Whom I fear – and it’s not police


I’m a stubborn man. Ask my wife; she’ll happily confirm my self diagnosis.

Despite all the headlines about police shootings and community unrest, I’ve stubbornly held to one position – never fear cops.

It’s not because of a Pollyannaish view of society. Life has never allowed me the luxury of looking at the world that way. It comes from the reality I’ve lived, and the research and reporting I’ve done the past 20 years.

I’ve refused to be afraid of cops because I’ve never had an awful encounter with a police officer. Of the few times I’ve been pulled over in my three decades of driving, I’ve been asked to leave my car once – and not because I’m black. The officer didn’t understand my answers to his questions because I sometimes speak with a severe stutter, which is worse when I’m in a seated position.

That’s why I’ve refused to tell my 15-year-old son to be careful around police officers. He is to respect – and demand respect in return from – everyone, those in uniform and not. He hasn’t had a bad encounter with police, either. The fact is that for all the heat generated by high-profile police shootings, they remain rare compared with the number of peaceful, nondescript interactions between cop and community that occurs every day.

I’ve stubbornly said I’d never fear the police because there has never been good reason for me to, even though I know better than most the potential for danger. A younger brother of mine sustained major injuries from a K-9 unit and did not receive treatment for hours until my mother shamed jail officials enough that they released him.

I mentored a young black man when I was a student at Davidson who was later shot and killed by a white police officer – as he was shooting and killing that officer.

A friend of mine – a white female cop – was forced to shoot a black man after a high-speed chase and spent months in counseling dealing with post traumatic stress while waiting for her name to be publicly cleared in the midst of a growing storm of knee-jerk reactions to every black-man/white-cop encounter.

So I know first-hand the complexity of one of the most vexing issues we face. That’s why I’m not afraid of cops.

But I am afraid of blindly-adherent cop defenders, those who assume the cop must be right or was justified in killing an unarmed man despite an irrational fear.

I’m afraid of them because they serve on juries and populate prosecutor’s offices and wear black robes and sit at their keyboard and passionately declare that anyone who doesn’t reflexively believe that every officer is a hero is anti-cop.

I’m afraid of them because while they will have felt a sense of vindication reading the top half of this column and cheerfully declare “A black man agrees with me that it’s wrong to fear cops!” they will dismiss out-of-hand another piece of this complex puzzle: that there’s no logical reason to fear black men.

Cops shooting black men are rare – but so are black men shooting cops.

If a cop shoots an unarmed black man out of fear, like in Tulsa days before unrest erupted on the streets of Charlotte, the public – cop defenders and non-cop defenders alike – rallies to understand the fear that inspired that killing.

And yet, if a black man less stubborn than I makes a sudden move during an encounter with a cop because of the fear that badge and that gun and that uniform and all those headlines inspire, the public spends more time demonizing than empathizing.

I don’t fear cops. What I fear is the millions of fellow Americans who prioritize a cop’s fear – or their own – over the value of my life, or that of my son’s.