I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d see a man gunned down on television. I never thought I’d see their killer walk free months later to restart their life after a not guilty verdict. This has become so common I can’t imagine what my children will grow up seeing when they are my age.
Tonight I snuggled and hugged my 2 year-old son extra close. We watched his favorite movie instead of reading a bedtime story. The nighttime routine is sacred but in the light of the most recent shootings, I am at a loss for words.
I’ve almost always got something to say. I usually refrain from posting anything political or something can be taken the wrong way. I like my job. I don’t want social media to make providing for my family a challenge. BUT, I can’t believe there are people out there who are not outraged.
Last night as I watched news coverage into the early morning, I thought back to first day my mother let me ride my bike to the Bloomfield town pool with my brother. My mom said, “If a cop stops you, do what ever they say. If not, they’ll shot you dead in the street and go home to their own family. Don’t be a statistic.” If you’ve ever met my mother, you know she says outrageous things that’ll make your head spin. I thought my mother was losing it. Obviously I told me dad what she said. He looked at me and said, “You do whatever a cop tells you to. Whatever trouble you think you are in isn’t worse than being dead.”
I was in the third grade.
How many parents have had a similar conversation with their children? How many families have had to learn the hard way? Were my parents instilling a perverted version of reality? At the tender age of 8 I sure thought so. I still remember Officer Jennings coming into school. He told me police officers were going to keep me safe. If I needed something, they would be there to help me. But the message about police I was getting at home was eerily different than the one I received in school. At home it was duck your head and comply while in school it was the police are there to protect and serve.
As I grew older I realized the message coming from my parents about complying didn’t apply only for police. It applied to every aspect of life. When store clerks followed me through stores and demanded I turn out my pockets, I never told my parents. My parents would have assumed I was doing something suspicious. They’d have told me I was keeping bad company. They would have marched me in the store to apologize and I would have been punished at home. It took a bit of time but I learned only to speak my opinion in a small, trusted environment, never be the loudest voice in the room, and always play it safe.
Throughout high school and college I heard countless times, “Oh that’s Chris Bruff. He’s comes from a good family.” Magically, I’d be granted more opportunities. “You’re well spoken and a deep thinker.” Miraculously, my words no longer fell on deaf ears. Everybody, including myself, understands if you want to advance and do things in life that it is all about who you know and how you represent yourself. I took every advantage I could. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
As an adult I began to talk to my dad about things that happened. Lately I shared with him that people have said to me that I got my job because I am a black male. Apparently, that makes me an attractive candidate. What do you say when you hear that? Thanks. My dad would say in his Jamaican accent, “Just smile and make dem gwan.” So, I smile politely and work harder to earn my keep. I mean, it’s easy to get worked up about any and everything. You’d get nothing accomplished and prove their point about why I was hired.
In my opinion, the problem is greater than police shootings. There is a lot happening that culminates with police shootings. One of my best friends is a police officer and her husband is too. We’ve had long talks and friendly arguments about any and everything there is about race. She has assured me there are good and bad people in the world. Most often we don’t hear enough about the good officers who do the right thing day in and day out. All too often we hear a sensitive story that makes us question the people wearing blue uniforms who put their lives on the line. That isn’t my intention in this post either. I pray and hope that every officer does their job to the utmost degree, I’ve got a lot of livin’ to do.
I have developed a somewhat healthy respect of the police. I pretty much pray they don’t notice me. They usually do since I’m 6’2 and often I’m the only black guy in a room. When I’m not the only black guy in a room, it’s because I’m with more big black guys, like myself, who played sports. And that is when I pray to every god I’ve heard of that no one finds us intimidating. To be frank, I try to keep to the Rule of Three when I go out in public with other black people: One is a token, two is a intimidating, three or more is a gang.
My wife thinks it’s funny when I walk around my non-diverse town and I nod to all the black people I pass. She thinks it’s some kind of secret black person nod like fight club or something. Maybe she’s right. As I think about it, I usually look the person in the eye. If they’ve got the look in their eye like, “You may want to think twice about going the direction,” I need to know these kinds of things. Obviously, I’m being facetious. In all seriousness, seeing another friendly face that made it safely through the neighborhood is a welcoming sight.
Should I be thinking that way? Am I a product of parenting because my parents instilled a “ridiculous” fear in me when I was a child? Probably. Just a few days ago I was enjoying a beautiful day in my garden. With my recently sharpened pruners in hand, headphones in my ears and the volume turned all the way up, I turned when I saw a shadow on the ground and almost had a bowel movement. A squad car pulled up to the edge of my driveway. I put both hands up in the air as the officer opened the door and walked along the sidewalk to my neighbor’s house.
I kicked myself because I remember watching Cornbread getting shot in the back because of a misunderstanding in the movie Cornbread, Earl and Me. I don’t want a police officer showing up to my house, wondering why I am not responding while I am holding sharp tools and reaching down to he ground. No thank you.
Thinking about the future, I don’t even know what to tell my son when he gets older. I’ll have to start with, “You are black. People may judge you differently even though I’ve raised you to respect everyone the same.” I’ll wait up at night for him every time he leaves the house the same way my father and mother did when I lived at home. I’ll hope things will be different so my son can make it there and back again, no matter where there is.
I’ve got no idea what lead to the circumstances of both individuals losing their lives. Maybe we’ll never know. There is something I do know, one of those people who lost their lives could have been me. It could have been my brother, my cousin, my friend, a teammate, or a student of mine.
Long story short, I don’t want my son to grow up thinking it could be him.