We need to stop repeating tragedies like Ferrell's

Sep. 20, 2013 @ 03:17 PM

Almost anything I attempt to do is considered suspicious or unusual. For example, I cannot walk home from a 7-11 in the dark with a hood on. I cannot approach my neighbor when I am in distress after a car wreck. When I drive my sports car, it is considered “probable cause” and I get pulled over.  If I play my music too loud in a gas station parking lot, I might get shot by another customer in a neighboring car.  And I might get “stopped and frisked” in New York -- just because.

The recent examples of violence against black men in America are far too many. When Jonathan Ferrell was shot 12 times by Charlotte police officers last Saturday, an innocent life was taken. A life was cut short. A family was devastated. But who cares, really? 
Sadly, Jonathan Ferrell is a statistic in a long line of black men who have come under attack in America.
But what did Jonathan do wrong? He was in a car accident at 2:30 a.m. He jumped out of the car -- in pain and distress. He probably couldn’t find his cell phone, so he did the next best thing he could -- he knocked on a neighbor’s door. But that neighbor, probably startled by the late night caller, called the police. And the police ended up shooting and killing Jonathan. 
But it wasn’t just one shot; they fired 12 times. He was unarmed, bruised and battered, and probably scared. But the police, who pledge to protect and defend, instead killed in cold blood.
What are we learning about the Jonathan Ferrells in our world?  What have we learned, as a society, about the value of a black life?  Are black males an endangered species in America?  What are we, as a nation, going to do? 
It would be nice if we could pass a bill in Congress that would abolish racism. We cannot.  But we do have options. 
Harkening back to President Obama’s speech after the verdict was announced in the George Zimmerman trial, there are ways for us to approach the problem. First, we must demand that local and state law enforcement require training at all levels that addresses racial bias and racial profiling in police departments across the nation. Racial sensitivity training is a positive step toward decreasing mistrust in the system.
Second, we must stop talking about one another and start talking to one another. It is heartbreaking to think that we only have conversations regarding race after tragic events such as Ferrell’s.
We have to go beyond being reactive to becoming proactive in preventing these sorts of events.  We need ongoing conversations in our workplaces, school and churches.  Most importantly, we need to be talking to each other across our kitchen tables and on our front porches.
Until we recognize that every human being -- regardless of color or ethnicity -- has inherent worth and dignity, we will only heighten our divisions and repeat these tragedies.
Some can just turn the page on Jonathan Ferrell. But for me, as a black man, the pain doesn’t go away.

Bahari J. Harris is a public policy graduate student at Duke University. He has lived in Durham for the past 11 years.