Black & Blue: How Our Nation Can Change

Before anything, I would like to take a moment to say this:

May the seven people that died last week amidst the chaos surrounding black lives matter, public uproar, and police backlash rest in peace. Philando Castile. Patrick Zamarripa. Brent Thompson. Alton Sterling. Lorne Ahrens. Michael Smith. Michael Krol. They all died too soon, each and every one of them, black or white. Each was a mother’s son, first and foremost, and those mothers had to bury their children. Think about that, digest that, and then continue on. Thank you.

My family has several members of the NYPD and I worry about them everyday.

My best friend is a black man and I worry about him everyday.

I stand between the two forces that are currently opposed in the heated discussion of police brutality and racial tension.

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Stahp it, just stahp.

I don’t mind being the proverbial punching bag of either side. I’ve played both roles, heard and spoken to people of both sides of the argument, and I understand them all.

For such a long time, I have defended cops because I couldn’t see that I could respect and love my cops while still speaking out against police brutality and the institutionalization of minorities.

I engaged in online arguments, using Facebook to argue my points against some of my friends that are particularly angered by police killings of black people.

“All lives matter -”

“Cops deal with more than -”

“We don’t know what happened in that situation to warrant -”

“The video is only showing part -”

For a long time, I believed this. But recently, following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, I took a step back and reevaluated my position.

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Me when I debate with my family online.

I have said it before and I will say it again. It’s a little secret that I don’t think many of you know but I’ll just whisper it to you now…

What if I told you that you can be pro-black and pro-cop, at the very same time? That moves can be made to change the images of both parties without somehow acting against the other party?

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I know! Crazy right? Even Morpheus was shocked by that one.

We all know about what happened last week and the many different sides of the argument. Investigations are not through and the facts have not been established completely as of yet. I’m not here to discuss one side over the other or to try to push more numbers in your face. I’m sure you’ve seen enough of that. With this post, I hope to look forward, not backward.

Three things before we begin:

  • Statistics seem to be backbone of both sides of the debate, which can be a bad thing purely because of interpretation and context. I encourage you to read up on the statistics that the Washington Post put up yesterday. They are interpretive and delve into both sides of the arguments.
  • Both sides of the argument have flaws. Not all police are guilty of brutality, and not all people shot by cops were unthreatening. Not all police perform correctly and not all people shot by cops are threatening. Let’s get that out of the way.
  • Enough arguing, finger pointing, and blaming. Continuing to bash and spew hate on social media will not solve anything.

So, we all know that a problem exists, and we should all agree to fix it.

So how?

…good question.

Here’s a list of comprehensive solutions that are a step in the right direction to Real Change that can be accomplished with the help of anyone that wishes to end violence on both sides, in both communities.

  1. Find those in a position to change things and support them. Yes, you too can be pro-black lives and pro-cops. But I guarantee that you will face opposition from those that cannot see that these two affiliations are not mutually exclusive. What do you say about minority cops? NBC recently interviewed several NYPD officers that spoke about unjust quotas and racism within their own community. Across the country, there are separate police unions for white cops and for black cops. Here, you can read about the St. Louis black cop union that wrote against their department for preferential treatment of white cops over black cops. I think the greatest step we can take as a community is to find the cops that believe in creating stricter convictions for cops that perform incorrectly and/or unjustly and earning trust from the communities.
  2. Respect is a two-way street. Both sides are quick to say that respect is given when it is earned, but this rule never applies to themselves. I challenge you to begin with yourself. Kevin Gates spoke out recently about how the way he conducted himself around cops has changed his interactions with them. Despite the stereotype that an officer can hold against his black skin, many tattoos, and past convictions, Gates explains that he hasn’t had a problem since he has changed his attitude around cops. For cops, try to remain patient with those that have a stereotype against you too. If respect is given on both sides, many confrontations can be avoided.
  3. Open up discussions between the police and the community through mandatory community meetings. If you take a step back to hear both sides, you can hear that they each have good points. While black people do not wish to be stereotyped, most cops feel the same way when they are called “racists” and “pigs,” especially when they are doing their job right. Respect from BOTH sides can fix this issue. Let me explain: A public forum that is mandatory for community leaders and rookie cops will allow cops to introduce themselves as civil servants and to put a face and life behind every badge that walks that neighborhood. Here, community leaders can discuss what issues there are in the community and will allow these cops to see the people that they will be interacting with on a day-to-day basis, instead of just nameless faces that could be capable of anything. Breaking down the wall between police and disadvantaged communities will help to break down the “them vs. us” mentality that is so prevalent on both sides.
  4. Legislation. If enough people agree on terms, a bill can be created and set in motion to become a law. This is a complicated and slow process, but this site breaks the process down and even provides a template for drawing up your own bill. Take a look, get people willing to stand behind it, and this can be part of the solution.
  5. Be the change that you want to see. Start discussions. Talk to those on both sides and meet in the middle. (Here is a picture of a BLM protestor and a counter-protester discussing issues instead of fighting: https://instagram.com/p/BHuDv0_DpnN/) Sharing pictures and videos of violence on social media doesn’t facilitate change, it only perpetuates hate. I encourage those with a real desire to change to join the police force, or to get a law degree, and begin to fix this broken system. Following the killings of 5 Dallas Police Officers, Dallas Police Chief David Brown called to protestors, asking them  to “get off that protest line and put an application in.” As a black police chief, he is another officer that sees both sides of the issue and is calling those protesting to real action. Celebrities like Jessie Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Keke Palmer, and Snoop Dog have all taken steps to use their platforms as a way to raise awareness and facilitate real change within communities across the country.

If all else fails, try to see it from someone else’s perspective.

