“Out! Out! You get out of this house! Right now!”
“Mom, you don’t under-”
“No!” Tears exploded as her voice cracked. “How dare you sit here, at this table, and lecture me on-”
“Mom, I’m not,” my voice was soft as my mother’s hands when I reached for them.
“No!” but she startled away as if I’d shocked her. “You cannot sit here, at your father’s table, and say that to me. I won’t allow it. Not in this house. Not after everything we’ve lost.”
Loss. It was a demon our family knew all too well.
Five years ago, my father, Officer Derrick Strasberg, was gunned down when refueling his car on his way home. Surveillance video showed an old sedan pull into the pump across from him. Acknowledging the man, my dad nodded and said something. Though we could never be certain, I knew he only offered his usual “Heck of an evening, isn’t it?” After all, to my dad, this world was filled only with a ‘heck of’ a morning, afternoon and night.
But that man didn’t share in the wonder of the cool night air. Instead, he had responded by putting a bullet in my dad’s neck.
“I’m not trying to disrespect Dad.”
“Yes, you are! To say that these riots are a good thing? That it’s good the police are targets by these animals?”
“That is not what I said!”
“May as well have.”
“All I’m trying to say is-”
“That you think it’s a good thing your father died.”
“Those monsters shot him, for no reason other than they spotted an Officer in uniform, and left him on that concrete like he was trash…” Mom hyperventilated, and I lost the ability to hold back my own tears. “You’re telling me that was good?”
“I never said-”
“What would your father say if he could hear you now?”
“I don’t know Mom, but I know he’d listen.” I knew it wasn’t fair, but it was the readiest ammunition at my disposal.
Shaking her head, mom only cried harder, and I couldn’t blame her. Dad was a bit of an odd duck; he loved a good debate. Whenever any of us disagreed on a topic, he practically made a gameshow out of it. ‘Two minutes!’ He’d clap his hands together and draw two chairs to face one another. The rules were simple: each person had two minutes to present their side. If there was no surrender or agreement, he’d put it to a family vote. Whichever side had four votes won. Their reward? They got to pick where we went for ice-cream.
The man was nuts. I don’t think any one of us ever changed our mind, but as I got older, I began to understand. Winning an argument? That was never the point.
“What would Dad say if he were here right now, Mom?”
She bit her lip, but if looks could kill? I’d be dead. “Two minutes.”
Two minutes. I had exactly two minutes to speak my mind with no interruption. It didn’t matter what blasphemy a person wanted to spew. It didn’t matter how insulting, how ignorant or how utterly ridiculous. The moment the game was on… we were free to stand atop our chosen soapbox for two. Full. Minutes.
“I’m not saying that it’s good these Officers are being killed, shot, harassed or even spat upon.”
Mom crossed her arms across her chest, even as her chin trembled.
“I’m saying that every day, black people in this country face injustice. If it’s 100 degrees out, they have to choose whether they want to risk wearing a white tank top outside. If they do, people will judge them. If they do, the police may pull them over for no reason. If they do, they have to be careful not to drive two miles per hour over the speed limit because for sure, the combination of white “wife-beater” and “speeding” will see them pulled over. But that Officer? He’s not just going to talk to him. No. He’s going to be pulled from his car, frisked, handcuffed. But they are also at a much higher risk of getting shot, harassed, or their face slammed into the sidewalk.”
I raised my hand to silence her, my index and middle finger raised to reminder her, two minutes. “Just look at the numbers. I’m not making this crap up.”
“Even if they do “dress right”, they have to be careful. They have to be absolute sure they don’t put their hands in their pockets in a store. They’ll have to smile at the security guard that follows them for no reason. They’ll have to be certain not to make eye contact with any middle-aged white, Caucasian. They have to be careful of the volume they listen to their music at in their car. They have to be careful what color clothes they wear, depending on where they are.”
