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  • Writer's picturedevin lisembee

I get to be white

I am taking a break from my “Into the Grey” series. In my post “Christians, Bara Dada, a swat team and me,” I talk about my first interaction with police at the age of 13. I talk about the officer who assaulted me, but I didn’t focus on the entire swat team with their guns aimed and the spot lights shining down on us. It was terrifying. But I was only assaulted by the officer. I got to come home. I got to survive. Adam Toledo didn’t. I was 18 whenever I got pulled over for “looking lost.” Not speeding. Not with expired tags. Not doing anything illegal. For “looking lost.” The officer broke open the locked compartments in my car to complete an illegal search. I was accused of stealing my own car. Whenever the officer saw my name on the title, he accused me of making a fake ID to match the paperwork. To cap everything off, the officer used his baton on my inner thighs to make sure the frisking process was both painful and humiliating. I was pulled over because, according to the officer, I “look lost, boy.” My rights were violated, but I survived. Daunte Wright didn’t survive his routine traffic stop.

In my mid-20s, I was pulled over on my way home from work. I was wearing a 3-piece suit with a fresh haircut and clean shaven. I was going roughly 15 over the speed limit. I was terrified to the point of feeling nauseated. The officer saw how flushed my face was and asked if I was okay. Whenever I told him that I felt sick, he offered to give me a police escort to a gas station at the next exit.

I didn’t even get a warning. He apologized and left.

When I was in an RA in college, I shared these stories with my boss who was a man of color. “Whenever you want, you can take off your ‘otherness’ and put on ‘whiteness’ and these stories will stop.” I didn’t believe him, but he was right. Since I started looking like an upstanding white person for work, I have not got a single ticket regardless of why I got pulled over. I haven’t been illegally searched or physically assaulted and I’ve gotten out of almost every incident without even a warning.

White privilege is real. Countless times, we hear studies and the personal stories of our brothers and sisters of color. The news and viral cell phone footage continues to show these issues of discrimination and bias.

At church we listened to the story of the Good Samaritan. But how much have we really learned from it? The accountability in trail of Derek Chauvin is a small step, but what about the countless other stories? What about the officers that assaulted me? My friends of color? Strangers that I’ve never met? People whose story doesn’t make it onto the news? The truth is that I’m not sure what to do next. But I know where to begin. We must listen. We must bare witness.

There is something that Christ said many times that feels very fitting. With those of us who have eyes to see, let us see. With those of us who have ears to hear, let us hear. This was more than just a request to listen or watch but it begged for action and response. Truly listening and seeing means that we respond and do something. There are tons of resources online and many advocates with great ideas. Please, take the time to seek them out. To do the work.

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