Man at Amadou Diallo protest. Image courtesy of Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
By Guest Contributor Chad Goller-Sojourner
In preparation for my one man show, Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness, I
did a significant amount of research, most of it unpleasant — like the
weeks I spent combing the Internet for stories about unarmed black men
shot down by the police. Talk about depressing. To
be young, black and innocent is to live in a world full of folks who
will always see you differently than you see yourself ─ a world where
folklore, statistics and conjecture deem you dangerous until proven
combed through story after story, I noted a disturbing trend that,
contrary to what you might think, isn’t just happening in big cities,
but everywhere–big cities, small cities, north, south, east and west.
Wherever there are unarmed black men, there are police (and wannabe
police) shooting them. When it comes to unarmed black men, what does it
take to be proven innocent–to have your keys, wallets, cellphones and
candy bars be seen as keys, wallets, cellphones and candy bars, rather
Twenty-two-year-old Amadou Diallo was shot
dead in his Bronx doorway by four plain-clothed police officers who
mistook his wallet for a gun and opened fire, unleashing 41 bullets, 19
of which struck his body. He had just returned from a late meal and was
resting on his stoop–a rest interrupted by four white men in street
clothes, getting out of an unmarked car, bearing guns. Diallo fled to
his apartment, reaching at some point for his wallet, perhaps for a key.
We’ll never know, because all those officers saw was a gun [that wasn't
there]. It was only later, at a trial in which they were all acquitted,
when officers admitted that they had failed to consider the situation
from the point of view of an innocent and unarmed black man minding his
business on his stoop and suddenly confronted by four white men in
street clothes brandishing guns.
course, the killers of black men don’t even need to report seeing
anything resembling a weapon. They can, for instance, claim to have seen
the victim reaching for his waistband.
Portland police were sent to do welfare check on Aaron Campbell,
who had been distraught over his brother’s death. Campbell emerged from
the Northeast Portland apartments with his back toward officers and his
hands behind his head. But the officers wanted more. They wanted his
hands in the air. And so they fired six beanbag rounds at him. (Nothing
gets your hands in the air quicker than being shot in the back.)
Campbell ran for the cover of a parked car, he was shot in the back with
an AR-15 rifle. Later, officers would claim, they saw him reaching
towards his pants for a gun. This despite police brass testimony stating
Campbell did not–DID NOT– pose an immediate threat. The officers’
actions were not only inconsistent with their training, but they also
failed to consider, that 1) Campbell may have been unarmed and 2) he may
have been reaching for a part of the body just struck by beanbag
rounds. The Grand Jury returned a finding of no criminal wrongdoing.
must wonder: When it comes to unarmed black men being shot down by the
police, why do so many of them go reaching for non-existent weapons in
their waistband? If the number one reason given by the police for
shooting unarmed black men is that they are reaching for their
waistbands, what black man in his right mind would be reaching anywhere
near that area in the presence of law enforcement?
there is something missing here. How else do you explain a system where,
mistaking a Snickers for a gun is par for the course? It occurs to me:
Would this reasoning be palatable to the public if the victims’ parents
were white? Not if the victims were white–I think we all know that answer–but if the victim’s parents were white. Like mine.
officer, police department, city or even a nation, be okay with telling
my parents: “We’re sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Goller, but your son, Chad, was
killed by an officer tonight. No ma’am, he wasn’t armed, though it
appears the officer saw him reach towards his waistband. Again, we’re so
society abide delivering that excuse to white celebrities with black
kids? Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw? How about the white gays and
lesbians raising black boys?
I suspect not.
In fact, I suspect in all of these scenarios, nothing would be okay for a really, really long time. This is the ultimate question: Does black life matter more when raised and nurtured by white hands?
the first things I learned about having white parents was that when it
came to dealing with people in authority, they got listened to. In sixth
grade, after still another racially-charged incident, mom threatened to
go to the papers and for the rest of the year things actually got
better. In junior high, the Black Parents Association enlisted Mom’s
help. Suddenly, it got a whole lot harder for the school administration
to write them all off as hysterical, over-reactive black parents.
high school it was clear that, at least in the eyes of the authorities,
having white parents was a powerful thing. With white parents comes
white neighbors, friends, classmates, relatives, privileges and
experiences. With white parents comes witnesses– white
witnesses [able to use their privilege] to vouch for me, go to bat for
me and stand in the gap for me. And should the police have killed me, it
would be they who spoke from my grave for me.
Have you any idea what that’s worth?
The above is an excerpt from the author’s Solo Performance, Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Newly Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness. For info and/or booking inquires please visit www.ridingincarswithblackpeople.com