Benefit of the Doubt

Two things. One, I have long promised the third part of a three-part journey of my wife and I moving to New York City. Two, given the events of the past 48 hours, I just cannot bring myself to write that article yet.

There are no words that I can say that are adequate for how I and so many other people feel right now. My feelings are inadequate in comparison to the despair and pain of so many right now. I can only write from my personal experiences and hope to on some level, gain a level of perspective and empathy for the experiences of others. Walk a mile in someone else’s skin Atticus Finch said. But like the long awaited sequel to the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” published earlier this past year, this statement is limiting.

I don’t know what it is like to be a Black American. I cannot even claim to relate to anyone’s pain or experiences. If it were not for my experiences serving in the military, I am the epitome of entitlement in this country absent having the last name of Kennedy, Bush, Rockefeller or Clinton. Those experiences also give me another status. The status of being a veteran. One of the few remaining statuses, jobs, professions still with net-positive approval ratings in the United States of America right now. One of the others in recent polling was that of a police officer, who we often give the benefit of the doubt.

This is not meant to disparage the law enforcement profession, I’m not writing this piece to comment on the specific facts of the case. Countless violence has taken hold of our nation once again. I write now for the third time about violence in this country on this website. Instead of talking about guns I’m going to talk about people.

While I want so much to hide behind the satire that often characterizes Agreeing Loudly, I cannot bring myself to do so. I’ll get to the point directly.

There is something wrong when a country that comprises of the highest GDP on the planet and half of the so-called most elite universities cannot solve issues or improve outcomes that are clear as day.

There is something wrong when statistics show that law enforcement in America are trained eight times more on firearms than they are on deescalation of violence.

There is something wrong when policing outcomes provide racial disparities that fly in the face of basic sense and logic.

As much as I’d like to try and find silver linings, it’s become increasingly difficult the last few days. I’ll get there, but you’ll have to bear with me.

If you read my biography on this website, or elsewhere, I appear as the model student. When I was teenager, however, I was a truant and rebellious. I was an extremely bored kid in middle America who was not being challenged or engaged. I had a blade pulled on me when I was 18 years old by a neighbor for no apparent reason other than I was a young kid (another bias of this country, assuming members of a certain age must be up to no good) hanging out in the neighborhood that I resided in at the time. AL’s own Pat Meacham can verify this story. My neighbor pulled out a blade on me for “his protection.” I was unarmed and completely freaked out. Luckily, the situation resolved itself.

Not long after that, I was driving to vote in my hometown district in the 2004 Presidential Election when a seemingly deranged Vikings fan, perhaps upset of their loss earlier that day, pulled over his car, assaulted me, and took my keys. His alibi was that I was tail-gating him. Perhaps I was. That’s not the point.

The point is that when I think of those two instances where individuals who weighed more than me, were older than me, were in positions of power over me–I wonder if I’d even be alive today if I did not have white skin. Perhaps others would disagree, but I do not think I would be. More to the point, if I had black skin I’d likely be dead.

I was not perfect at this age, but in each of these instances I meant no harm. For the aggressive individual, I was wishing and hoping for them to give me that benefit of the doubt while I was just living my life at the time. It’s the same benefit I hope for if I happened to be driving with a broken taillight.

And that’s the kicker. The benefit of the doubt.

This country as it currently stands, does not give Black Americans the benefit of the doubt. We give law enforcement that benefit. Many even gave vigilante cop school drop-out George Zimmerman that benefit. Some have even gave Cliven Bundy and his band of federal-land holding “patriots” the benefit of the doubt. We rarely give Black Americans the benefit of the doubt though. And this is the ultimate privilege. Getting the benefit of the doubt.

It is a privilege that allows you to live and breathe and work each day, without having to think about the overall statistical unlikelihood that you will be unnecessarily killed. It is a privilege of human safety and comfort that is essential in modern society.

This country is not asking Black Americans to respect and follow the “rule of law” or whatever passes as the rule of law these days. We are asking Black Americans to be perfect, while nearly everyone else gets to have the benefit of the doubt.

Philando Castile did not get the benefit of the doubt. Others have not. Until this fundamental truth is addressed, these tragic events and their tragic aftermath, whether tangentially related or not, will continue in this country.

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