From Coby Dillard
You probably picked this up from my picture, but I am a black man – or an African American, if you prefer. It’s a distinction I wear with pride, as I am at once usual and different, known and unknown.
What makes me different is that, according to some of my friends, I’m “safe.” I don’t drink or do drugs. I haven’t been to jail, save for a brief stop for a traffic violation. I don’t have multiple kids by multiple women. The stereotypes that society would apply to me don’t fit.
Along with that, I’ve made a conscious decision to stand up for my community when I feel we – yes, we – are wronged in some way, as well as to call attention to wrongs that are largely self-inflicted.
Whether those stereotypes apply to me, I am still subject to them and to unwritten rules. One of those principles, placed in my psyche at an early age, is respect for authority, especially when it comes in the uniform of a police officer. As black men, from our youth we are taught to not question the police or confront them in any way that would cause trouble, or give that perception.
This duality – wanting to see my community do and receive better, while carrying an awareness of the stereotypes and situations that make that goal difficult – isn’t unique to me. Talk to any black man, and you’d get the same sense of inner conflict.
As I watch the events in Ferguson, Mo., surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown, the internal conflict flares anew.
I get the outrage that surrounds police shootings, especially ones where the victim’s guilt or innocence is determined quickly and subjectively. But we have to be honest with ourselves. If initial reports prove true, Brown lacked a basic sense of respect; one that requires a level-headedness and awareness of the unfortunate realities of being black in America.
That’s if, however, the reports are true.
If not, and a young black man was killed needlessly by a police officer, that’s a matter for investigation and prosecution.
What it isn’t, however, is an excuse for anyone to react violently, to vent frustrations on the property of others. That’s a purely emotional response, one that prevents or diminishes the effectiveness of those who seek to right a grievous wrong.
I can only hope that from this tragedy comes change. I pray that we will teach our sons – of any color – the basic tenets of respect, not just for others, but for self. I pray that as we reintroduce respect, it’ll spread to others in our circles, our communities, our cities.
Maybe, at that point, the police won’t need to shoot, and people won’t need to riot.