I’ve never been pulled over by the cops when I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’ve never been asked for identification for no apparent reason. I’ve never been stopped and frisked. I’ve never been asked to empty my pockets. I’ve never been followed by the police so they could “run my plates.” And certainly I’ve never been shot 6 times. I’ve never had to worry about the police at any point during my 36 years of life. And there’s only one reason for that. The color of my skin. I’m white.
Before I continue, let me address some of my fellow white people, who are already saying I’m wrong. Sure, there have been times in this country when a white person has been abused by the power vested in the job of a police officer. Times that cops didn’t do what they were supposed to do. We agree that it has happened before, and it might have even happened to you. But the relationship we have with the cops, in general, is one where the police officers are our “friends.” They are protecting and serving our communities. We do not fear them because they do not fear us.
I would also like to address any police officer or family member of a police officer who is reading this and already shaking their head. An overwhelming number of police officers do their jobs without any incident or complaint. The difficulty of the job of men and women in uniform is often understated. There is no doubt in my mind that the job is tough. However, my personal reflection is not about all officers, but about a few that have a dramatic effect on the rest of their departments and the rest of our nation.
In Ferguson, MO, where an unarmed, black teenager was gunned down by a white officer just 11 days ago, sadly it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in the United States. The people on the ground in Ferguson who have protested since his death are deeply inspiring, as they have been fighting selflessly not just for their own community, but for the future of our entire nation. According to a report released by USA Today, every week from 2005 to 2012, white police officers have killed two black people. And that number, according to the article, could be under-reported. According to a study done by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a black person is killed every 36 hours by a police officer, a security guard or a self-appointed law enforcer.
So when I think how I relate to the death of Mike Brown, I don’t. In fact I don’t relate at all. Because the circumstances he found himself in on the day he was killed don’t happen to people like me. I will never understand what it is like to walk down the street and fear when a police car passes me by. I will never understand what it is like to have a police officer pull up behind me at a red light, fearful of what they might do to me if they pull me over (and I am not talking about giving me a ticket because I made an illegal turn). I will never understand what it is like to have guns pointed at me while I exercise my first amendment right and peacefully protest against my government.
These are the privileges that are pre-packaged with the color of my skin that come with an inheritance of benefits the moment I was born. The moment I entered this world. And now they have been passed on to my son. Even though his mother is Latina, the Skolnik genes were quite strong, and he has my skin color and my auburn hair…so the world will perceive him as white, and he will receive the same privileges I have been given.
However, acknowledging our white privilege is no longer good enough. It is simply the first step to realizing that the death of Mike Brown is not an isolated incident, nor are the protests that have ensued since. The question we have to answer, as white people, is how much are we going to challenge each other to no longer abuse our privilege? The fact that our lives matter more in this country than those who have a darker skin color is a fact that will hold our progress back, until it is remedied. This must be our fight. Not just equality, but equity. Not just fairness, but justice. Not just peace, but safety.
So, as solutions to the policing problem in this country are offered by members of the Ferguson community and black communities around the country, we must listen. We must listen and do everything we can to spread these ideas to help force a change in policy, as if we are to be true allies, we will follow the lead of those who have suffered these injustices for years and understand what is like to be Mike Brown.
Michael Skolnik is the E