Will you take a minute to read this column and consider my position, while acknowledging that we each bring our histories to any issue and those issue are complex?
My personal history with protests is fourfold, and one of the four was a riot. I was a doctoral student at The Ohio State University at the time of the Kent State killings in 1970, and I attended a peaceful protest at the Oval. Later, I was caught in the middle of a riot on High Street during that same time where my car was about to be torched as looters matched south and the National Guard marched toward them with bayonets drawn. I beat the rioters to my vehicle, made a U turn, and the Ohio National Guard parted so I could make my escape.
It was then 1995 and I was Chancellor of Rancho Santiago College in Orange County, California, when the O.J. Simpson trial was on, and tempers flared. I arranged for a sit- in-and-speak-out session at the Santa Ana Campus, and that went well. Then, at that same college, we held a demonstration to protest a hike in the cost of college attendance, and thousands of students and employees participated — including me. It was peaceful but not reported that way by the Orange County Register. The L.A. Times, on the other hand, reported it just as I viewed it, a peaceful protest of individuals exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and reminding the citizens of California of its commitment to making college affordable.
I’ve taught Brent Staples essay “Black Men and Public Space,” and I do not concur with his strategy of whistling classic music to allay the fears of those afraid of black men. Let’s face it: many in this country fear black men.
Call the arsonists and the looters we’ve observed in the past few days what you like. I call them criminals. And there are thousands of protesters in those crowds, employing their rights as Americans no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
In last Monday’s video, we saw three law enforcement officers assaulting a black man while a fourth stood guard, assuring that they could carry out a heinous act of murder. We saw them and and we also noted their failure and that of first responders to administer CPR to a man who was not breathing. That is the case, simply put.
The victim was allegedly attempting to use a counterfeit bill. Recently, I paid for a purchase with two 20-dollar bills. The clerk inspected the bills carefully as if they might be counterfeit. If one were, what would have happened to me? I’m white. What if I were black?
On to my major point. I want to know if you have ever endorsed by your actions or inaction a motto we have in many places of work, in our neighborhoods, in our lives? “Go along to get along.”
We have many suggesting solutions to law enforcement offices who engage in criminal behavior: have a more selective, professional group of law enforcer and pay them more; have more diversity training; have law enforcement that reflects the race/ethnicity of the communities they serve; put more units with history of abuses under government oversight; and so forth.
No, the fastest and simplest solution is for all those honorable law enforcement men and women out there (and that is most) to stand up and be counted when injustice rear its head among their ranks, to refuse to “go along to get along.” When the bad cops are sexually harassing/assaulting women, stealing drugs from the evidence room, taking graft, abusing prisoners, or murdering men and women, those good men and women need to take action, refusing “go along to get along.”
Perhaps with leadership from these men and women whom we need so much, then you and I will bring those values to our work sites, neighborhoods, and families.