I'm a Black Man, Kansas Citian, former Kansas City Detective, father to 16 year old boy, and a human being familiar with fear and trauma...
Reading this won’t likely feel good to most of you, but my experiences as noted in the previous line make me feel compelled to comment.
If there is offense to my words, know that’s not my intention and stick it out with me to see if you feel different after hearing me out.
If there is agreement, do so with an open hand. My perspective is only one of many - and even one that largely doesn’t matter except to those I live and work with day to day.
I will be candidly processing . I don’t claim to be an expert or authority on any one of the things I discuss… but nonetheless, here we go.
What we’re currently experiencing is all a familiar cycle:
Tragic happening involving a black male, a white male (or often figuratively - the police/system of white hate and supremacy), and a gun….
Public outcry by viscerally impacted onlookers
Days and weeks of public activism through protests and social media… until it fades (or gets overshadowed by the next “outcry-worthy” story…)
Silence or back to life as usual….
In the last decade, situations like these seems to be one of few things in the cultural climate of the US that spark such a whirlwind of activity and commentary that it is virtually impossible to ignore or to not have feelings or opinions about.
And that all makes sense.
We’ve spent literal centuries with an overarching narrative as the backdrop for most of the other stories we tell ourselves in this nation. The Black and White story, I’ll call it…
So, again, it makes sense that when the combination of these three elements (generally speaking, a black person, a white person, and a gun) come into play in, it strikes a nerve leaving some in pain, others feeling numb, and still others confused about what just happened and what to do about it.
I’ve spent many years of my life in what could be known as “white spaces” (including the police department, conservative Christian churches, entrepreneur ecosystems, and schools) and I’ve felt and heard some of the typical sentiments expressed by all parties involved.
The one thing I’ve realized is that, while these “typical” sentiments seem to fall on one end of the spectrum or another, they are often held by a vocal minority, leaving the quieted majority with the feeling of having to choose “between sides”.
And by “between sides” I’m mostly referring to the perspectives on either end of the above referenced spectrum.
It would be easy in the shooting incident of 16 year old Ralph Yarl to want to “take a side”, if in fact there were clear sides to take.
And buckle up, cuz this is where it may sting a bit…
I would imagine most vocal people are taking “the side” of the young, innocent, aspirational, high-achieving, black male who became the unsuspecting victim of a gun-wielding white man… following a mistake as simple as getting an address wrong.
As a black man, I see that. When I was younger, I wasn’t sure if I would live past 16. Seriously. The narrative back then was that young black men were killing each other at such high rate, it was logical to expect to become a shooting victim.
Was that true?
Not totally, but it seemed like it was. There were many people from my neighborhood or ones like it who did become victims of gun violence. But while it was the normal “story”, it wasn’t necessarily the full reality. I knew way more people who didn’t get shot, even though they were afraid that they might be.
As a Kansas Citian, I’ve lived in some of the so-called “worst neighborhoods” (lower economic conditions - highest violent crime rates). This was true even while I was a police officer in this city. My colleagues then thought I was crazy.
I’ve also frequented and now live in a neighborhood similar to the one where this current shooting incident occurred - somewhat well-established mostly white neighborhood, now populated with black families looking for better neighborhoods and schools.
In both settings, I’ve witnessed the felt fear that people have in their own neighborhoods come out in all sorts of disproportionate and seemingly unreasonable ways.
As a father of a 16 year old boy, when I moved into the mostly-white neighborhood I live in now, I had some of the same considerations about my son being mistaken for someone threatening or “up to no good” by my neighbors. I didn’t have that to consider when I lived in the “hood”, but after hearing some of the stances my neighbors took on potential crime, I was concerned. That’s a story for another time, though.
As a former police detective, I worked many cases where someone was “under investigation” and we “knew” that they had done certain things, but didn’t have enough empirical evidence to make it an “easy win” for the prosecutor. So we’d release them after a 24-hour hold to put together a better case for full indictment.
To be fair, it was our aim to make sure violent offenders could not just go right back out on the streets. Most of the time, that was not difficult to articulate in a case file. If someone was deemed likely to commit more violent acts or flee in some way, they were charged with whatever we could make stick and then work on a bigger case long term. It’s a delicate dance. Again, another story for another time.
One of the things I’m most aware of here and now is that, in the wake of yet another run of this familiar cycle, people are reacting in ways that, in my opinion, are largely unhelpful (specifically to the affected families) and are propagations of two distinct but related perspectives…
The outrage of white people who appear to be virtue signaling, telling others how they should feel, what this means for black people, or what should be done.
The outrage of black people who appear to be perpetually victimized and traumatized by acts of violence against blacks by any non-black person and telling others how they should see this and what the “powers that be” should be doing.
I don’t want to take anything from anybody’s real felt experience when hearing of or witnessing these tragic interactions.
What I do hope for is that people will slow down, take a step back, own their felt experience, and also give themselves (and others) space and grace to gain a broader perspective.
There’s almost always more involved than you can gather from news and media reports. Take what you hear and see from these stories with a bit of true skepticism, with the understanding that something occurred but that you, sitting where you are, can’t likely see the full situation very clearly. The people who were front and center to the incident itself probably don’t see it completely clearly.
That’s part of being human - having just a slice of the full possible perspective and depending on others' vantage points to get a clearer view.
There are a host of us onlookers who are operating at various places along the spectrum of all the possible ways to see this and react.
It isn’t so black and white. No pun intended.
Being human is much more gradient than static or definite in its expression. Giving ourselves and others more room to feel out this experience, see it more and more clearly, and leaning into collective solutions rather than vilification and condemnation of the “other” is the kindest things that can be done in these type of scenarios…
Again, in my opinion.
My hope is that this is read with an open heart and mind and with the consideration for a more hopeful and helpful engagement with each other.
To all those who are angry, I hear you. To all those who are scared, I feel you. To all those who are determined, I’m with you.
Remember who you really are and what that means for what you say and do in response to these things.
Peace and blessings - most especially to Ralph Yarl and family, his community, AND to the person who lives in either so much fear or hate (or both) that he took such action as to attempt to mortally wound a young, innocent boy who was only minding his family business and made a misjudgment of location.
However this story turns out, we all are faced again with some challenging choices.
Where will we land on the spectrum of how we see ourselves and each other?
How will we move forward to build a world that enables us to dialogue about these incidents without “should-ing” ourselves into a “condem-nation”.
Justice is not as precise as we might think… but working together, in my opinion, will get us closer and closer to whatever it really is.