My daughter loves the police. When we lived in Chicago she saw them all the time, including at least one occasion when a couple of them came to give a talk to her preschool. She’s learned, partly (and probably unfortunately, I now realize) from her mother and me that the police are “the good guys,” and she’s learned it from the way she sees police portrayed on the television, in cartoons and movies. When she was littler, if we happened to go to a restaurant for lunch and there were uniformed cops there eating or waiting for food, she would walk right up to them and say hi, and because she’s far more charming than either of her parents the cops would be happy to engage with her and it would just make her day.
Someday, maybe someday soon, I’m going to have to explain to her that the only reason her mother and I never freaked out during one of those situations and jumped in between her and the police is because she’s white. I’m going to have to explain to her that for black people, even black people who aren’t much older than she is, very often the police are not “the good guys.” I’m going to have to explain to her that if she were black she’d be 21 times more likely to be shot by a police officer as a teenager than she will be as a white person (and yes, I realize that gender plays a role here as well). And I’m going to have to explain to her that, if she were black and she were shot by a cop, it’s very likely that our criminal justice system wouldn’t even bother to put that cop on trial for it.
I probably won’t have much more to say on the decision to spare Darren Wilson the inconvenience of a trial over his decision to take the life of an 18 year old kid, and frankly I’m not even sure I should have written this, because I freely admit that I don’t have nearly as much of value to say about it as people with other expertise and different lived experiences. I wasn’t there and I don’t live in St. Louis, so I haven’t been a witness to the crime or its aftermath. I’m not a lawyer or a legal reporter, so I can’t walk you through the mechanics of the grand jury or whether D.A. Bob McCulloch engineered those mechanics to produce exactly this outcome. Most importantly, I’m not black, so I don’t have to live the day to day experience of knowing that the institutions of this country value my life less than the lives of many of the people around me, and I don’t have to live in mortal terror that my kid will someday be gunned down in the street by one of the people who are supposed to be protecting her.