An Open Letter to those I love and that love me. We have lived together, but in society we stand apart. This hurts, and now I’ll tell you why.
This has been a difficult article to write, full of several cast off drafts and rewrites. I am asking for help from everyone I know out of necessity while simultaneously penning something that is written pointedly to them.
I have been using Facebook, and modern social media in broad extension, for about eleven years now. I came online because I knew that eventually I would begin writing more diligently, and I wanted my community to see and assist with that in whatever form I got into. Part of what immediately preceded this was my world building a unique setting, some of which can be seen on here. I started looking at this world more broadly to understand all the various peoples, backgrounds, and mindsets in it.
Facebook served well in this vein as it allowed me to see what my friends were up to. And at first, it was just friendships I’d maintained through the years. But after awhile, every new event and social circle I got into saw a slew of new additions to my list of acquaintances. And I started to noticed that not all viewpoints espoused aligned neatly with my own. But rather than cast them aside I left them. I figured it was a good, passive way to continue learning.
There was a prevailing trend that was troubling to me. An issue would arise and become a national conversation. I would listen to as many facets as I could. This often resulted in hours or days steeped in the matter. After that I would figure out where I stood and what path would serve everyone best. I may not be as well off as I could be were I selfish, but it would be a step in the right direction. But then I’d crack open social media and check in on folks. And there was no grey area. Those that agreed with me did so vociferously. Those that I had come accustomed to not seeing eye to eye with would espouse goals that didn’t just do me no good, but would actively hamper my ongoing existence. It may not matter when we are farther flung, living in different cities and states entirely. But it did leave me feeling as though I couldn’t turn to them for support in these issues. Overall however, the individual issues weren’t deal breaking.
But that was a decade ago.
Each individual issue cast another coin onto the scales. And now the balance is such that the thumb of my choice to bear it no longer does any good. Even four years ago I held some hope that humanity, or at least American society since that is all I know, could be better even if I wasn’t going to live to see it. But now despair is my partner and I don’t think things can be better. Nothing I do will make change broadly. No one with the clout or means goes to bat for my interests. And now, even the people in my life who are like family are arrayed against me.
I am never one to gather under a banner or flag of any kind. It is too easy for them to change hands and be used for wildly different purposes. It is too easy to lull the dedicated astray if all they are focused on is the symbol. And it is too easy for them to be forged by those that would undermine the spirit all together. I have never cited Black Lives Matter as a slogan. To me, it’s a given. And it is just as easy for people who want positive change to rally under it as it is for those that hate black people or aim to seek revenge rather than justice to discredit the whole movement by making flyers using the slogan, iconography, and imagery. Of staging rioting and looting like I would stage a counter-protest.
As such, I cite what changes I want to see. What action I want. That is easier to quantify, to extrapolate results from, and harder to corrupt. An idea can be debated and ‘Right Action’ be found with many working together.
So what do I want?
I want to feel safe, and I want to prosper.
There is a lot more. But those goals are far out of reach. Aiming for them now would be foolish. So I ask for the attainable. And in these things I so often see my loved ones object to any measure that would help me gain even these basic footholds.
I want to feel safe
I would phrase this as “I want to be safe”, but the people that I am writing this to would likely (as they have in the past) bring up the fact that I am not dead plus a host of statistical data showing that I am indeed safe. Thus I will acquiesce to being safe for the sake of this. However, this does not change how I feel.
I have eluded and detailed many times before that the police have stopped me for no reason known or revealed to me. In my perception I was merely walking along from Point A to Point B. The only thing I had done was be visible, and I was stopped. The bar for me has not been wrongdoing. The above image, widely shared, is in my life wholly false.
There is something worth mentioning. The actor K. Trevor Wilson, who portrays the character Squirrely Dan pictured above on the show Letterkenny, admonishes the sentiment of this image. He himself has voiced his support of the ongoing civil rights protests and believes his character would as well.
Anyhow… I want to tell a bit of a story, and this may be as good a time as any.
I grew up with the same culturing as any American child. Trusting the system, government, law enforcement, and the world in general. I always felt something was off, but I was able to relegate that to a personal feeling. Nothing in life challenged that, so I consider those my childhood years. I left home when I was eighteen, and found my way to my own place before my next birthday. It was in this place that I had begun experiencing being stopped by the police. About a year later I moved away. But a friend was returning to the area, so I put in a good word so she’d have a place to move into.
Her life wound up being much like mine. The job she landed wound up being in the same strip mall mine had been in. She walked to and from this job twice daily, five days a week, barring rides granted by others. And in all the time she lived there she never had any encounters with the police. There are exceptions to every rule however. And in this case I quote her.