One of my good friends has told me of numerous times that he’s been profiled by police because of his black skin and dreadlocks. His experiences have left him exhausted of trying to change the stereotype imposed on him. He has trouble seeing the good in our police force and I understand that.

My parents have all the best stories. I’ve spent countless hours hearing the police experience through these stories. Their experiences are frightening, heroic, and everything in between.

These are the good cops that we never hear of. The ones that would run toward a falling World Trade Center to save a man screaming for his wife. The ones that would talk young kids out of fighting on the streets after school. The ones that would search endlessly for elderly people that have wandered off from their families. The ones that gave up their nights and weekends away from their families to protect those they don’t even know. The ones that have helped people when they couldn’t even help themselves.

I want to bridge these two kinds of people together, in an effort to encourage unity and trust in our communities.

Through hard work and dedication from both sides, we can dismantle opposition that has been bred into a broken system of cops AND civilians, and begin to be the change we wish to see.

No violence.

No hate.

Just Change.

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The Cost of Freedom

Finding a topic for this first blog post was like trying to mentally prepare for a first date. I sat myself in front of the mirror and thought of all the cool ways I could make my splash in the blogging world.

I wanted to come off as funny, but not too funny. A cutie, but not a try-hard. Snarky but not an asshole (ok maybe a little bit of an asshole).

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Something like that.

All weekend, I distracted myself with work and watching Bob Ross paint beautiful landscapes  instead of putting my hands to the keyboard and pumping something out. Finally, I set a deadline, hoping that the time crunch would force me to produce some Grade-A material to share with you all.

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Yeah, it didn’t work.

Monday, 4th of July. One day until my deadline to post on this blog. I linked up with two of my friends from my internship and spent the day at Coney Island. We drank Angry Orchards and sparked conversations with other people lounging in our area. I brought a notebook, hoping its presence would entice me to whip it out while I sunbathed. I had the right intentions, all the notebook did was collect sand at the bottom of my bag.

I was running out of time.

So, I posed a question.

What is the cost of freedom?

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600 Calories and your waistline. Luckily, you can split your freedom in half and share it with a friend!

Many Americans would exclaim proudly, “Your freedom has already been paid for by our ancestors and the armed forces!” *waves American flag, rifles fire rounds and eagles fly by*

Maybe July 4th is a defense mechanism to distract ourselves from the shitty things happening everywhere in this world. Terrorism. Hate. Gentrification. Literally, everywhere.

Maybe it’s because we really do like crowded beaches, overpriced hotdogs, and really shitty pictures of fireworks.(I’ll share my shitty picture later, I promise)

But I don’t think it’s that simple. Let me explain.

After many hours soaking up the sun, my trio decided to go to DUMBO to watch the Macy’s fireworks from the Promenade. I leaned against my beach umbrella, already fully committed to the idea that I would never write a blog post. Next to where we stood, a whole family dressed in ponchos joked around and took group pictures of them in front of the bay.

My friend Luis, bored and still a little buzzed from the beach, turned to them and said, “Oh my God, those ponchos are a fashion statement. I love them!”

One of them, an Asian man in his late forties, turned towards us and started laughing.

“Yeah, we saw a deal for these ponchos at this Rite Aid on the way here,” he said.

From there, we began to talk, exchanging random bits of information like strangers do when they’re bored out of their minds waiting for the same damn thing. (I swear, 2 hours waiting for those fireworks)

Finally, I asked him where his family was from.

“We’re actually from Orlando.”

When he said that, I gave him my full attention.

He proceeded to tell me how he was a professor at Valencia Community College, where several victims of the Orlando shooting attended. In fact, he had taught some of them himself, including Mercedez Marisol Flores. One of his coworkers, another professor, had planned to go to the Pulse nightclub that night, but cancelled only an hour before heading out to what would be the worst mass shooting in American history.

He stared out into the bay, surveying the sky where the Twin Towers used to reign before 9/11. Between every detail, he took a long pause and sighed, like he was lifting a heavy weight and putting it back down. And in a sense, he was. I could hear the sound in his voice; that somber tone that people acquire when they have felt tragedy close to home.

“You know what I keep thinking about?” he said, looking straight at me.

I could see the pain reflected in his eyes.

“Whenever someone thinks of Orlando, all they will think about is that tragedy. It’s really sad that all of this has happened.”

After a long silence (and still no damn fireworks), I thought to look around.

To really look around.

There were people everywhere. Like ants-all-over-that-potato-chip-you-left-under-the-couch-last-week kind of everywhere. Terrifying, I know. But the thing was, overshadowing that hidden desire to hide in my apartment away from civilization, pride swelled in my chest.

It was in that moment that I found the inspiration.

I looked around and saw old people, young people, brown people, white people, couples, single people, LGBTQ people, straight people. First and foremost Americans, and in that moment, nothing else mattered.

I turned to the poncho man and smiled.

“But we’re still here. And because of that, hate hasn’t won.”

And, I shit you not, the fireworks began as I said those words. Flashing blues, reds, and whites lit up the sky seconds before their sound ricocheted off my chest. And collectively, the crowd of people surrounding me, my fellow Americans, let out a long, “Woahhhhhhhhh!!!!”

For forty minutes, we watched a celebration of a country that is far from perfect, but still ours.

Because even in the wake of tragedy, we still dust off our scraped knees, wipe the tears away, and Stand Back Up.

For some, including our ancestors, the armed forces, and the victims of terrorist attacks like Orlando, freedom cost them their lives.

But on July 4th, freedom only cost some of us a train ride to a borough you don’t like, a few cold beers, and your time.

And now that you have made it this far, I reward you with my shitty fireworks picture!

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