What do #racism and #whiteprivilege look like? I attended a predominantly white and wealthy university with over 5,000 undergraduates. Of the more than 3,000 students who were under age 21 at any given time, I would estimate at least 1,000 drank on a typical weekend. Considering we spent around 28 weekends on campus per year, that brings the total instances of illegal underage drinking to over 28,000 a year, or 112,000 over my four years (to say nothing of weekday drinking and the use of illegal drugs). The faculty knew it, the administration knew it, and the local police certainly knew it.
I can think of numerous times when underage drinking took place in public and got out of control with loud noise, public brawling, damaged property, and even drunk driving. Although the police and campus security spent much of their weekend hours dealing with underage drunkenness, I cannot think of a single instance when a fellow student was arrested for drinking, much less tasered, much less shot, much less killed by the police.
Rayshard Brooks was found asleep in his car last Friday night in a drive-thru in Atlanta. Although he was certainly wrong to have driven there under the influence, he calmly complied with the requests of police for 20 minutes, forfeited his license, and asked to be allowed to walk to his sister’s house nearby so he could sober up. He wanted to get home the next day to celebrate his daughter’s 8th birthday and kiss his wife and baby.
But police in America do not see Black men like they see Ivy League students or white people generally. When my underage peers were out-of-control drunk, they were escorted to University Health Services, given a private bed and monitored for the night without the slightest stain on their record. When Rayshard, age 27, was found asleep in a stationary car, he was treated more like a criminal than a person in need of treatment. When the police decided to place him under arrest, he grabbed a non-lethal taser and began to run away. When he turned around and fired it into the air, he was shot three times in the back.
Today, while most of my white college peers and I enjoy comfortable lives with records unsullied by past mistakes, another Black man is dead and another Black family is left to mourn the father and husband and brother and uncle they loved. #RayshardBrooks is the latest in an endless stream of victims of state-sponsored violence, of America’s 400-year old “original sin” of racism and white supremacy. Shame on us.