I, Too: White America, Take A Knee

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Protesting Keith Scott's death. Photo by Jeff Siner, Charlotte Observer/AP

In swift grim succession, two more dead black bodies, two more shady cop stories, two more fiery cities - Tulsa and Charlotte - insisting, against the grisly evidence, that black lives matter. Even as football players incongruously seek to stem the bleeding, the police killings of Terence Crutcher - seeking help on a highway, his blameless hands in the air - and Keith Lamont Scott - sitting in a car, reportedly with a book - proclaim to white Americans the sickness of a nation  outraged when a black man takes a knee to protest songs or flags, but heedless when he takes a bullet.

Both police killings - the senselessness, the obscene video, the wildly disparate narratives of police vs. family and witnesses - feel dismally familiar. Crutcher, a 40-year-old father of four, was leaving a music class at a community college when his SUV stalled out in the road. The first officer there drew her gun and began shouting commands; video shows Crutcher, hands obediently raised, begin moving back to his car as more officers arrive, at which point the first cop inexplicably shoots him dead. As Crutcher lies slumped and bleeding on the asphalt, nobody offers aid.

The police story: The shooter feared for her life, he was reaching inside his car, he had drugs, he was acting weird, he was a "bad dude." His family's lawyer says Crutcher did what he was told, he was unarmed, the window was closed, and their brother/father/son was killed for being a large  black man whose car broke down on the streets of a country where police are "allowed to murder us."

The next day, Keith Scott, 43, was killed for being a black man sitting in his car reading and waiting for his kid's schoolbus in Charlotte when police turned up looking for another black man with an outstanding warrant. Police say Scott got out of the car with a gun, they told him to drop it, and he “posed an imminent deadly threat to the officers, who subsequently fired their weapon striking the subject.” Family and witnesses say the "gun" was a book; officers surrounded him, broke the windows, tasered him and repeatedly shot him; and, said his daughter, “The police (shot) my daddy four times for being black.” Police have refused to release video of the shooting, the sixth in Charlotte in a year; it has sparked violent and ongoing protests, which have been met with police hurling tear gas and flash grenades. A state of emergency has been declared, and at least one protestor has reportedly been critically injured.


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All this, as a Massachusetts high court rules that black men have a right to flee police without being considered guilty of anything other than "the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled." And as Ahmad Khan Rahami, charged with setting off five bombs in New York and shooting at police, was taken alive right before Terence Crutcher, who hadn't done anything and only needed a tow truck, got a firing squad. And as the 49ers' protesting Colin Kaepernick points out America's "racism disguised as patriotism," cites Crutcher's public execution as "what this is about," and insists, "We can be the change."

Not just can, but must. There are constructive things white people can do. For starters, notes John Pavlovitz, don't  chide, without understanding their anger, black protesters: "We don't get to make the rules on when they die and how they mourn - we don't get to police their pain." And honor Kaepernick et al for "trying to keep more people from dying." Pavlovitz blasts those outraged, missing-the-point "patriots" so blinded by privilege, so busy "defending songs and flags (and) cheap, ornamental, nationalistic pageantry" they cannot summon even "some semblance of grief" at the violent deaths of Terence Crutcher and all the rest. Rather, he urges solidarity with America's mourning black community:  "We should be saying with our presence and our pain and our social media voices that we are grieving alongside them; that this is not okay with us, that this is not the America we want either...Our brothers and sisters of color should not be kneeling alone anymore. White America, it's time to take a knee."

Update: Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby, who shot and killed a hands-up Terence Crutcher for no apparent reason, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter. One step forward on a long road.

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Family photo of Keith Scott, his wife, and one of their children

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I, Too
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

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