“I had absolutely zero interactions unless I was with you. Remember the time they pulled us over and asked if I was okay?”
I was away for about a year, during which time I tried to bat above my head, made bad decisions, and upset some people. I wound up moving back to the area, and back in with my friend, in an attempt to find my footing again. I still walked to work, as it was only a mile away, and still got stopped. I would walk around because I enjoyed it and would be buzzed and very visibly watched. Sometimes my friend was with me when this occurred. I’d point it out as normal for me, but it was strange to her. The whole time she’d lived there she’d not seen police cars save in passing. Now it was even odds with me. We didn’t get stopped so it didn’t stick out to me.
This time was a little different as I had been gifted one hooptie of a car. Named it Auron (for all you Final Fantasy fans out there) because it was a two door model, and the drivers’ side door was smashed in so I could never use it. Plus it was old and a had a manual transmission, so it was fitting all around.
I was pulled over somewhat memorably while driving because it happened twice back to back, and for the reason of the smashed in door. The first cop saw the door, snapped a U-Turn from the far lane to come in behind me on the clear opposite side. It wasn’t out of concern. You know… perhaps I had JUST been in a wreck. I didn’t receive any sort of citation, some order to repair the door or to bring it up to street-legal parameters. Plates were up to date, all warning lights in good order. No… just… ‘Your door is smashed in. That’s… odd.’ Then I had to sit there while my information was run. Got my identification back, sent on my way, then crested a hill. A second cop car pulled the same maneuver and stopped me. The process began again, but I was tired. I was one-two minutes away from my home depending upon if I caught a green light. Two corners. I shoved the ticket I had just received in the new officers face, and the first officer had now crested the hill and come out to see what was going on and was surprised to see me again. They let me on my way, and I think I was polite about it. I may not have been. It is hard to say.
So I was accustomed to my car getting police attention. At one point, my friend and I set out to an impromptu grocery store run about two-ish in the morning. On the way back a cop car fell in behind me.
By now, police made me nervous. I had been stopped at this point six or seven times with no discernible cause. Or at the very least, not for any reason that I knew enough about to actually fix. My reaction was now “Are they here looking for me? The f*** do they want now?!”
All this police attention was embarrassing. Since I had believed that police only intervened when you did something illegal, being stopped by the police said to me you had done something wrong. And, perhaps worse, you got caught doing so. This was compounded by the fact that I lived and worked in the same area, and until recently had always been on foot. When your coworkers tell you boss you’re going to be late because you’d been seen being held up by the police again, or have customers ask you what had happened to warrant such attention through the next few days shifts, it’s a focus that is unwanted.
Being with my friend, I was really embarrassed. And angry. And scared. And on the verge of tears if I am being honest. ‘Why do the police keep messing with me?! I’m not doing anything wrong!”
This time I was informed I had a brake light out which was a new development. At least it wasn’t major. The way I remember it while I fished for my insurance, the officer fished for information about me, remarking on the oddity of my vehicle. I had mentioned I heard that before. But at some point in this exchange, the officer specifically asked after my friends’ well-being. Now I don’t remember this bit precisely. But she remembers due to the absurdity. We didn’t get stopped because I was driving too fast or slow. Not because I was driving erratically or anything. It was just a faulty tail light. So questioning her safety came from left field for us both.
Upon her reminding me of this, I do remember feeling insulted. Good thing I got over it, because this has occurred more than once since this incident.
I personally do not live in an America in which wrongdoing leads to police intervention. The sad truth is that for every instance I can remember, there are likely two to five others that were ‘not bad enough to worry about keeping in mind’. People will avoid “bad neighborhoods” because they don’t want to risk being held up at gunpoint and robbed. I avoid “nice neighborhoods” because I don’t want the police to be weaponized against me.
Let’s play with the math. On average I walked twice a day at twenty minutes apiece. I did that five days a week, and let’s let that clean fit into a four week month.
That’s eight hundred minutes a month I would have spent walking to and from work.
On average, I got stopped once a month. Let’s say the whole process took half an hour. That comes to about 3-4% of my time walking each month taken up with police interactions that I did not to precipitate in any way except being in public.
That’s not a lot. But it is noticeable. And was constant enough to average to a monthly occurrence. The possibility that I would have had to deal with the police came with the same regularity of paying my phone bill or car insurance.
I ask… What’s the tipping point for you? How often would your eighteen year old child, living alone, need to be stopped by the police for no reason before you took action?
