Viewing the protests from a lifetime of privilege

Kc Police Protest Sunday 05 31 20 5138

Protesters on the Plaza. // Photo by Jim Nimmo

I feel physically ill tonight. The subject of race has been the topic of a lot of discussions that I have had this last week with so many different people from so many different backgrounds. Old friends, family members, neighbors, and so many others. Let me be clear from the beginning of this comment….I do NOT support the burning and looting that is currently happening in one of my favorite cities. But in our rush to condemn the violence and the looting, perhaps it is important that we pause to consider how and why we got here.

I talk about this from a unique viewpoint. I have lived two extremes in my life. I grew up in Neosho, MO; a small, white farming community, population then of 9,000 people. The one-time Confederate capital of Missouri. I am the son and brother of firemen, members of the brotherhood of first responders. I have lived my adult life in the highly diverse midtown region of Kansas City.

Over 30 of those years have been spent in a mixed household. It has been a journey of many small steps and a steep learning curve.

In 1985, I sat down with one of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s main aides. He was in KC to promote the divestiture movement that UMKC students were promoting to help end apartheid in South Africa. I asked him if we would really be helping by creating economic difficulties in his country? Weren’t we hurting the people we were supposed to be trying to help? I will never forget his answer. He looked at me with eyes that held more pain than I had ever seen in my 19 years. “Yes,” he said, “you will hurt us. But it is necessary.”

I talk to my children and they tell me the same thing. “You have spent your life fighting for equality, Dad and where are we? What do we have to do to make them hear us? We have done it your way our entire life and gotten nowhere.”

My own children are so frustrated that they are willing to burn my country to the ground to be heard. Your divesting your money will hurt us, but you will also be telling us that you hear us.

I have never forgotten that conversation but I realize that I also never really completely understood it until recently.

Over the past three weeks, there have been a lot of high profile racial incidents that seem unbelievable. Regardless of whether rioting is an appropriate response, the underlying causes need to be addressed as a separate issue.

An overhead live shot tonight during the riot gave a clue as to why frustration is so high. On the roof of a building was a hand-painted message: “CAN YOU HEAR US NOW?”

The black community (and many in all communities) are frustrated with the lack of response to these situations.

How do you present your case as a minority American and have it heard by white America? A sports “celebration” in San Francisco following a world series win turns bad and does more property damage than a civil rights protest turned bad in Ferguson. One is “over-exuberant” while the other is a riot. Don’t raise your voice, you look angry. Don’t commit an act of civil disobedience because the response will be dogs & tear gas. Don’t speak softly, you’re whining. Write a well-thought-out newspaper editorial and you are “articulate” and forgotten. Bend a knee on a football field and you are a hero if you are Tim Tebow and a degenerate, un-American if you are Kaepernick. This is the question I hear time and time again from my friends: How do you want us to do this without being offended.

Wish I had an answer for them.

It is frustrating to the black community that a “black on black” crime is seen as a crime but three white men chasing a black man and shooting him while jogging is self-defense. Even being part of the “brotherhood” is not protection if you are black. A black EMT can be shot in her home on a bad police raid (where no one heard the police announce themselves) and the grieving husband is arrested because he tried to defend his family. Dress my brother’s son in a hoody and dress my son in a hoody. My nephew is an All-American Sports type and my son is a thug. If my son is shot for walking while black that hoody will be used as an excuse for the shooting.

The rioting is bad. However, focusing on the riots started by a few instead of focusing on why the many are marching in the street will also do nothing positive.

Try to understand how so many Americans feel when we see the pictures of Trevon Martin, Markeis McGlockton, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others.

We don’t see their faces. We see the faces of our children and grandchildren. They are angry and they are dying.

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