I’m outside right now. I had to get out of the house…I had to find a sunny spot with the bright blue sky and the sounds of birds. And life.
But I can’t stop watching the videos. It doesn’t matter if I have social media pulled up or not. My head is full of it.
Here’s a look at a scene from my novel, “While Sleeping.” I’ve tried to wrap my head around this shit for a long time.
“One doesn’t have to look very hard to see the racism in a country. And the ones saying that it’s not there, they’re lying. I don’t know if they’re lying to themselves, or lying to me, but either way, the hate keeps on keeping on. I mean, I get harassed by the police sometimes. But I ain’t been killed yet. I reckon maybe my white skin is good for something.” The old man had crooked and missing teeth and appeared to be homeless. He cackled out a laugh and said, “Nope, ain’t been hanged yet.” He was standing in front of a huge group of black people chanting and holding signs which read, “I can’t breathe.” None of them had been asked to contribute comments to the news broadcast.
Jakob was at Jim’s Bar, eyes glued to the tiny television behind the counter, just like everyone else in the place. What they were watching was video footage of Eric Garner being forced to the ground in a chokehold. After the video clip was shown, the newscaster announced that the black man had been declared dead about an hour after being taken to the hospital. Jakob was surrounded by mostly white cops, and he had never felt so conflicted. He stepped away from the bar and went over to an unoccupied table, bringing his pint and shot with him.
He had just managed to get comfortable on the booth seat, when Sagan walked in and headed his way. The cowboy took a look over at the commotion by the bar and asked Jakob, “What’s going on?”
“Black man choked to death in New York. By a cop.”
“Yeah.” Sagan watched the screen for a little while, enough to have seen the raw cellphone footage at least twice. “I know I’m going to sound like a real asshole for asking this, but…”
“Oh shit, Sagan, are you about ready to make one of those, ‘I’m not racist but here’s a thing I’m going to say that shows I’m a racist’ comments?”
“No. At least, I don’t think so.”
Jakob liked Sagan. He didn’t tiptoe around the race thing. Jakob made sure he was always the first person to bring it up in any of his black/white relationships. He had hoped that addressing the elephant in the room would make people more comfortable to talk about it, but usually white people were too scared of saying the wrong thing. Sagan wasn’t like that. Sagan tried to understand people. “Go ahead, man. Say what you gotta say.”
“You saw that video right there, right? That man was talking about being harassed by the cops. He didn’t offer up his arms to be handcuffed. He resisted arrest. There’s this contention between cops and black people. You know, there’s like this stereotype where blacks don’t call the cops, cops are the enemy, that kind of thing. Where does that come from?”
“You mean, besides from cops killing unarmed black men?” Sagan looked Jakob in the eye and nodded.
“Yeah, besides that.”
“Sagan, you gotta pick the worst times for these questions of yours. You’re not going to like what I’m gonna say. I promise you.”
“Just give it to me straight, Jakob.”
Jakob nodded and said, “I guess white people just forgot their history. They’ve forgotten what it’s like tie a noose around a black man’s throat and watch him hang. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to hear a black woman screaming for help, knowing no cop is gonna come running, no matter how loud she is. Knowing they could just show up and get a piece of that screaming ass for themselves. Maybe they forgot because they’re too busy complaining about their Starbucks latte not having enough milk in it. Or maybe they’re too busy bringing stuff back to Walmart without a receipt and walking out with cash. Or maybe they’re too busy asking a man if he’s selling loose cigarettes. Black people remember, Sagan. They remember walking with Ruby Bridges to the all-white school on her first day. They remember refusing to give up their seats with Rosa Parks. They remember sitting at the lunch counter reserved for whites. Drinking out of the water fountain marked ‘Whites Only.’ They remember a man named Martin Luther King Jr. They remember what happened two hundred years ago, and they’ll remember what happened today.”
Sagan was quiet for awhile then asked, “Mind if I have that shot?”
Sagan tipped back the Jack Daniels and looked at Jakob. “I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a black man. But I know we can’t go on like this. You think there’s anything we can do?”
“You mean, can we somehow end racial discrimination by individuals and in the system?” Jakob was shaking his head and considered the question rhetorical. “You one crazy white man.”
“Seriously, Jakob. What do you think it would it take?”
“A lot of fucking training, that’s for damn sure.” Jakob finished off his beer. “If we’re talking serious, then cops would have to live in these neighborhoods. Not just going to ‘protect and serve,’ but going in to talk to people. Going in to help. Mowing grass, taking out trash, beautifying places. Talking to the kids. Talking to the parents. It’s about building relationships. I don’t know, man. I don’t have the answers. But I damn sure know that cops killing black men won’t help.”
Brittany walked over and delivered a Blue Moon to Sagan. “Thanks, Britt. Can you bring me something a little stronger? Some Jack. And make it a double.”
“Did I ever tell you about getting shot?”
“I was off duty and on my way to visit a friend. I hadn’t even left my neighborhood yet, when my tire blew out. I realized my jack was back in my garage, so I locked my car and started walking back home. About five minutes later a cruiser rolls up beside me and the guy flips on his siren just to get my attention. I turn toward him and he rolls down his window. I start walking towards the car and he yells at me to stop where I’m at. I start to tell him I’m a cop and he tells me to shut up. At the same time, he’s throwing the car into park and calling in for backup. I rolled my eyes and started shaking my head, hands on my hips. I tried talking to him again and he cut me off. I had my badge in my back pocket and started reaching for it, when he shouted at me to drop to the ground. And then he shot me.”
Sagan was shaking his head. “He fucking shot you?”
“Yeah. Missed my heart by an inch. The doctors said I was a lucky bastard.”
Sagan took a deep inhalation of breath, then let it out slowly. “I’m starting to think that solving racial tensions between cops and black communities would be easier than catching this god damn serial killer.”