Dravon Ames, Iesha Harper and their two young children are just the latest black family who are victims of excessive force, captured in a shocking and terrifying video in Phoenix.
I’m a family therapist and social emotional health expert — my whole life is about context and understanding all sides of a story before jumping to conclusions. But in cases like these, the “we don’t know the whole story” approach just adds insult to injury, and it’s time for us to be unified in our outrage.
As a white woman, even if my thumb was on the nuclear button, there is absolutely no scenario where I get treated like Mr. Ames and Ms. Harper were. If my children walked out of a store without paying for something, things would easily be made right again, and the manager and I might even act as co-conspirators to bring an important lesson home if the doll was taken on purpose.
If instead of a peaceful resolution, an officer pointed a gun at me and my children and showered me with threatening F-bombs, there would be no question as to whom the victim was.
In order to move away from this bifurcated reality, several narratives must change (I’m talking to my fellow white people here, people of color have always known this).
First, we must drop the narrative that racism is something that happened long ago that we have nothing to do with. Indeed, we have come a long way from separate water fountains, but it’s a mistake to think that extreme racism didn’t transmute into more subtle but equally harmful structural barriers that are alive and well today. Evidence of this abounds in our criminal justice system, and in access to housing, healthcare, employment and education.
Second, we must move away from the toxic narrative that you either support police or you believe Black Lives Matter. We can fully support and be grateful to the men and women who serve as police officers and still be outraged when one of them abuses their power. In fact, we can be outraged in the very name of the many officers who would never behave the way the police officers in Phoenix acted in the videos.
Last, we must look deeply and honestly at what we, as white people, have gained by continuing to perpetuate, in little and big ways, the narratives that keep white supremacy in place and undercut of our fellow citizens who happen to have a different skin color.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, points out that this work belongs to all of us, “You can be very progressive, you can be very educated and you can still be complicit in the kind of microaggression that takes place when you look at people through this lens of racial difference.”
Robin Diangelo in her New York Times bestseller, “White Fragility,” reminds us that “being friendly, open-minded and surrounding yourself with diverse people is not enough.” Changing our society will require us to do the work of looking at the role each of us plays in perpetuating racism.
Without question there may be more to the story in Phoenix, new facts will emerge. And without question there are good police officers. None of that should cool our outrage. The fact that we continue to introduce these commentaries as counterpoints to shocking, abusive and racist behavior just highlights how much work we still have to do for families of color to truly have an equitable experience in this so-called land of the free.