Los Angeles – One of my closest friends once admonished me, “You’re a romantic, dude. You think you can save everybody. What you gotta realize is a good percentage of our people are already done. They’re dead and just don’t know it! There’s a war coming and you have to save what energy you have for those who have a chance of surviving it.”
I reflected on that when Los Angeles police stopped me a few days ago for using a cell phone while driving. The exchange was interesting. I informed the officer that I was unaware of the law. He asked where I was from and wanted my identification. He then inquired as to how long I had been there, why I was there and how long I was staying. I told him I was a college professor in LA speaking at a conference. In other words, I wasn’t stealing from a convenience store, trying to take his gun, selling loosies, didn’t have a gun replica in a park or Wal-Mart and wasn’t attempting to injure him. I was just talking on a phone. As we conversed, I glanced to my right for the first time and realized additional officers had approached my vehicle. “Hmm, here we go,” I thought.
It should be obvious by now that encounters with police can go very wrong very fast for black men. My run-in with the LAPD was happening in the midst of a ton of other stuff going on in my own life and around the country. A few weeks earlier, I attended the funeral of one of my students who was murdered in Louisville. He was a high school honors student who, unfortunately, found his way into drug trafficking. Meanwhile, another of my students was arrested on gun charges and possession of heroin with intent to distribute. He’s now playing the zero-sum game of exoneration or serving up to thirty years in prison.
Damn! Where I went wrong with these guys? Despite exposure to liberatory knowledge in my classes and the university in general, both chose lives that resembled what I tried to escape as I foraged through housing projects in Atlanta in my youth over what I strive to currently show them. I was frustrated, disappointed and hurt by both situations. I let my living student know that in no uncertain terms.
Meanwhile, another unarmed black teen was shot down by police – this time in Madison, Wisconsin. Down in Norman, Oklahoma members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were caught on tape chanting that a “nigger” would never join SAE. The University of Oklahoma’s president immediately suspended the chapter and expelled two students who led the chant. Despite this and other condemnations, a top-tier black Oklahoma football recruit decommitted saying he didn’t want to play in such an environment. A sad question for the young brother is, “Where will you go? Unfortunately, there is no safe retreat.”
A little later, the action shifted back to Ferguson, Missouri. A federal investigation concluded that there was indeed a practice of police targeting minorities partially as a revenue-generating engine for the city. In the wake of these revelations, Ferguson’s city manager and police chief resigned. At the close of a protest the night of the chief’s departure two police officers were shot by unknown assailants from the crowd. It was reminiscent of officers killed in their cruiser after the strangulation of Eric Garner a few months ago in New York.
Out West, a black administrator at West Coast Baptist College was photographed happily posing with white students in blackface. Little known WCBC not only has these individuals participating in this weird display, it also openly states that it institutionally frowns on interracial dating. WTF!
Back in LA, I looked to my left, right and rear. I was surrounded by cops. I coolly navigated through my interrogation. After learning that I was “Dr. Jones” and not another random “you know what,” the officer didn’t ticket me. He wrote down my information and almost embarrassingly said, “Do me a favor. Promise you’ll do it, OK? Have a good time in LA. Have a blast!”
As I drove away, I remembered my friend’s warning. He thinks a race war is coming if things don’t get better. What he didn’t realize is the war isn’t “coming” — it’s already here! Where should I expend my energies? Because we’re ALL losing. •
Visit Ricky L. Jones at www.rickyljones.com and follow him on Twitter @DrRickyLJones