Of Cops, Quarters, and What We See

Two-sides-of-the-same-coin-resized-600

Suspect killings by police has been a hot topic recently. I usually wait for a lot of furor to die down before putting my two cents into the pot, so I guess I’m a little early on this one. There have been a lot of good points made on both sides of the issue:

  • I saw an excellent piece written by an African-American police officer who expressed what it was like to essentially be torn between two worlds.
  • Statistics have been quoted, calling into question the perception that cops are on some sort of killing spree instead of apprehending suspects.
  • Our tendency to see a short video clip and think that we have all the information we need to pass judgement has been duly pointed out.
  • The difficulty in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement because it seems to lessen the importance of all other lives has been proclaimed many times.
  • The offensiveness of trivializing what is a big issue to many Americans by insisting that all lives matter has also been highlighted.

When I find myself at odds like this with a friend, I like to use a visual aid. If I have one handy, I will hold up a coin between us. Usually, we quickly agree that we are both seeing a quarter (or whatever coin I found). Then I ask my friend to look more closely and describe what she sees. That’s when the details come out – one of us is seeing an eagle, and one of us is seeing George Washington’s head. One of us is seeing the image upside down, and the other is seeing the image right side up. The words on each side of the coin are different, as well.

The point is that because we both say that we are seeing a quarter, we are quick to assume that we are seeing exactly the same thing, but we’re NOT.

I think that’s really what’s happening with the police killings and the protests. We all think we’re seeing exactly the same thing, but our attitudes and experiences and everything else we bring with us colors our perception of what is going on.

The truth is, people who can be classed as below the poverty line, of a less-favored race, etc. feel like they lack power and value – even in the United States of America – and it creates a sub-culture. Are those feelings true, or not? It doesn’t matter! What matters is that they are true to the people experiencing them, and they influence what they perceive, say, and do.

Anyone who doesn’t share those experiences, values, beliefs, and feelings cannot totally understand what the “other side” is experiencing and feeling. We can try, but we can’t fully get it because we haven’t experienced it for ourselves. So, when people start throwing around phrases like “white privilege,” we feel attacked and misjudged and discredited for the hard work we have put into building our lives.

Where is the truth in all of this? I really don’t know. All I know is that until we can all begin to accept that our perspective is not the only perspective and that we have to deal with people where they are before we can move forward, it’s going to get worse instead of better.

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