Streams

Commentary: Where is the Outrage?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The police shooting in Queens one week ago this morning has caused outrage in New York’s Black community. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer wonders: where’s the outrage from other New Yorkers?

REPORTER: I don’t usually begin a commentary by stating my race. But in this case, I think it’s necessary. I’m white. White and Jewish, if that matters. The sad reality is that to make any sense at all of last week’s shooting, you have to view it through the lens of race and experience.

As a journalist - and a white person - my first impulse after hearing about this shooting was to look for all the details. What exactly did these cops do? What police procedures did they follow or break? Was it a tragedy or was it a crime? Let’s gather all the facts before passing any judgment.

But that reaction comes from the luxury – the privilege – of emotional distance. I have two sons growing up in the city, including a high school student who takes the subway by himself just about every day. Like any parent, I worry about his safety. But I don’t worry that he’ll get killed by the police.

I don’t worry that he’ll be killed by a RACIST police officer. I don’t worry that he’ll get killed by a well-meaning police officer who makes a tragic mistake. Nor do I worry police will raid our home and arrest him on the pretense of an unpaid 25 dollar ticket as happened to one of Sean bell's friends this week.

Black parents worry about all those things. They have to worry about criminals. And about the cops.

On my weekday call-in show Thursday, James McBride, author of the best-selling memoir The Color of Water, recalled growing up as a half black half Jewish kid in the same neighborhood where this shooting took place.

JAMES MCBRIDE: I grew up in Jamaica, and I remember when I was a kid we were protesting some black kid who got shot by a cop. This has been going on for a long long time... So when this kind of thing pops up, it doesn’t matter what class you are in terms of blackness in New York. It doesn’t matter whether you’re upper class, middle class, lower class. You see it, you relate to it, and black mothers this morning are waking up saying what my white Jewish mother said when she sent us off to school, saying, “Please lord, don’t let him run into the wrong kind of policeman when he’s out there today.”

REPORTER: With my white privilege, it’s easy to say the police are more professional now than when James McBride was a kid, which I believe they are. It’s easy to respect the dangers facing undercover cops who risk their lives in murky situations like at Club Kalua. Two were killed recently. And it’s easy to call Charles Barron reprehensible when he warns - threatens - that blacks aren’t the only ones who can bleed. And I think he is.

But the harder work for a white person is to understand what many of my black peers experience every day. And why their first reaction is not to calmly gather all the facts. It’s not to reassure themselves that Mike Bloomberg is more sensitive to black people than Rudy Giuliani was. It’s to feel the pain in their guts, to feel the rage in their bones. It’s to shout from the rooftops: oh my God, they’ve done it again! And it’s to feel so alone, because the first reaction of white guys like me is to start asking questions rather than shout along.

WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. You can hear his call-in show weekdays at 10am.

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