In my last post, I shared the story of a particular day working with a local sheriff’s office that was especially challenging. After taking some time to revisit what happened, how I approached the topic of racial profiling, and how I wanted to move forward with the group I was working with, I sent a letter to the Chief Deputy and others. 

I’m sharing some of it here today in the hope that it helps you and your team approach issues like race, DEI training, and racial profiling with greater nuance and increased empathy. Here’s what I said to the CD:

. . . . 

I clearly upset and/or offended someone during our last meeting. I heard the comment down the hall. And for that, I deeply apologize.

It got me thinking A LOT about this whole DEI training and the tallying you have to do with stops, and I keep trying to find a way to relate.

Even if I’m racist, there’s nothing in my work or life that holds me accountable like that — the way patrol is held accountable and judged.

. . . . 

And then I told him how, the very next day, an unexpected delivery taught me a tough lesson on gentleness — and how I could better relate to the patrol’s experience.

Here’s the gist of it (though I’m convinced the full story is essential reading for any living, breathing human).

I received an unexpected delivery at my home. I answered the door like an asshole (as I have been known to do when interrupted). 

The man making the delivery was Black. Upon realizing this, I felt like an exceptional asshole, immediately changed my tone and demeanor, and felt pretty horrible about my behavior after the fact, despite my course correction. 

I couldn’t shake the guilt of being another white jerk who might trigger fear in this man based on past trauma, daily experience with systemic racism, etc. I hated the thought that I’d probably strengthened that neurotransmitter pathway telling him white people are dicks. 

There’s no way for him to know my intentions, to have a clue what I thought — or whether I thought at all — about the color of his skin.

I kept wondering what kind of experience I gave him because as Anais Nin said, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” 

. . . . 

Which brings me back to you guys and the forced tallies.

As we said in the last meeting, as a nation, we are in our infancy regarding DEI and cultural integration and eliminating racism. Heck, the UN says we’re 300 years away from gender equality. Where does that leave racial equality?

So here’s my point. As the CD said, you’ve never been in trouble for your actions or numbers. The tally is simply data, JUST like the stats we are reintroducing to the deputies. It simply allows us to know what’s going on and to ultimately ask better questions.

It should never cause you to hesitate to do your job, and if it does, then that’s a huge topic to take on.

I don’t know of any study or research that indicates Black people don’t feel they deserve a ticket if they’re breaking the law. Giving a Black person a ticket for speeding, using a cell phone, or driving under the influence isn’t and has never been the problem. 

The problem is when the stop turns into something different because you walk up to the car and they ARE Black. 

Every time I’ve been pulled over, when the officer walks up, I’ve either been reaching for my glove box or sitting there with the box open as I retrieve my registration. No one has ever seen that and perceived it as a threat. I’ve never been told to put my hands where they can see them. Not even close. After all, I was simply reaching for my registration. 

The question we need to ask is this: If that happened with a Black person (them reaching into their glovebox), would the stop go differently? With too many cops in this country, the answer is yes. (And yes, I believe that one bad cop is too many, but we all know that, sadly, the number is much higher than that, even if it’s far less than the majority.)

I have never been asked if my BMW (when I had one) is my car, or why I’m in a particular neighborhood, yet to Blacks, this happens all too often.

Ticking a box that says the person you stopped is Black isn’t the problem. It’s when that person has a different experience of you because they are Black that we have a problem.

For instance, are they unnecessarily questioned about anything beyond their cell phone use or the speed they were driving?

The goal is not to get cops to hesitate when doing their job — or to be afraid. 

The goal is to ensure people of color have the exact same experience as white people. 

If you would let a well-dressed white guy in a Mercedes go with a warning for using their cell phone, you should be willing to do the same for a Black person. Anywhere you are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a white person, give it to a person of color. That’s what DEI is asking for.

And I get it, the people in this sheriff’s office likely do offer that unbiased experience during stops — most of them, at least. They don’t change their behavior or tactics because of color. But you cannot deny that the opposite happens often enough that it has become a national issue.

I’m not talking about trainers that say, “you’re white, therefore, you’re racist.” That’s a different part of the equation. But it is true that white people get a break that people of color don’t always get. And that’s the systemic part. 

Trainers shouldn’t say, “you’re white, therefore, you’re racist.” Hearing that makes some white people feel like the world is against them. In much the same way that it can feel like everyone is against cops when the research and evidence — including your own survey — proves that’s not true, either.

You don’t want to be treated that way, whites don’t want to be treated that way, Blacks don’t want to be treated that way. Nobody wants to be treated unfairly or poorly — or to be pre-judged. 

Here’s another way to look at it. Men carry a shitload of burden because of bad men. 

Some men rape women, but most of them don’t. That doesn’t change the fact that because I am a man and have the capacity to rape, I still scare some women in some circumstances. You could argue that their fear is unfounded with regards to me as I’ve never assaulted anyone (and honestly, most women can kick my ass). But their fear IS valid because of the horrible men who’ve done horrible things before me. 

That’s what we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a rapist or a racist. The worst atrocities of rape and racism have been committed by people who look like me and you. I hate the way those people make us look. I hate that other white men have done such awful things. 

I know I am not one of them, but that will never change the self-preservation-based knee-jerk reactions of people who fear I might be.

I suspect that’s why the Black delivery man stood sideways on my porch instead of squaring off to the door. It’s the same reason cops back into parking spaces — it offers a faster and easier getaway. 

By standing sideways, the man delivering my daughter’s birthday roses knew he could get out of there fast, just in case I turned out to be one of those racist, insulting, threatening, anti-BLM white dicks. He was protecting himself. And who could blame him? I’m a good guy, and I was dickish enough.

To be clear, this stuff isn’t about you as an individual. So you’re not a racist. Who cares? We’ve all done shit that leans that way: we’ve told jokes in bad taste (or laughed at them or, at the very least, didn’t intervene as others said them), used careless language, given offensive looks. We’ve had unwarranted fear or suspicions. We’ve failed to call people out when they use the N-word… a million little things (that can add up to a lot). Not because we are racist in our hearts but because we are conditioned in ways we can’t recognize. 

So you’re not a racist. Great. But when you walk up to a car whose driver is Black — with your height, size, skin color, and power — they don’t know that. 

A person of color carries with them a learned fear and worry that I will never know because I look like you. And frankly, that’s heartbreaking. If we can’t recognize that, if we can’t own that, if we can’t NOT take that personally, we can’t change anything.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash