson coming, so bear with me and get back on the road:
The colors of the doors or hood on the car in front of you may be mismatched. The muffler has decided to stop the job it’s supposed to do, or it could be altogether gone.
There might be duct tape residue around one of the windows, along with patches of rust or faded paint. And, most assuredly, one of the tires is a donut.
You finally get a chance to zip around the car and give the driver the obligatory gas face, side eye or whatever your chosen form of ridicule looks like. You turn to the driver: Are they Hispanic?
There’s your stereotype. (Sidenote: I drive a ‘93 Toyota Camry that’s as bad, if not worse, than the car described above. Feel free to ridicule that).
In my experience, I found this to be the case.
I spent half of my life working in the restaurant industry with co-workers of Hispanic heritage and varying degrees of legal status. The reason for the caution, they told me, was a desire to take extra precaution.
Their goal was to fly as low under the radar as possible to avoid detection because a run-in with the police would mean a fast track back to the place they escaped.
Within their community, a “talk” happens. The topic: How to become invisible, and avoid detection and suspicion.
It’s probably similar to the talks we have in the black community.
As absurd as it may sound, we have to teach our children to act like they aren’t legal citizens of this country — like they’re not entitled to the same rights and freedoms as other Americans.
They have to learn invisibility.
Every encounter with police, no matter how mundane or lawful, can lead to a black man’s death in this country.
This America we inhabit has me rethinking what to tell my children.
There’s consensus that community policing plays a big part in quelling police killings and brutality. This makes me want to amend what I tell my boys.
I still want humility to be the guide of their actions.
I want them to understand that their opinion of their own innocence or guilt won’t descalate the situation.
They have to know their emotion, tone of voice, eye contact and body movement must convey compliance at all times.
They have to accept that even the slightest bit of doubt or fear in an officer’s mind can put them in the path of a bullet, nightstick or taser.
But there’s a new strategy I’d like to employ with them, and myself: Engage the officers first in no-stress situations.
What would this look like?
We make the effort to introduce ourselves to the local police when we see them out and about. We nurture relationships with them before situations become emotional.
Such a tactic decreases the likelihood of a negative response from police. Now, they know us. I’m no longer “random scary black man no.4.” I’m Chris. And my son is “little dude from across the street”.
If the police won’t engage the community, we have to make the first move. The burden shouldn’t be on us to build the bridge but, if we don’t do it, it won’t happen.
This won’t work for every officer. Racist officers will do what racist officers do but this is a start. It will most definitely save lives. That’s the goal.
As always, the burden for saving our lives rests in our own hands. The law gives us no recourse for justice once the offense occurs but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
We have to stop the sickness before it starts.
Twitter: @rightersguild, @mercurywaters
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