Open Letter

Photo by Anna Shvets on

I wrote the following in response to a former schoolmate who is a police officer. I’ve decided to post it here instead of sending it to him directly, hoping that it could do some good:

My heart goes out to you right now. I can see from your posts that you are hurting right now. I think it’s safe to say that we all are. As a nation.

Every few years the ill treatment of Black Americans by police officers around the country gets some light, and then Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives and Blue Lives Matter comes up and Black voices are drowned out. It seems to me that police officers on the whole are the scapegoats for a broken system that doesn’t respect Black bodies. It hurts to be the scapegoat.

I don’t believe that all police officers are evil or bad. I believe that many, in fact most, go into law enforcement in order to be helpful in their communities. I believe that was your intention, in fact.

That said, there’s obviously a problem with our system overall when people of certain skin colors have to tell their children to be wary of the police and give them “rules” about how to conduct themselves— putting their licenses in plain view in their car so there’s no question about them reaching for an invisible gun, having to put a stuffed animal on the back window to suggest they have a family so they’re not pulled over for driving a car that they “shouldn’t” be able to own, etc.—in an effort to remain alive in a system that is constructed against them.

I read your post expressing concern about talking to your son about your safety when going to work. I want you to think, please, about all the families in this country who have this fear every day of their lives, not because of their beloved profession, but because of their skin color. Of all the mothers and wives who have to worry that their sons and husbands won’t return home today because of experiences like George Floyd went through. It’s horrifying that his family had to lose him like that, and even more horrifying that there’s a recording of it that has been viewed around the world. Even worse is that if it hadn’t been for the video and ensuing protests, there would have been no justice for an unnecessary death. None.

I have the privilege of friendship with some amazing families, and it absolutely kills me inside to think about how their sons—smart, funny, cute—just like our own—may be killed or mistreated for jogging, for driving home after work, for living their Black American life.

We grew up in a largely white town with only one Black student for a couple of years. The Latinx students and others passed, and the openly Jewish student was regularly ridiculed. With that background, we are not in any position to fully understand the situation for people of color in our country, and we have certain biases we are not aware of.

You are obviously a leader in your community. It is my hope that you can look at your pain as a part of the pain that everyone is feeling right now and has been feeling for most of our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not, and determine how we can have effective change that benefits everyone, not just those who look like us.

It’s not an easy task. I’m engaged in this very hard work because I want my son to understand what his friends have ahead for them so he can be an ally and anti-racist. And, so we can learn how to undermine the systems in place that were created to continue inequality and racism.

We need to do more than say the Derek Chauvins of the world are the outliers and otherwise, there aren’t issues, because that’s unequivocally false. We need to make change that eradicates the school to prison pipeline that is the reality of too many American citizens and stop blaming the victims for their victimhood when we can take a long hard look at history and strive to do better. Seeing how we can create law enforcement that helps everyone, no matter their skin color, to feel safe and protected seems, to me, like a great way to start because it interrupts the pipeline.

I feel for, and understand, your pain, and I wonder if you can turn that pain into empathy for those in your community and the rest of the country who feel it even more acutely and have for their entire lives for generations.