“They have to be careful to avoid going for a walk in the wrong neighborhood, but for them, those neighborhoods are many. If they go into a bad neighborhood in the middle-of-the night, they’re at risk of being robbed or attacked, just like you and I. But if they walk in a safer neighborhood, say a neighborhood where they live, neighbors will suspect them a criminal. Look at Trayvon Martin – shot for no reason. Look at Ahmaud Arbery – shot for no reason. Look at Botham Jean – shot because a stupid Officer got lost and assumed an innocent black man must be guilty of something, simply for residing within his own home.”
“And this is without discussing the systematic disadvantages they face, the discrimination they face, every single day when it comes to healthcare, education, affordable housing, equality in the workplace, likelihood of being hired, incarceration rates, equal opportunities of defense, evidence suppression, jury selection… .the list goes on and on… and on.”
“But if we focus on just the interactions with Officers, that list too never ends. When a white man is pulled over, he is cited and sent on his way. The same interaction for a black man sees his car getting searched, resulting in a delay that could see him late to work. A white man is suspected of a crime, he’s easily cuffed and brought in for questioning. A black man? It’s especially bad if that black man is taller or stronger than the Officer. If so, back-up is called because the big black guy is presumed guilty. He’s taken down, pinned, cuffed. Excessive use of force is all but guaranteed. Look at George Floyd. Look at Freddie Gray. Manuel Ellis. Alton Sterling. Terence Crutcher. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Eric Harris. Tamir Rice…. The list is endless, and circumstances may vary a little, but it was the color of these individuals’ skin; it was the prejudgment and racism and hate that resulted in murder. Yet, because these murderers wear a badge, society thinks they’re free from sin. They ignore the fact that these people too are rapists, pedophiles, drug runners, thieves. But society says no – that can’t be true.”
“Yet, an innocent black man, an innocent black woman? What does society call them? The men are thugs. The women are whores. The children? Little punks that’ll grow up just like their crack-smoking mama or their gang-bangin’ daddy. The fact that these labels, and countless others, are hurled at them on the regular…. It’s unfair. Two minutes doesn’t even begin to give me the time to discuss the injustices black people face every moment of their lives. Because you see, these people? They’re just like you and me. They love. They strive. They achieve. The only difference is that our complacency makes it so that they have to walk through this life in fear.”
“And that? That is why I say… it sucks that the Officers have to live in fear, but maybe…. Maybe that’s the point. That crippling fear that Officers now have to face, that their families are burdened with… it is not okay. I never want to see another Officer murdered in cold blood simply for policing and trying to keep us all safe. But that fear? It is what black people face every day. They live it. They breathe it. Yet somehow, and I have no clue how… they choose to forgive us. To remind us we’re the same. That is a strength I can never know.”
“The public outcry over the injustices police face? Why does that take precedence over the injustices black people face? The outrage over vandalism, over the inconvenience protests create in white society’s daily lives? Why is that worse than what black people face every day? It only matters when white people are inconvenienced. It only matters when white businessmen face the tedium of insurance claims.”
“It only matters when white people encounter a fraction of the fear all black people face.”
“And what of those murderous Police Officers? They only face charges when something goes viral, when the pressure becomes too much to face.”
“That’s all I meant Mom. Murdering an Officer is never okay. I know that. You know that. But… the fear is maybe, in some weird way… the point.”
To her credit, Mom had given me more than two minutes before, “I can’t look at your face.”
Now, as I stand here, facing my parents’ front door and hearing that lock click into place… I can’t help but wonder if Mom and I will be able to get past this. I hope so, but I don’t know so. This isn’t a matter of time healing wounds. This isn’t an issue we’ll one day move past or learn to forget.
Mom is going to have to come to my side. Equality. Humanity… call it what you want. This is a soapbox I will never get down from.
Time can’t fix this. Mom is going to have to understand. The world is going to have to understand. Black people matter. Black lives matter. Black people are the same as us, if not better.
Better because they allow time to heal unhealable wounds.
Better because they see us the same as them even when so many of us don’t.
Better because they never make us validate ourselves and never ask us to prove that we, as white people, matter.
I’d love nothing more than to change the world and drive out the ignorance and hate. But I don’t know how. Until I figure it out, I’m going to work at it, one day at a time, leading by example. And who knows…. Maybe one day?
Maybe mom will take me out for some ice-cream.