Substitute “lives matter” with ‘Don’t get mad, get home safely!’ (A modest proposal)

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PROLOG: It’s 11 PM and from our living room we could hear the cranking sound of the garage door opening. Seconds later we heard his Mazda pull in. And a minute later he walked into the room, smile on face, and greeted us: “Hi mom, hi dad, I’m home!” From the perspective of African American parents of a young black male, there’re no sweeter sounds than those six words…. “Hi mom, hi dad, I’m home!”…., particularly given the current dangerous state of race relations in the USA.

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Hey America, unless you dwell somewhere in la la land, you’ve noticed that we’ve got a severe crisis on our hands — and it swings both ways. At the core of the brouhaha is “black lives matter” – the expression itself, the movement behind the expression, and the “all lives matter” national pushback. Throw in “police lives matter,” and things have gotten even messier. So let’s face it folks, the issue here is a matter of life or death, literally. Our collective silence is no longer an option.

You see, as of this writing the awful fact is that a number of cops have been slain recently. This comes fresh on the heels of the slaying of a Deputy who was ambushed and shot 15 times while pumping gas in his patrol car in suburban Houston. And on top of that, two Mississippi officers who were gunned down while on patrol in Hattiesburg in May and one last week in Illinois.

But not to be forgotten is the fact that over a much longer period of time – and in greater numbers – African Americans (men in particular) have been gunned down by the police in New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and other places – and, chillingly, those are only the ones we know about.

Okay Terry, tell me something new, you’re thinking, as you’re getting the kids off to school, fixing dinner or otherwise busy chasing the American dream. What should we do, you ask? Well, I’ll admit that it’s easy for me to type words into my desktop as I’m doing right now. And offering solutions that everyone will agree to is an exercise in futility. At any rate let me give it my best shot.

Let’s begin with the two words, “lives matter,” that’s riled up such strong emotions “Black lives matter!” “All lives matter!” “Police lives matter!” (Pick  your preference).

Now other than offering convenient fodder for vote hungry politicians and media commentators driven by high ratings, I’m not convinced that this battle over whose “lives matter” semantics will serve any of us well. If anything, it drives the wedge even deeper.

My solution? Replace the “lives matter” language with “Don’t get mad, get home safely!” I’ll repeat that for additional emphasis, “Don’t get mad, get home safely!”

You see, I honestly feel that if those involved – those doing the stopping and those being stopped – would go in with this principle in mind, less volatile outcomes are greatly enhanced given, as we know, how complicated those circumstances can be. Hey, I know from firsthand experience how complicated those stops can be having been pulled over by the police several times – for speeding, which I was guilty of and for “driving too slow” (doing 63 MPH with a 65 MPH speed limit. Go figure.).

Okay, say that you’re involved in a traffic stop and that you are either the person stopped (in this case an African American) or the person doing the stopping (an officer of the law). So what do you do?

First, assume the best on the part of the other person and assume that the forthcoming interaction will not have a bad outcome for either of you. Try to understand what the person on the other side may have experienced and been fed by the media, AKA “the court of public opinion.”

Understand the power of the few bad apples and how they can have the effect of broad brushing and fostering negative stereotypes on the black person or the officer. Know, for example, that not all young black males are thugs and not all police officers are racist rogues.

Second, develop empathy for what it’s like being a cop and the dangers they face. Hey, how about a show of hands from those of you out there who would really want to be a cop these days.

Waiting….waiting…waiting!

And similarly, try to understand what it’s like being black, a young black male in particular, and the dangers they may face in public that’s different from the experiences of other groups. Recall those instances where you observed a group of four or five young black males walking down the street, across a parking lot, or in a mall and the likely thoughts and imaginations that often race through the minds of others. Empathy swings both ways here.

Third, if you’ve been stopped, you have every right to know why. But here the difference maker can be how you ask the question on one hand, and how the question is responded to on the other.  Those first few make or break moments can determine the outcome of the interaction.

The challenge for both parties is to watch body language (voice tone, facial expressions, body movements) and other behaviors that may ignite fear or anger. Heated arguments and shouting will only inflame the situation so you must be willing to put your pride aside..until you get home.

Fourth, for both parties, always show respect and courtesy even if you’re burning with rage on the inside. Hey, if you show genuine respect, there’s a strong probability that you’ll be respected in turn. The goal should be to allow each of you to emerge from the interaction with your dignities intact.

So, do black lives matter? Of course they do! Do all lives matter? Yes! Do police lives matter? Absolutely!

But what matters most is getting home safely – blue uniform, Mazda, police hat, baseball cap, baggy pants and all – to those who matter the most…our families!

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EPILOG: It’s 11 PM. You hear his Ford F-150 pull into the driveway. Two minutes later he walks into the kitchen, places his blue hat, pistol and badge on the counter, smiles and utters “Hi honey, I’m home.” From the perspective of a spouse, parent, son or daughter of a law enforcement officer, there’s nothing sweeter than the sound of those four words. I repeat…”Hi honey, I’m home.”

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Questions for a thoughtful analysis:

  1. In addition to what’s presented above, what other advice would you offer those being stopped, say a person of color, and a person doing the stopping, a law enforcement officer, such that the outcome will not be negative?
  2. If passing this article along to someone you know, some near and dear to you, a person of color or a law enforcement officer, an action on your part that could be lifesaving, why not share it?

© Terry Howard is an award winning writer, story teller and trainer with Diversity Wealth, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle and member of the Cross Cultural Academy. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com or at (470) 558-7310.

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