Like many privileged white Americans, I started looking at police violence against people of color only very recently, probably during the summer of Ferguson. And then came the Baltimore uprising in response to the death of Freddie Gray. Once I saw it I couldn’t unsee it.
While I have never liked football, and it was easy for me to see beyond the hype, I had been raised to believe that police were good and fair and there to protect me. And to protect everyone, I thought. It has been more difficult for me to overcome that mindset and see beyond it.
The story of a football player dying because of heatstroke caused by a conditioning drill is the story of a system that failed to protect its most vulnerable. The story of a man viciously beaten by a police officer while his partner failed to intervene is the same. The abuse is not in the hands of one person, but rather is perpetuated by the system as a whole.
In the case of Baltimore, the locations where people live and how they are treated by police are deeply rooted in the Redlining of the 1930’s. The end result is what is called locally, the White L and the Black Butterfly. And redlining was steeped in racism, pure and simple.
What happened to Freddie Gray was not an anomaly. It was the way the system works. It doesn’t take much effort to find other examples of systemic abuse. The criminal activity of officers in the Gun Trace Task Force. The murder of Detective Suiter and the subsequent shutting down of a black neighborhood in the name of an investigation.
Another shared thread between the two stories is the movement amongst football players to take a knee against police violence. They are asking us to look at the systematic brutality which targets people of color and they are using their status as football players to highlight their message. Not surprisingly, the “system” of football is uncomfortable, if not downright hostile, to their actions.
Can we be brave enough to look at broken systems and call them out for what they are? What if we see what they are and we still just don’t want to let go? That’s probably a sign that we aren’t the ones who are suffering.