While trying to imagine the feeling I was reminded of a time when I had a small brush with injustice. Several years ago I was involved in a relatively minor car accident. I followed the rules and called the police, presented all the right information, told the nice officer exactly what had happened, called my insurance company, and went about the business of getting my car repaired. It was many days later when the insurance company declared me 100% at fault based on the police report. I was very confused as to how that could be so I asked for a copy of the report. The story written was not what had happened- it was not the truthful story I had shared, or even a different perspective of the truth based on the other driver’s report. It was false. The report had omitted key details that were essential to the story. I was very upset and pursued the path of filing a corrected police report. As luck would have it the original officer was “on leave” and the reporting officer nicely took my report but indicated it would have no bearing on the insurance case because the original report is the only report that matters. So the original incorrect account that not only made it sound like I was at fault, but also reckless and crazy as a driver, was the information that stood. I was devastated. Not because my insurance company had to pay, but because I had been wrongly accused. It was unjust. It was unfair. I had no recourse. I couldn’t right the wrong no matter how hard I tried. I don’t know if that officer was having a bad day, if he took faulty notes, or if he had a bias against women in minivans; but in the end it didn’t matter what his reasoning was. The damage had been done.
(I will note here that I am not anti-police at all! I love our police officers and think they are heroes and who are often put in impossible situations. However I do believe they are human and subject to the same struggles we all have.)
It is difficult to describe the feeling of not being able to vindicate yourself. To not have any higher authority to go to. No video to support my story. No witnesses consulted who could corroborate the accident. To know that the officer’s word- as flawed as it was- was final. The anger, the frustration, and the hurt stuck with me a long time. It changed the way I viewed my interactions with the police. I no longer put blind trust in their actions. It changed the way I looked at the world. My ideas about truth and justice shifted. Justice was not as straight forward as I had believed it to be. Truth didn’t always prevail. Just to be clear, this isn’t intended to be a story about some privileged white woman complaining about how she was wronged. This is a story about how injustice FEELS and how it can change you. This was ONE minor incident, ONE time and it fundamentally changed the way in which I conducted myself in this world.
This makes me think about how often the African American community faces this kind of injustice. How their fear isn’t limited to just thinking the officer might get the report wrong, but that the officer might actually harm them. How our precious African American friends can tell stories for hours about their experiences being pulled over for being black, followed for being black, having had to justify their truth and their existence to others because of their skin color, confronting the preexisting story that has already been written about them before they even could say a word. I wouldn’t be able to take it. I am not strong enough. I couldn’t bear that burden with any semblance of grace and dignity. The anger, frustration, and hurt would change me. A lifetime of that injustice would settle deep inside my bones and make me weary and tired and angry. It’s not ok. We’ve let our AA community carry this burden for too long. We’ve told them their concerns are not real, that these daily injustices aren’t happening, that they need to move past it, that they have a chip on their shoulder, that racism doesn’t exist, that THEY are the racists, that they wouldn’t have been killed by the police if they had just followed the rules, that their black lives don’t matter because after all- “ALL lives matter”. When they are successful in life the whispers of affirmative action or preferential treatment drift around them, when they are not there are the accusations of them being lazy and not trying hard enough. Why have we looked away? Why do we work SO hard to deny that this is happening? I’m ashamed at my part in this. I’m embarrassed that I’ve stayed silent for too long while people were hurting, while people were dying.
I cannot know what it feels like to be a black person in this country.
But I can ask.
I can listen.
I can try to understand.
I can educate myself.
I can do better.
And today that’s all I hope for- a shared commitment that we will all do better.