“According to the Associated Press, there is no indictment for the New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner,” announced the bleach blonde anchor. I was sitting in the “Live with Kelly and Michael” green room. We had just finished recording a show for my internship with WABC-TV’s “Here and Now with Sandra Bookman.” It’s bad to say this, but I was not surprised by the announcement—sad, frustrated, and numb—but not surprised. Just the week before, Officer Darren Wilson found the same fortuitous fate in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
My co-intern stared blankly at the beach blonde anchor and tears started to form in her eyes. She is an African American who has grown up in New York and after a few minutes, she started crying. I never know how to console a crying person so I did the next best thing I could think of: I closed the door to the green room. As soon as it shut she said, “Is this what we’re raising our black men to look forward to? Is this what they have to fear?” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell her I’ve had the same thought multiple times even before the Wilson and Garner case.
Just that afternoon, we had an attorney, a former police officer, and a former Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom for the United States on the show to share their reactions on the Darren Wilson case. “Here and Now” is a show that focuses on issues and concerns of the African American community in the New York, tri-state area. The producer found it her obligation to have the black community respond to the Wilson decision and speak about what could happen in the Garner case. Right after we finished recording, as if on cue, the bleach blonde anchor came on the television reporting there was no indictment for Officer Daniel Pantaleo. The producer quickly called the attorney and the former officer back to see if they could return to the studio for another interview now that we had learned of this new development and the attorney was able to return.
The words of the former Ambassador, Suzan Cook, from earlier that day rang in my head: “We’re raising our black men to have fear instead of faith” in the people who are supposed to protect them. I have two younger brothers, one is seven and the other is twelve. I know I’m going to have to have a conversation with them about how to respond when they get pulled over by a police officer or interact with law enforcement, but I don’t know how I’m going to approach it. Of course everyone should have respect for these uniform men and women, but the situation becomes much different for the African American community that has had a long history of racism with law enforcement. So how do I tell my younger brothers they have to be polite and courteous without raising their voices?
One of my African American male friends told me once that his mom told him to be extra polite when ever he came was confronted by law enforcement. He didn’t understand why his mom stressed this so much with him, but with these recent events, he now understands. This is not to say that all law enforcement is untrustworthy or racist, but it is an idea that will permanently be in the back of every black person’s mind.
The night of the announcement, my co-intern, the associate producer, and I watched from the top floor of WABC-TV as a large group of protestors with signs and a megaphone walked through traffic in response to the Garner case. They stopped traffic. Rumor has it the demonstrators had been walking on the sidewalk in protest until the police told them to get off the sidewalk, so they decided to walk in the street. I wasn’t able to confirm that interaction, however. Nonetheless, a smile spread across my face as I watched these dedicated, angered people declare injustice. My smile widened as I saw the crowd was not just one race or ethnicity but rather a mix. It gave me hope that it’s not only black people who see the social and civic flaw in the justice system.
So while I will have to sit my little brothers down one day and tell them the tale of the injustice black people have faced in this country since its creation, for now I will talk to them about the cases that happen and let them judge for themselves. For now, I’ll teach them manners and peace. For now, I’ll teach them to have faith in life even when things seem unfair. It’s all I know for now.
Montclair State | New Jersey