Why didn’t my family do anything? Because at this time I was estranged from them by choice. Why did I not asked my friends? I was estranged from them by circumstance. Why didn’t I get a lawyer? I could not afford one. Plus I was still of the opinion that there must be some reason for what was going on. Also, in terms of background experience, I was alone. I could go weeks without seeing another black person or what I term an “obvious minority”. If there was an… elder of some kind I could pull aside and ask about this I would have. But I didn’t want to rock the boat so I just went about my life.
These instances make up my narrative when it comes to the police. I have been chided for not continuing to look at these individually. But life is about how experiences chain together. Narratives help our brains’ structure. And in my life cops stopped me for no reason for years, and even when there was a legitimate cause they did not lose the opportunity to make me feel unwelcome and alien.
The Greater Good
This is my truth. When I ask others about experiences similar to mine and we echo, we come together to say that what we have experienced is not right. I listen for this thread, align myself with those I find it with, and we protest. I want to be able to walk down the street without being harassed. And if I am, I want to have an accessible path to legal recourse. I’m an American civilian, and I don’t want to be afraid of being in public.
I don’t think a law will change a bad heart, but it can constrain and hold to task an iron fist. And over time, when the world doesn’t devolve into absolute anarchy maybe those hearts will soften.
I have had people say “Well you aren’t dead, so obviously you are doing something right.” This is in comparison to all the black people that have died in police hands. That is a horrific response. But also telling. A person being killed in cold blood is not enough to make many I can see call for change. It happens repeatedly. With the average regularity of, say… paying a phone bill or car insurance.
Thus I echo my question… What’s the tipping point for you? How often would your child, walking alone, need to be stopped by the police for no reason save for ‘matching a description’, and be killed never to return home, before you took action? Are deaths the only chips on the pile worth counting?
I agree with the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The last fifty years since the previous Civil Rights Movement have seen black communities attempt many forms of preventative care. Taking just my life in example, both my parents are college educated. My education was of import, and I was in private and college preparatory education until I was in high school. I was steeped in Christianity daily. And while I adhere to no sect rather stalwartly, the good of the lessons learned stay with me. I favorably recall a number of black owned business that my mother availed herself of and that I myself gave my patronage to happily. Many of these things were not possible when my parents were first born. None of them would have even been conceivable for my grandparent especially in their formative years.
Every advantage that I was given by my parents I consider a protest. It is a middle finger to the limitations our ancestors were put under. My literacy ranges across a spectrum to include technology. I can only imagine the awe one of my progenitors one hundred years back or more would experience if I told them that my writing had been read by people on every densely populated continent.
Who I am, through nurture and nature, has earned me a lot of love. I have people that are happy to take a bullet for me or visit visceral harm upon another for my protection. Which is a dramatic sentiment. The issue with this is that we can’t be around each other all the time. I have to go live my life apart from you at some point if I’m not doing so as it is. For myself personally that’s why I support the protests. From afar and with my words, yes, but support none the less. This isn’t America’s Slave Era or a theocracy a la The Handmaids’ Tale. I should be able to walk down the street without having a white friend with me to dispel misgivings of if I will abide the law.
The damning juxtaposition I am left with is that people will take a bullet for me, but jeer, cheer, and sneer when protesters are shot and maimed because ‘they had it coming’. I wonder if I went to a protest, if knowing that I am on the level, if these friends would join me. I am not there to “Burn, Loot, and Murder” as I have seen some insert their jokes in the initials of Black Lives Matter. If baton rounds (colloquially and inaccurately known as “rubber bullets”) and tear gas are implemented will you stand with me in solidarity? Would you at least stay on site the whole time I was present and, upon seeing that I was peacefully advocating, tell that to all your friends that denounce the activism? Tell them that you know someone who has charted the negative effects in there life and is working towards peaceful change?
The answer to this is… sometimes. It leaves me with a little hope that some will at least listen openly. But it is so much an exception that I can’t rely on it. It leaves me feeling like I’m just ‘A Good Black’. That because I am polite, well-spoken, and courteous to the point of maybe being deferential that such is the only reason why I am held close. When I am at home, I am Jasper. When I am with my friends, I am Jasper. But when I am walking down the street I am a black man with all the weight society impresses upon that. And much of it is not good.
No matter your feelings or selected quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., there is one indisputable fact about him. He was killed fifty years ago. He spent his life in activism seeking the betterment of America. His efforts bore fruit. There are the big issues he rallied against. But many of the contributing factors to those big problems still persist.
If you were in your 20s to 40s during The Civil Rights Movement, I can only imagine the exhaustion you might feel being in your 70s to 90s now and needing to pick up the banners to protest again. I can imagine the fear of having your children, down to the grand- and great-, having to fight the same battles in your twilight years. This is a fear I can resound, and is why I am protesting, because I do not want my descendants dealing with these problems. I want this problem to be solved so that, in my waning years, I’m not having to do this all over again.
The Social Contract
What spurned this article on was a brief exchange that came about from a post that I made on Facebook. Succinctly, and in light of ongoing imbalances in the use of force, I stated the following:
“Don’t call the police if your conscience can’t bear a death on it.”
One of my friends, whose worldviews often to always opposes my own, replied with:
“Ya mean don’t hate the police if you intend to call them after someone whips your ass with a baseball bat or breaks into your house!?”
Much like a passive aggressive parent who is “not angry, just disappointed” I’m not speaking out of hatred for the police and society more broadly, but distrust. My whole life I was sold on a particular social contract, and at nearly every turn I have been let down.
I want to prosper from my work, but the only jobs I can land are entry level, and I earn enough money to work in a ceaseless cycle if I’m lucky. I’m set at hour limits in odd intervals, I imagine, to avoid legal classification as being a full time or part time employee. Most recently this was a thirty-eight hour threshold with forty being considered full time. However, due to us being chronically understaffed the entirety of my tenure, I put in forty hour weeks more often than not. Likely more. Again… the chronic under staffing. Whenever I link together my days off creatively to enjoy something that enriches my being it is met with backlash. Even with months to a year advance notice. I am expected to live to work. When I do anything else it causes controversy.
I can’t afford my own place, even an apartment. I’ve never made twice the monthly rent amount for long enough (usually a year or more) to have my applications seriously considered. I don’t have people that can cosign for me. And so I’ve spent my entire adult like subletting when I have money and eking out in spare rooms and basements when I don’t.
I can’t even afford real food. I’ve survived off from-frozen burritos my entire adult life. It’s doctored nutrient slurry and nothing more. Sure, buying some base foods like rice and such would be cheaper, but I have often lacked the combination of storage space and means to process them. Do I have a makeshift kitchen? No place to store ingredients or finished food. Do I have a big deep freezer to store lots of stuff in? No kitchen to properly make food in. And this is is I have the time after working.
I have worked hard whenever I have a job, only to languish in a routine that leads nowhere. Proud of myself that I wound up with eighty-two cents in my account by the time my next paycheck hit because that was doing well. Cutting every corner so that the only frivolous spending is twenty dollars on entertainment a month. Watching the hundreds of dollars I had spent the better part of a year saving get nuked the first time I needed to attend to my cars’ maintenance. Being so angry due to my job that my loved ones suffer the closer they get to me. I am willing to be employed if I actually gain from it. But I can’t trust any business to provide this.
The cruel joke is I am afraid of doing what it take to get that far. When I don’t have a vehicle (like now) walking is my primary transport. And with everything going on, pounding the pavement to job hunt is inadvisable. I feel like I’ll be ‘mistaken’ for a rioter or looter and arrested. I can’t afford jail and no one would even know I was gone. Police are to uphold the law, protect and serve, such I was taught.
It was funny when my friend asked if I would call the police if someone broke into my house. As a child they were called when my house was broken into and, to the best of my knowledge, never showed. If they did, it took them until the next day or more to arrive. In my life, the police have watched and harangued me more than they have ever protected or served me. Even when I tried to tell an officer there were people in trouble I was shouted at to never approach a police officer. I may want to be a Good Samaritan, but the perception of a black man approaching a broken down vehicle all of a sudden would ironically get the cops called on me. This being the age before ubiquitous cells phones I saw an officer parked in their vehicle in a parking lot so I opted to tell them. Even if it wasn’t their job I figured they could radio someone whose purview it was. Being yelled at dispelled me of that myth. And since then I have not considered police officers any good for anything I have needed in life.
And this is supported by how people weaponize the police against me. They are uncomfortable or suspicious, so the police are called. They come to find someone ‘matching my description’ that was doing… something. Every time I have been stopped, it has never been specified. Always enough reason to stop me, never enough to tell me why. How am I supposed to be trustful when anyone can decide “We don’t take kindly to his… type around here”, and I have to deal with police as a consequence?
Or when someone I am willfully not speaking to opts to have the police come and perform a “wellness check”, in which their findings have to be reported back to the caller? That doesn’t do me any good. And my discussion with the commanding officer on duty was enlightening. Apparently that sort of thing happens a lot. And I can personally imagine an abuser having solid information on someone who ran away from them calling with a sob story and confirming their suspicions. Fortunately, the officer I spoke with was helpful. I specifically asked them to tell the inciting person nothing. Unlike when my parent called the police after a break in, doing nothing resulted in the nicest thing police have ever done for me. It is what served and protected me the best. I’ll not write too much into that.
Where Does That Leave Us?
I am not going to abruptly cut you out of my life. But the end result is that you will not be apart of it. I write articles like this to highlight the troubles I face. But when the response is “You should be happy you live in a place/country that you can write this without being shot”, that isn’t very promising. In fact, the knee jerk reaction to hyper violence is disconcerting. It is a… tiresome trend that this is how all my concerns are brushed aside. When it comes to activism I am told there is no reason to protest because…
“…you’re not dead.”
“…nobody’s lynching you.”
“…this isn’t true oppression.” (“True Oppression” in that conversation was Nazis.)
It’s like when my parents would say “Keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about.” There are very real reasons why I am expressing despair, anger, and dissatisfaction. The American, or… at least Right Wing response to “That place is dangerous” often includes “Whelp… I better get a gun!” Why not fix the issues that cause problems and dangers in the first place rather than just strapping up and blasting whatever the perceived threats are?
You know… this brings me back to a phrase I loosely quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr. via his speech, The Other America earlier in this piece. The actual quote is:
Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.
It is the last part in both sentences that I find key. Behavior can be regulated. The heartless can be restrained. Police are killing people and getting away with it. Not just black people. Because of this, I sort of thought that this play for my safety was a slam dunk, but I’m just wrong about that.
I hate when dealing with an online video game a system is just bad and no one likes it and the community complains only for the Big Wigs or the Devs (as the Big Wigs’ mouthpieces) spout off “Working as Intended”. This is what I hear when people reject changes to legal and social systems. Life sucks for people, rot and stagnation are more prevalent than progress, but it’s all “Working as Intended”. And the fact that these same people want to make life more of a grind would have me leave them to their own devices, but they are part of the whole and have a pull.
When I talk about the shadows of my daily life and I am met with patriotic rhetoric, nationalistic zealotry, and statistical analyses, I know that I can’t expect you to help me through this. You find my basis to be in error. Not even correct in a limited capacity, but just blatantly wrong outright. So confident am I that you won’t change that I don’t even think my maiming, crippling, nor death would sway you to even question otherwise.
And that? That is a lonesome feeling.
It’s a part of the human mindset that we latch onto negativity. To the dramatic. On the one hand, in my sphere, protests are still ongoing. And they’re peaceful, and you don’t hear about it. But the police are ever present, being aggressive. And if after hours, days, or weeks of such behavior there is an up swell in agitation you had better believe the media will show up and punctuate the story. And that punctuation changes the whole context.
Likewise, it is easy for me to point to and remember the worse of what was said from those that I can only refer to as right wing, Christian, nationalistic, or conservative leaning and overlap labels. It is harder to remember that you are people who are aiming for your best interests just as I am. In the face of the cuts I bear, it is easy to forget love. But I am remembering it now. But I am also realizing I have to do so from afar.
I have to know that the people in my life have my back. I will put all my antagonists in front of me and settle up with them as any protagonist would. As such I can’t worry about those behind me.
In yet another gross oversimplification, scars upon ones’ back can be to the bearers’ shame. They can represent a warrior fleeing in cowardice. They represent the lashes of a subjugating master on the back of a slave. And as I work towards personal equality, I have no aims to suffer the wounds of betrayal any longer.
I said above that what I want is to be safe, and to prosper. That everything else life has to offer is out of my reach. Matters are at a point in which I can no longer split the difference. The energy used to try to understand and build bridges and maintain lines of communication is too much. I feel now it is useless as I have atrophied from the effort. I will still keep my articles available to everyone. I will share them with people that make the effort to reach out with my articles. To bring people in. That will be work. But in my personal life? I’m not really going to bother anymore. Ten years has taught me that those that are arrayed against me cannot be swayed. So I will work for the changes I need in spite of and without them as well as I can. And it will be harder. But at least I will spend my energy on change rather than connections that will never be achieved.
I have been afraid the entire latter half of my life. No more. I need to be able to move through the world with my head held high. I am not going to go out of my way any longer to convince you that this is valid. You know me. These are matters that WILL have an impact on me, because they will help set a legal precedent nationally. If you can’t work with me in taking action to my benefit, then I am left to do it myself. But as I suffer this famine, I will mark who is with me and invite them to the table of feasting. And if I die in the effort, so be it.
I don’t think you genuinely care.